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Reclaiming Postpartum Rites of Passage

The time after childbirth is marked in many different ways around the world. Given our modern lives we may not have the opportunity to witness or experience any of these postpartum rites within our community. More so, we may only hear bits and pieces of traditions practiced generations ago within our own families. Even with the resurgence of attention on the importance of caring for the postpartum person, the layers of social, physical and emotional support can seem like a far away ideal that perhaps only the privileged in western society may have access to. As an indigenous midwife, it is more important than ever to provide culturally responsive care that includes such postpartum rites. Within my tradition specifically, I am speaking of the cuarentena or forty days laying in period after birth and the cerrada de cadera or  “closing of bones” ceremony.

I have found that the laying in period after a birth and the ceremonial closing or binding of the womb is common among many cultures. The specific design of each tradition is unique and intelligent to the environment, social/spiritual traditions and materials available. It is well understood that the time immediately after the birth of a baby will help define the well being of the birthing parent for years to come. Were valuable nutrients and warmth reintroduced into the body? Was the body that birthed honored in a compassionate way to energetically release or integrate the birth experience? Was the transition into “parenthood” treated as a rite of passage to assist the new parent with the integration of a new identity? It can be challenging if not impossible to answer these questions when we aren’t sure what options exist or more so if the context for them to exist at all has never been introduced.  

As an indigenous midwife, I have taken the path to reclaiming and remembering the ancestral rites that accompany my work. Yet, even with the tools in hand, the biggest challenge is helping others to also reclaim their memory. Not to mention, the social and economic barriers that keep most postpartum parents from practicing a forty day laying in period.  Most if not all home birth midwives work to promote as much of a laying in period as possible and we are able to be part of the care team with multiple postpartum visits. In addition to this, I also provide my clients with a ceremonial closing. The cerrada de cadera or “closing of bones” involves the ancestral practice of re-introducing warmth to the womb with a bajo or vaginal steam bath, a womb message, the apapache or loving embrace created with the use of traditional rebozos and sometimes the binding of the womb as needed.

Although these practices fall well outside of “clinical” practices in the West or even in many places in the world, more and more modern medicine is catching up with what our ancestors already knew. It was not that long ago that I did a search on the subject of the forty day laying in period and found lots of articles and research studies quantifying the benefits. It may be some time yet before the same will be true for the ceremonial closing done at the end of the forty days but until then, I will continue to do what I can to steward the ceremonial rites of my ancestors and to support others to do the same.

To all my relations,

Monica Larrea de Arellano, LM, CPM, daughter of Josefina M. Larrea and Ruperto Larrea

(written with the permission of my elders, teachers and spirit guides)

Note from The Birthing Tree: Monica is one of our trusted community partners, if you would like to know more about her midwifery services or the cerrada de cadera ceremony be sure to visit her website and mention The Birthing Tree for a 10% discount!

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