Birth, a Family Right of Passage by Celesta Rannisi LM, CPM, LCS, Babyliveadvice Midwife

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No one can deny that birth is a transforming event for a family. Most times we just think about it from the woman’s perspective and how it changes her life. How it changes a maiden into a mother. The ultimate metamorphosis. But it is much more far reaching and goes way beyond that. It transforms a young man into a father, a child into a brother or sister, a mother and father into grandparents and brothers and sisters into aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews into cousins….

Family is what we get when a baby is born.

Through most of human history when a baby was coming into the world it became a social event. When you look around the globe you see different cultures that honored the birth of a baby with rituals that are passed down generation to generation. A celebration of a new life. The women of the family; grandmothers, aunties, sisters gathered all to give support and love helping the birthing mother with whatever she may need. They would hang close making themselves available to her. Foods were made and needs were met for the birthing couple so all they needed to do was focus on the process of bringing a baby earth side.

Mothers, aunties and sisters were your doulas and they came before the time of birth to help out in late stages of pregnancy. The women of the family would often sit together knitting blankets or sewing diapers while telling positive stories of birth and sharing tips, remedies, and suggestion for nursing a new born or healing a torn yoni.

We try to keep those instinctually close ties by having baby showers and birth announcements to keep close our family bonds.

Grandparents will buy expensive gifts of cribs, strollers and new on the market gizmos, to show love and support where once they would bring soups and stews traditional songs and lullabies. Hand carved or handed down cradle or rocker.

The men of the family would help the anticipating new daddy with wise words and hands on help. A fence would go up or a cord of wood would be cut. Animals or a shop would be tended to. Back then men knew how important their presence was in helping new fathers adjust to a new family. Stories of family values, customs and tradition are passed on to the birthing couple and the soul of the family is shared and preserved.

Family birthing is powerful. We have come so far away from what our ancestors enjoyed.

Over 98% of women in America birth in institutions which do not support extended family stays that are a normal part of the passage of birth.

Kendell and Klaus in their study of women with and without labor support shows the evidence of improved outcomes, shorter labors and less perceived pain when a woman is surrounded by those she loves and trusts (1).Dr. Sarah Buckley explains in her book “Gentle Birth Choices ” That at the time of birth endorphins and oxytocin are released into the blood stream of all those close to the birthing mother and child and a bonding occurs that is unique to the moment of birth called limbic Imprinting. I would go a step further and say it is a very unique moment in a family as they bond and imprint themselves together with the birthing mother and baby.

In our attempt to modernize and make birth “safer and more sterile” for the mother and baby, we have displaced immediate and extended family in this process. We have segregated them from the birthing couple to the waiting rooms of hospitals and ½ hr visits during special visiting hours. The separation of the family at a precious time as this is a huge disservice to birthing families. A missing link to strong family ties.

There are ways to get back to the celebration of having a baby with family. One way is to have birth in ones’ own home. The homebirth option is family centered allowing the birthing family the ability to relax in the safety of their own home with loved ones surrounding them. Midwives come to the home to assist the birth and mother avoids being moved to an unfamiliar environment during labor. Midwives provide guidance and safeguard birth and the transitions of breastfeeding. While children and family learn watch and get support.

Birth Centers also provide the family an exceptional opportunity to bond as there is more freedom to have those who are close to the birthing couple to be present with them at the time of birth. Some have birthing suites that are created to have a homier feel to them and giving more opportunity to have family present at birth.

There are more restrictions but some hospitals allow family to be present for births now as well. Hospital family centered birthing rooms again try to mimic a homey environment to help mothers feel more comfortable yet have all the medical equipment needed to assist a struggling mother or newborn. Some Hospitals allow a couple to have labor support of their choices to make their experience more enjoyable.

In each place of birth one thing is very clear and that is that mothers do exceptional well with the support of family close to them. The stress of birth is minimized by the presence of loved ones. These are the times that family oxytocin is highest among them… the love hormone. A baby is what releases these kinds of bonding hormones in a family. I like to call it family super glue as it is that strong!

This is one very important way families bond, grow and learn. This is not fostered in our society any longer but is of great importance in helping families stay close strong and secure.

Returning to family centered birth creates stronger families and a safe place for raising children. Support in times of need and confidence in raising a healthy family bond with all those who would be involved with the new baby……A family rite of passage.