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Postpartum as a Rite of Passage

Postpartum can feel like one long “dark night of the soul”

It can feel like the walls are closing in, like you have no idea who you are, like you have lost everything that makes you, you.

While childbirth is a physical, painful challenge it is acknowledged as such in our society. Postpartum is a huge physical, mental challenge but we are expected to go through it behind closed doors. We are expected to do it with a smile on our face and care for an entire other being that literally depends on us for survival. We are expected not to struggle. We are expected to feel that this is natural, that we have all the instincts needed, that we’ll be through the other side in 6 weeks and “back to ourselves”. Back to our prebirth weight, back in our old jeans, back to having sex, back to work, and back to exercising. Back to exactly who we were before.

But you can’t go back. Once you've been through a rite of passage you are someone else. Someone different. You fought to be this new person. You struggled and cried and bled to be this new person with all these new identities and ideals.

The rite of passage in postpartum is the shedding of the old skin. The releasing of the identity you cling to, the person you thought you knew so well. The rite of passage is allowing this new, raw, aching, beautiful person to emerge. It’s not easy. It’s painful.

There will be tears shed. There be nights you don’t know if you will make it through. There will be the deepest, heart wrenching love you’ve ever experienced that makes you feel like a crazy person some days. This IS postpartum. This IS the rite of passage.

This is a rite of passage that isn’t celebrated. And doesn’t have a “one day” like a wedding. It goes on. It doesn’t have an end date like our medical model would like you to believe at 6 weeks. There is no magic dust that tells you that you’re through.

A rite of passage is when you leave one group or one life and go to another. It is the harrowing adventure between these lives or groups. That is the rite of passage. There is no skipping it in birth, and postpartum, and motherhood. You can’t opt out. Once you have birthed your baby you ARE postpartum.

Many rites of passage include rituals. And I bet you’re thinking “what are the rituals in postpartum”

You will bleed. Vaginally.

You will sweat. Everywhere. Like pools of sweat. Like waking up to a puddle shaped like you.

On day 5 you will cry like there is a river inside of you dying to escape.

On day 3-7 your milk will come flooding in, weather you plan to breastfeed or not.

If you are breastfeeding your nipples will chap and peel (and heal).

You will stink. Like you’ve never stunk before and you’ll swear your natural deodorants just don’t work anymore.

You will get less sleep than you ever have before in your life. And function MORE than you ever have before in your entire life.

On day 5-7 you’ll wonder if you’ve made a huge mistake and wonder if you could potentially put the baby back inside of you where you were a good mom and they were safe. Your partner may ask if you’re insane.

You’ll ache in muscles you’ve never felt before, be afraid to look at your vagina (or surgical site), you’ll never have a more difficult and terrifying poop in your life, and you’ll have to find new ways to sit comfortably.

You’ll be ravenous, insasiated, and so so thirsty.

You will hold your baby and just WISH someone would hold you.

When your baby cries, you might too.

These are all rituals of postpartum. These all change you. These all make you into the person that you push to become.

There SHOULD be women who have come before, telling you this and walking you through it. There SHOULD be teachings on it. This should be something that is revered, if not celebrated. This SHOULD be where your community shows up and the crones of your community come and hold you, and tell you its normal, and nourish you, and help YOU. It should be.

But in our society postpartum is pushed away. The focus is on the baby. We are supposed to heal and be back.

If you’ve been through postpartum and are out the other side. Weathered, worn, and tired but alive and more you than you ever deemed possible… You are the village. WE are the ones to be there for those about to embark on this rite of passage. They don’t know what’s going to happen, because you can only explain so much to those who haven’t been there. But when they embark, and it’s dark for them, and they can’t find the way. When they’re stumbling, they’re hurt, they’re not sure they’ll make it through… we show up. With a casserole, hugs, laundry bags, and childcare. We need to show up. With open arms, understanding, and help for the mother. AND FOR THE LOVE not another onesie.

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