The first forty days after a child is born is a time like no other- a special period of almost six weeks, the fourth trimester, where after months of pregnancy, sickness, aching hips, and the endurance of labour and birth, your body works to miraculously recover.
And your reward? Your “push present”?
Holding your precious new baby in your arms and having this unique period to bond and begin your journey together.
But what happens when this is taken away from you?
When you have been through the same raw, animal-like experience of pregnancy and birth, yet have no reward at the end — no baby in your arms.
Just emptiness, loss, and grief. That same 40 days will have come and gone.
Your body will have triumphed in its ability to heal physically. You will have begun a journey with the baby you have lost, and, importantly, you will have survived. You will have survived one of the deepest and most painful human experiences – the loss of a baby.
It may have been a pregnancy journey that resulted in a miscarriage. It may have been a journey that ended with stillbirth or neonatal death, or it may have been some other pregnancy journey.
Either way, there will have been a cycle of life that has come to a close. A life that you created and carried.
The close of a cycle that should be honoured.
I have been lucky.
My friends honoured the closing of this cycle with a special gift – arranging for a doula to visit me at home for a Cerrada and drum healing ceremony, also known as Closing of the Bones.
What is Closing the Bones?
A tradition stemming from Ecuador and Mexico, but practiced in many countries, Closing the Bones is a postpartum closing ceremony to assist in a woman’s recovery after childbirth.
It provides a safe and supportive space where healing can take place physically, mentally, and spiritually and a moment in time where our experiences can be reflected upon and honoured.
A woman’s hips open during pregnancy and birth, but we will have also opened ourselves to a life-changing experience. In some cases, we will have opened ourselves to trauma.
The closing of the bones ceremony assists in the physical closing of the hips back to their standard width, and, as our hips are often where we hold unresolved emotions and trauma, it assists in releasing emotions associated with birth and motherhood.
The ceremony can be carried out at any time after birth, even many years later, but for me, it felt important to mark the closing of the fourth trimester.
The doula who visited me was calm, quiet, and gentle. She began by smudging (burning sacred herbs) and then gave me a soothing massage across my belly and lower back whilst I was standing.
Various massage techniques were then carried out as I lay on the floor to assist with lifting the uterus, creating warmth in my womb area, and general recovery.
Carefully, she also rocked my hips from side to side using a long scarf -working to close the hip bones. The ceremony ended by wrapping the scarf tightly around my hips and playing a sacred drum.
It was this culminating of the ceremony with my hips wrapped and the sound of drumming that felt both humbling and powerful.
The drumbeat to the rhythm of the heart and its sound vibrated and reverberated through me, the sound my baby experienced for most of his life. I was reminded this was the sound of my mother’s heartbeat and the sound of all other mother’s heartbeats both here and in the past whose hearts have beat lovingly for their children.
As I lay on the floor with my womb warmly and lovingly wrapped and resting to fully integrate my experience, I felt held.
This special area of my body that had created and carried life for so many months, but which after all it had done, had resulted in such devastating loss, felt honoured.
It was as if my ancestor mothers and women from around the world who had experienced this ceremony were wrapping their hands around my belly and hips in a warm and loving embrace – acknowledging that my baby had been there, holding my womb and helping it to heal.
After the ceremony had ended, the doula provided me with a warm drink to increase blood flow and assist with my healing.
Space was created where I could talk about my experiences and life and death. To share with someone who quietly listened.
I feel so grateful to my friends for this gift. A gift that honoured everything I had been through both mentally and physically- the creation of life and its loss.
And whilst I know that this is by no means the end of my journey with grief and whilst I am not seeking any form of closure to my experience, it did honour the end of a cycle and arguably the end of the worst phase of my grief and loss.
I hope that by writing about the ceremony, this gift is passed on to you and that mothers (and fathers) who have experienced any form of loss are also able to create a special moment for themselves to reflect, but importantly to honour their experience.