A rite of passage, traditions to honor life altering events that surround someone as they transition from one realm to another, are found in many cultures around the world. From fetus to newborn. Child to adult. Student to graduate. Single to spouse. Living to deceased. These evolutions are shrouded in structured rituals, each phase helping an individual to cross an identity threshold. In Western society, the ceremony that ushers maidens into motherhood seems to have gone missing.
I expected that welcoming a new being into this world would transform me. And I thought that I could tend to this space while living out this rite of passage. But personally, I needed to take time away to really experience all that marriage, motherhood and modern home economics have stirred up in me this past year.
Let’s take a walk through how each phase of this rite of passage has unfolded for me.
Phase 1: Separation
As my pregnant belly swelled with life, I grew distant from all that I had ever known. During this phase of the rite of passage, the space between me and the community I had fit into began to widen, and I could no longer find my place along the path I had been walking. My womb has been occupied, and it will never be forgotten. I was marked for a journey I had very little preparation for, and I held space beyond my maiden form while still waiting to take root in the body of a mother.
For thirty nine weeks my womb cradled my child, and I crept away from all I have ever known. Until suddenly, I found myself at the edge of a river. It had always been gurgling in the background, but it wasn’t until much later that I recognized it was there to carry me towards the new self I was meant to become. I began to pace, my fullness hard to ignore. It was not time to slip away. Not yet. First, a sacrifice had to be performed.
Phase 2: Transition
Deep, earthy moans escaped my throat as the phase of the rite of passage commenced. My body began to undulate in sync with the river waves, and I rumbled with a fierceness I didn’t know I had. Other women had gone before me, and others will follow. It is a refrain that comforted me as I continued to ripen. And then, I surrendered. Before long, my son bursts into the world, and in a heartbeat, everything went black, and I returned a mother. I spent the next twelve months whisked away in a haze of little sleep, and beginning to learn my son and I fit together.
And then, the stripping began. None of the adornments from my old existence would be allowed to accompany me to the other side. My feet, barely hanging onto the sandy riverbanks, finally gave way to the turbulent waters below. The riverbed began to slope downwards at a rapid rate, and I was not told where or when I would find the other shore. Above me, my arms were outstretched and my fingers clutched into the flesh of my firstborn. He transforms from baby to toddler before my weary eyes, and it is my job to keep us both afloat as the currents threaten to pull me under water. I do not know how to swim. So, I hold my breath as the tides roll in and hope to God that I resurface. Somehow, a year passes me by.
Phase 3: Integration
But land, ho! I can see the shore. Deep down, I wasn’t sure if I would really make it. But I can see the shoreline of the riverbanks on the horizon now. For the first time, I realize that while I have had to endure this rite of passage on my own, I was never alone. My community stands ready to embrace me and hear my stories of trials and tribulations at the end of this rite of passage. Some are even swimming out to me, guiding me to this foreign land which will become my home until it is time to be uprooted again.
And as I ascend from the waters, I realize that I have been adorned with gems. I have learned to be much more honest with myself and my loved ones about how I’m truly feeling. To let my body feel. That my voice matters. While I may walk a similar path, I do not have to follow in others’ footsteps. Upon landfall, I will share what I have learned during my time treading water, and I will step into the role of guide to help usher in a new wave of initiates.
It is time to emerge.