Baby Portal - a modern ritual for a modern time
Beeswax candles lovingly hand-dipped by my wife aromatically dance in the crisp autumn air. Their light gently caresses heirloom silverware my grandparents carried as prized possessions from the Soviet Union. Culinary delights care-fully crafted by my wife's and my parents adorn our plates. Eight wooden stands, black and white photo on one side and biography on the other, sit with us on our family table. Their presence reminds us of the lived inspiration for today's theme of "dress like your fanciest grandparent". Our closest friends and family take a collective breath felt through time, then sit to enjoy a proper feast. The evening is rich with ancestral meaning, and it means so much. We are ready to celebrate our lineage - past, present, and future.
My wife and I recently authored a new rite of passage - consciously crossing the threshold of trying for children with ritual and community.
Why create a rite of passage for parenthood?
Our journey began approximately three years ago when I began evidence-based conscious conception. I deeply felt, and rationally observed, that some parents are more prepared for and present with their children than others. Why? And, more important for the systems-oriented portion of my awareness, how?
Certainly, a large part of that is pragmatic along the first five dimensions of my conscious conception framework - physical, emotional, intellectual, financial, and relational. Our baby portal was simultaneously a celebratory culmination and the crowning jewel of the sixth esoteric dimension.
It's often said, "a marriage is for the couple, and a wedding is for the community." A wedding, in its purest form, is a rite of passage for two individuals that cross a threshold. Complete onto themselves, these two individuals meld to form a third entity: the union.
In the Western traditions I'm most familiar with, there is a ritualized honoring, and (often debaucherous or hedonistic) grieving, of the release of certain aspects of individuality. We have men's / women's gatherings or bachelor / bachelorette / hen parties to let go of that which must be released before the union can be fully realized. Whatever your experience in today's permutations, the root note of these rituals is a critically important start in the spiritual orchestration of what it means to cross the threshold from an individual to a couple.
What is the equivalent of a wedding for childbirth?
In today's modern landscape, marriage is far from synonymous with childbearing. First, marriage includes couples that may have no interest in birthing and raising children. Roughly 15% of women are childless and, of the women who do give birth, 40% do so out of wedlock.
And of couples that are firmly intent on children, the average time from marriage to birth of the first child is close to 3 years. That means many couples have established patterns, dynamics, and routines that are just the two of them. Understandably, many individuals and their relationships suffer when they do not properly honor and grieve that which must be released to graciously welcome in new life.
One purpose of a parental rite of passage, then, is to let go. This includes several orientations. It can refer to what we let go from our individual lives and pursuits that will no longer be accessible with the infinitely selfless commitment of parenthood. It can nod to what we let go from the dynamics of our relationship that cannot carry forward when a third life is present. Perhaps most acute, it also means what aspects of our lineage and our ancestral teaching we choose to terminate in ourselves and specifically not pass on to our children. There is much to let go of to feel fully present with the joys and beauty of what will fill that empty space.
Extending the framework of marriage, there is also the aspect of "vows" or commitments we make to our future children. Taking time to reflect on and communicate those commitments could also be valuable.
As in many weddings, we also found meaning in bowing to our lineage - our parents, grandparents, and beyond. To acknowledge and feel resonance with the choices and sacrifices all these people had to make for us to lead the lives of comfort and ease we enjoy today. What can we learn from their example, and from the example of other parents around us, that we wish to carry forward to our children?
And, much like any rite of passage, how do we graciously interweave the letting go, the calling in, and the liminal space in between? All meaning is arbitrary and chosen, so what do we choose for ourselves? And why?
The anatomy of ritual
I learned from Amy Saloner that most rituals tend to follow a common pattern.
- Set intentions
In the Open step, facilitators welcome guests and help them understand the purpose of the gathering.
In the Set Intentions step, facilitators clearly express what they hope will be accomplished and hope they, or everyone involved, take away from the gathering. In contexts with participatory or supportive elements, guides will explain to participants how they can play their part and what is expected of them.
In the Release step, the people at the center of the ritual (a single person, a couple, or the entire group) are invited to ritually release that which is holding them back, no longer serves, or must be left behind in this transition. Sometimes this is done by setting things afloat in the wind. Other times, this is accomplished through shakedowns or expressive movements. I've most often seen this accomplished by writing things on slips of paper and dropping them in a fire.
In the Embody step, participants infuse their prayers, well wishes, or desires into something physical. In the Jewish tradition, this is frequently exemplified in planting a tree. I've seen beads on a bracelet, writing in a book, hanging things on a tree, and creating a dreamcatcher. This step is often specific to the cultural context and can take any form.
In the Reflect step, the person or people at the center reflect on what this experience has meant to them. Often this reflection mirrors the intention setting and invokes what one hopes to get out of the ritual. It doesn't have to, but often this step is spoken out loud so there is an element of connection to the other participants.
In the Close step, the facilitators thank everyone for their presence and contribution to the gathering.
Seen another way, Opening demarcates the beginning of the sacred space and begins weaving the container. Setting Intentions gives structure and purpose to the container. Releasing empties the container and plunges everyone into the liminal space. Embodying grounds everyone through the inherently unsettling space of liminality and fills the void created by releasing. Reflecting and invoking is the step through the other side of liminal space and begins to loosen the container. Closing releases the container with grace and gratitude.
Weaving the threads - our baby portal
I'm a fantasy fan, and I consider the propagation of Life to be pure magic, so my resonant framing when I considered welcoming a new spirit was casting a spell to open a portal. My lovely wife is a good sport, so we called our rite of passage gathering our baby portal.
To realize the full depth of purpose and meaning of this ritual, we integrated our intentions and aesthetic preferences into the framework of a balanced and complete ritual.
Baby portal intentions
Our baby portal had five interwoven intentions:
- Joyously celebrate our years of inner and interpersonal work to be ready for this moment
- Diligently cross the threshold of a portal that transports us to a new focus and reality
- Reverently honor our ancestors, their being and their actions, that brought us to this instance in space and time
- Humbly honor the gifts of our lineage and consciously choose what we carry, and what we release, on the next leg of our ancestral journey
- Warmly welcome and steadfastly hold the energy of our future child
For the first intention, we spent a lot of time and energy preparing ourselves to step into parenthood, individually and together. In the months leading up to our baby portal, my wife and I were doing bi-weekly meetings discussing our concerns, reservations, and fears about becoming mother and father. The topics were often complex and emotional. After we closed our last topic, we reached a very meaningful milestone of preparation that we sure wanted to celebrate!
For the second intention, we wanted to let go of individual identities that must change as we step into the selflessness of parenthood. In addition to letting go, we wanted to properly honor those aspects of self and grieve their passing. Not necessarily with sadness, although that can certainly be part of it. With the rich appreciation of a flower fully bloomed that will never look the same again.
For the third intention, my wife and I are both very proud of our family lineage and stories. Our ancestors are incredible humans that accomplished a lot and, in many cases, survived against all odds. We both like the Dia de Los Muertos tradition of lovingly crafting a family altar and knew we wanted that force of lineage felt as we step forward.
For the fourth intention, we both feel the many lessons and gifts that echo through the generations into our being. In addition to the gifts, our ancestors also lived difficult and, at times, traumatic lives that generated behaviors and patterns we were taught but no longer serve. We felt inspired to honor all of it, proactively choose what we carry forward, and bow in gratitude to that which we leave behind at the entrance of our portal.
For the fifth intention, my wife and I were both rambunctious, energetic children that were often a lot to handle. Even an average between us would be more than four handfuls, and I have the intuition that our first child will be an amplification of our respective tendencies. To hold the portal open as massive energy comes through, I wanted our most trusted druids to lend their strength and power to our spell.
Baby portal aesthetics
My wife and I have a particular style, and we were keen to include that in our ritual. Generally speaking, we like live music and singing. We like earth-based traditions and a lot of flowers. We like ceremonial tea. We like arts and crafts. We like interactive stations and co-creation. We like dressing up. And we especially like cooking feasts for loved ones.
We also like attention to detail, precision, and clarity. From a more esoteric angle, we strive to have clean energy and transmit clear Love Signals.
Putting it all together - our baby portal schedule
To have maximum spaciousness and time to connect, we chose to do our baby portal over a long weekend. We invited select family members, our inner circle of friends, and our most trusted facilitators.
On Friday, our guests arrived in the early afternoon to get settled and acquainted with our ritual space. We did our opening circle once everyone had fully landed (Step 1) then transitioned to our guided meditation where we started our session by setting our intentions (Step 2). The meditation was full of music and deep internal reflection focused on what we wanted to let go (Step 3). After our first ritual, we shared a lovely home-cooked meal then rested.
On Saturday, we started with a bountiful brunch followed by a silent ceremonial Cha Dao tea. I poured and my wife graciously tended to the chaxi (tea table and stage) as well as the water. After that, we planted a persimmon tree (Step 4). Then many guests took a siesta while the kitchen crew cooked up a feast where each recipe came from either my wife's or my family's line. Before dinner, we set out a cute critter creation station with little slips of paper for folks to imbue their blessings and well wishes (Step 4). We'll later take those critters and hang them as part of the mobile that swings above our child's cradle.
The pinnacle of the weekend was our family feast on Saturday. Our dress-up theme was "Dress like your fanciest grandparent," and we had a beautiful assortment of stories and fashion. Almost everything on the table came from my grandparents or parents, and the recipes were from both sides of the family. We also had pictures of our grandparents and their bios for folks to read throughout the dinner. We started the meal with a beautiful poem honoring ancestors and lineage then chowed down together. Both sets of parents were present, and it was an incredibly meaningful and powerful experience. We rounded the evening with songs around the fireplace until folks were ready for bed.
Sunday started with a light breakfast, yoga, and a lot of free time. Over lunch, we hosted a wisdom share for parents and children (that's everyone!) to share what they learned along their path. We had some specific questions that we've been discussing and invited more general shares. Then some more free time until that evening's guided meditation. Again, a lot of music and inner reflection, this time on what we want to call in (Step 5). At the end, our facilitators invited everyone to offer their blessings. This step was unexpected and so touching and beautiful. To have our inner circle look us in the eye and share what they think about us as individuals, as a couple, and as future parents was powerful on levels hard to communicate and easily felt.
Monday was a gentle start with another home-cooked breakfast followed by a closing circle (Step 6). Then everyone pitched in to clean up, reset the space, and was on their way. Portal closed.
An overwhelming success
In nearly every conceivable way, our baby portal was a resounding success. Practically, the production of our event was smooth and enjoyable with no moments of stress. Energetically, our container was clean, clear, and joyous. Spiritually, we both felt deeply connected to our lineage, to family and friends, to each other, and to the essence that will soon embody as our child.
I cannot imagine a more gracious welcome for a spirit than a celebration filled with laughter, good food, music, and love. The full force of each of our beings was concentrated into a communal incantation that left us all spellbound.
Portal opened with precision and purpose.
My wife and I walked through hand-in-hand, heart open.
Our child was certainly there, feeling held in the container of celebration and love, ready to meet us on the other side.
I sense our modern times call for modern takes on ancient rites.
I offer our thoughts, process, and experience for current and future parents. For those who resonate with honoring their transition into parenthood, it's never too late to author your own ritual rite of passage. The specifics of our flare are uniquely our own. The root note of our purpose, I suggest, is heard by us all.
Make your own meaning. Honor your ancestors and your lineage. Celebrate what you carry forward and bow to what you let go. And feel how that impacts you, your new parental identity, and your (current or future) children.
May your portal serve you well.