[Editor’s note: This issue’s guest editorial is by Sister MorningStar.]
I am very aware at present of the need for a paradigm shift toward our community involvement with birthing mothers. People are afraid of birth. Even ER docs and paramedics are afraid of birth. They would rather handle a gunshot wound. Grandmothers have become silent. Friends and family feel ignorant and helpless. We have lost the joy and wonder and celebration of birth that allows a mother to move through pregnancy and labor surrounded by calm loved ones and familiar environments. Indigenous people’s rites, rituals and prayers often don’t work when exposed to unbelievers. The natural mystery of life and birth is often undermined to breed fear rather than curiosity and trust. What to do? Learning more has not helped. Science proves and disproves on a daily basis and keeps everyone reading and confused. Meanwhile, mothers are growing another baby. Maybe the Cherokee can help. Maybe simplicity and sacredness can help. Maybe returning birth to community by way of village prenatals can help. [See MorningStar’s article on village prenatals.] Together, we can circle the earth and start a new wave of hope and joy.
~ Sister MorningStar
Sister MorningStar has dedicated a lifetime to the preservation of instinctual birth. She birthed her own daughters at home and has helped thousands of other women find empowerment through instinctual birth. She is the founder of a spiritual retreat center and author of books related to instinctual and spiritual living. She lives as a Cherokee hermitess and Catholic mystic in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. Visit her at her website.
The Medicine of the Ukhu Pacha: Andean Sacred Teachings around Pregnancy, Birth and Postpartum
Andean culture and wisdom offer a deep and honoring approach to women’s bodies and their reproductive health, including the time/space around birth and becoming mothers. Birth is considered a rite of passage in itself, where one will no longer be the same. The time of pregnancy and birth is considered to be a chakana (bridge) into maternity and an entrance to another reality: the Ukhu Pacha, where one enters her darkness, her inner world, and finds her strength and her medicine. The Ukhu Pacha is associated with the world of the ancestors, with the dark (from which everything is born), with the feminine generative force, with the periphery and with the unknown. The wisdom present in this can help women understand the different emotions we experience throughout pregnancy, birth and postpartum, which are not only emotional or mental states on the “bright side” but can include also sadness, grief, doubt, deep fears and confusion as we dwell in the waters of the Ukhu Pacha. As we will see, Andean cosmovision doesn’t understand these emotions as negative but as opportunities to better know ourselves, heal in deeper levels and strengthen our personal medicine.
It is starting with conception that the pregnant woman slowly enters this Ukhu Pacha as her pregnancy progresses, reaching its greatest depth at birth. She then slowly emerges from the Ukhu Pacha together with her baby. When we cross the threshold at the time of birth, diving in the deepest waters of the Ukhu Pacha, we experience a paramount transformation and are reborn at different levels of experience. When we cross the threshold of birth, we not only give life to a new being but we give birth to ourselves. We birth ourselves as new women, as we will not be the same again. Thus, according to Andean practices, to incorporate within the world of culture or the Kay Pacha (the here and now reality), the woman and her baby, as beings in transition, make a trance from one state to another, from one world to another, and must enter in the cultural world of norms (Lingán 1995). Thus, special care is given to the new mother by female community members in this rite of passage, as this is understood to be a very vulnerable state, not only physical, but emotional, mental and spiritual, where so much of her experience in the world as a woman is transforming. In a way, a woman in her state as a new mother after birth is weaving again, little by little, her new identity/identities and her place in the world. This personal transformation into becoming a mother must not be taken lightly (by herself and by her community).
The mother and baby during the pacha, or time-space after birth, are still dwelling in the Ukhu Pacha and going out little by little (and incorporating themselves) back to the Kay Pacha, or time-space as we know it, and they sense it normally. Thus, in the Andes, the common cultural practice is to have a one-moon or one-month retreat after the wawa (baby’s birth) to support this transitioning. The new mother stays in her house during the first days after birth just in her room, and she is cared for by close family and female community members. Her husband is a key part of this support circle, and he helps with household chores, as the new mother has to be in absolute repose and isn’t supposed to cook, wash laundry or dishes or clean the house. Although she is “on retreat” and has to follow some cultural norms during her time of seclusion (e.g., a special diet, minimum contact with water), she is not alone and she feels supported in this process. Certain cultural practices are followed by mother and baby to support the containment needed in this vulnerable pacha, such as the Andean practice of walta or walteado (swaddling). It is also advised that the household’s physical environment remains dark, and this is easy to attain as typical Andean houses aren’t illuminated; they resemble dark little wombs.
- Lingán, M. 1995. “El ritual del parto en los Andes.” Dissertation. University of Nijmegen.
~ Cynthia Ingar
Excerpted from “The Medicine of the Ukhu Pacha: Andean Sacred Teachings around Pregnancy, Birth and Postpartum,” Midwifery Today, Issue 118
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