The struggle of childbirth transforms women to warriors
Several months ago I read a description of a postpartum ceremony that is a tradition in tribal Africa. The simple beauty, honor, and dignity of this celebration of birth struck a chord in me, and I can think of no better tribute to the fierceness that it takes to bring new life into this world. It is clear from the description that for the Chagga people in the Kilimanjaro region, the miracle of birth is anything but common; rather it is a sacred passage for both mother and child.
“Three months after the birth of her child, the Chagga woman’s head is shaved and crowned with a bead tiara, she is robed in an ancient skin garment worked with beads, a staff such as the elders carry is put in her hand, and she emerges from her hut for her first public appearance with her baby. Proceeding slowly towards the market, they are greeted with songs such as are sung to warriors returning from battle. She and her baby have survived the weeks of danger. The child is no longer vulnerable, but a baby who has learned what love means, has smiled its first smiles, and is now ready to learn about the bright, loud world outside.”
This transcendent rite of passage is significant for more than just mother and child — that’s what captivated me in the first place. It is also indicative of the tremendous support of women and motherhood in the community. Here is a visible, vocal, public outpouring of respect for the path the new mother has walked. She is no longer a child, she is no longer a vessel — but she is honored for the seasoned warrior she is.
The truth is that childbirth is a battle. Initially there is excitement and anticipation, along with a host of possible physical ailments from nausea to depression. As the new baby becomes more and more heavy, the mother’s body drastically changes form to support the new life within — a process which affects every organ of her body. And then comes the climactic event of the birth itself — exquisite pain and pressure, a cacophony of every possible emotion — ending in sweet, empty release, hope, joy, and triumph. And throughout it all, a true fear lurking like a shadow, the chance of death and disease. This shadow will follow the mother for many weeks afterward, even as she learns the joy of nurturing new life.
The truth is that new motherhood requires a strong, supportive network. The Chagga postpartum celebration would be impossible if the mother’s support system was weak. Behind the triumphant walk of the new mother and child is a host of foundational support. The community has provided the mother with a safe, comfortable place for her to nourish her child while in the womb and for several weeks thereafter. Food and water has been prepared and served, medical support brought in, laundry washed and dried. A symbolic cocoon of protection and provision has been woven for the mother and child, and they will emerge transformed.
Pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood literally transform women into warriors. The growth of the human family relentlessly requires all of the ferocity that a woman can muster. Parenthood will deepen your well of love exquisitely, but it will also bring you to your knees. Every woman and girl deserves to be educated about her body. She deserves to be aware of fertility options so she can evaluate her support system and determine when the time is right to embark on the pivotal journey of motherhood. LETS Empower is introducing fertility tools and education to women and men, empowering them to take an active role in shaping their lives and their families. We believe a focus on fertility education will strengthen families while reducing child trafficking, abortion, and poverty.
Because no woman should have to embark on the journey of motherhood alone.
LETS Empower is an international non-profit committed to promoting intentional fertility awareness and education. We strive to empower women and the men they love. Visit our website at http://LetsEmpower.org and bring your own passion to the cause.
Quoted Chagga postpartum ceremony from Carroll Dunham’s Mamatoto: A Celebration of Birth, 1992; p. 148.