Closing of the Bones – A Cross-Cultural, Postpartum Practice

postpartum traditions Feb 23, 2021

At this time on the planet, especially within the birth community, especially within the birth community in the United States, there is profound polarization on many topics and on many levels.

 

One such polarized topic, is around who is “allowed” to offer certain care practices– in service to Mothers and families.

 

I will begin by acknowledging that WE, collectively, are suffering from the impact of 500 years of white supremacy - not just within our institutions, but within our physiology. And that WE, collectively, have a tremendous amount of healing work to tend to - within our own bodies and within our RESPECTIVE communities, in order for healing to come to the COLLECTIVE.

 

I next want to take a moment to acknowledge that: our human history did not begin 500 years ago. And that at this point in time – most of humanity’s lineages have experienced genocide.

 

The past 500 years of colonization is part of a colonization process that has infiltrated Life on Earth over the past several thousands of years; colonizing humanity with a ‘death consciousness’ or a ‘death program.’ When I write ‘death consciousness,’ I am referring to consciousness (manifesting as belief systems and physical structures alike) that denigrates and destroys LIFE.

 

We are confronting a PROFOUND, collective AMNESIA relative to our respective cultural inheritances and our collective human inheritance.

 

This collective amnesia is part of the ‘death program,’ and manifests as ignorance in a variety of flavors; arrogance, belittlement and divisiveness to name a few.

 

The timeline I am orienting us to through this writing goes beyond the establishment of racism and white supremacy; beyond the time of the inquisitions in indigenous Europe; beyond the time of the slaughtering of women worldwide to suppress and repress wisdom, knowledge, and understanding of LIFE so that this death program could take hold… to a time when ALL of our respective and collective indigenous practices were rooted in: BEING IN ALIGNMENT WITH LIFE.

 

Birthing and postpartum traditions from around the world are virtually the same, because they are rooted in our physiologic and psychologic NEEDS as postpartum women. These needs are the same - no matter to which lineage we belong to. And the differences of the respective practices, reflect the differences in our land-based environments.

 

'Closing of the Bones' after birth is often thought to be a Mexican postpartum tradition - using the rebozo (rebozos are shawls – and come in varying lengths & material). Closing of the Bones in Mexico is often called Cerrar la Cadera or a Cerrada (meaning: 'Closing of the Hips' or 'A Closing,' respectively). While Closing of the Bones absolutely has origins in Mexico, it ALSO has origins in Russia and Morocco, amongst many, many other places in the world. 

 

My husband Jose Juan Garcia Alfaro, comes from a family of traditional medicine people from Guanajuato and Hidalgo, Mexico. His paternal grandmother was a traditional midwife in rural Pachuca, Mexico. I give credit, love, and acknowledgment to first learning Closing of the Bones, from my Mother-in-law, Clara Alfaro Peña.

 

My husband’s family shared with me that: The rebozo itself is not Mexican in origin.

 

That the rebozo arrived to Mexico with the Spaniards through colonization. And that the rebozo arrived to the Spaniards via the Arabs.

 

They shared: The technique of working with the 'rebozo' in Mexico, indeed predates colonization. And that it was the 'ayate' or 'tilmàtli' within the Nahuatlaco nation, that was then used. 


Photos Credit: Rebozos Tenancingo Mexico - Karen Elwell  Credit Photo: Juanita Esquivel-Masahua, Lourdes Almeida, 2000

 

Russian midwives Ekaterina Perkhova and Zifa Astashko let me know that the name of Closing of the Bones in Russia is called: Seven Locks. And that the traditional cloth they use for this is called: Rushnyk (1). The specific kind of rushnyk used for this postpartum sealing is called: Svivallnik

         
Photo credits: (left) Russian midwife or ‘povituha’ Juliya Shelepina performing ‘Seven Locks’ - from Kestrel Gates of @buildyourownnest from her time with birthworkers in Russia. (right)
 Wikipedia of Russian rushnyks


Several students of mine have shared with me that in Morocco, Closing of the Bones is called: Al-Shedd or Shedd/Shadd ('Al' meaning The, 'Shedd' meaning pull or pulling). And the traditional cloth used to offer this care are called: kourziyas.


Credit: Photos of Kourziyas and Al Shedd shared with me by Fatima Abdallah. Fatima learned this method from Layla B. and The Nafsa Project School training.

 

Closing of the Bones is an innate tradition of postpartum women; a tradition that comes from our physiologic design / our physiologic needs.

 

During pregnancy and birth - our physical bodies and our energy fields expand more than they ever will - to grow and bring forth human life. Therefore, most traditional postpartum care practices help to CLOSE women up, and ‘reincorporate,’ meaning: come back into our bodies after birth.

 

This physical expansion of pregnancy can be understood through the physiologic processes of:

  • Increased Relaxin: Relaxin is a hormone present in all humans, the amount of Relaxin is naturally higher in female bodies; rising to a peak during ovulation and declining in the absence of pregnancy. On average, pregnant women have 10 times the normal amount of Relaxin in their bodies. Relaxin softens connective tissues and makes ligaments and tendons more elastic. It affects every connective tissue, ligament, and tendon in your body from your thumb joints to your hips. 
  • Blood volume expansion: During pregnancy, the volume of blood in a woman's body increases on average by 50 percent. 
  • By the third trimester of pregnancy, 100% of women will have some level of Diastasis Recti(2); which is the widening of the gap between the 2 sections of the Rectus Abdominis (or 6 pack) abdominal muscles, along the linea alba. 
  • The pelvis OPENS during birth – to allow for the passage of the baby. Physical Therapist and Founder of the Institute for Birth Healing, Lynn Schulte, says that in her practice serving thousands of postpartum women – the pelvic bones of many women are 'stuck open’ in a birthing position – even when they birthed their last child 20+ years ago.

The above named are just SOME of the physiologic expansions that happen through pregnancy and birth.

 

The energetic / psychologic / spiritual expansions that happen through pregnancy and birth range from:

  • memories of past physical or sexual abuse rising to the surface for the first time
  • reckoning with our own early childhood experiences and how we were parented
  • fears of who we might be as a Mother
  • fears of what might become of our romantic partnerships
  • maturation in our relationships to our partners, our finances, our outer work in this world
  • shifting of family dynamics
  • stepping into new roles and responsibilities in our families, communities, world
  • knowing ourselves and our capacities in ways that we never had prior

This list could go on and on and is unique to every Mother.

Pregnancy and birth require us to open and expand.

Postpartum requires that we close our physical bodies back up, that we re-define our personal boundaries, and that we reconnect with ourselves as newly born Mothers.

 

The cross-cultural practice of Closing of the Bones, is one way that this is facilitated.

 

Beginning at the top of the head, and working down to the feet, a long piece of cloth is wrapped around a Mother like a strong, grounding embrace - closing Mothers' body up and helping Mother to re-incorporate after the expansiveness of the experience of birth.

Practicing Closing of the Bones at INNATE Taos NM 2018


Ideally, there are two people supporting Mother with this work - one on either side of Mother - pulling the cloth with equal strength and traction on either side, offering this closing. The elemental energy of this closing of the body after birth is: EARTH. It is an opportunity for Mother to be held by those facilitating the closing for her, by the cloth itself being used for the closing, and by the prayerful / intention- filled energy of the closing.

Practicing Closing of the Bones at INNATE's Training, New Orleans, LA 2018
 

Some of what Closing of the Bones offers to postpartum Mothers is:

  • Manual work after birth is needed on the abdomen - for the approximation of the abdominal muscles and fascia at the linea alba. This manual work helps to facilitate pelvic floor and core connection after birth. This manual work can be done with our hands OR with a long cloth (like a rebozo, rushnyk, or kourziya), and helps bring the actual muscles and fascia closer together anteriorly on the abdomen—which will then allow for a more effective core and pelvic floor contraction.(3) 
  • The pelvis is meant to be closed up after birth (including the bony structure of the pelvis); through an extended resting period, through nutrient-dense foods which facilitate tissue healing, and through hands-on work. Closing of the Bones is one of the ways to facilitate this closing of the pelvis after birth.
  • Closing of the Bones offers Mothers a small amount of time to turn her energy inward; as opposed to the persistent outward energy that is required of early Mothering and caretaking of a newborn baby. 
  • Closing of the Bones is a small closing ceremony - for whatever the particular Mother feels she wants to/ needs to bring closure to at that time. This small ceremony is an honoring ceremony; honoring the work that this Mother did to grow and birth human life - and her sacrifices (sacrifice meaning: a holy offering) through the work of Mothering. It is a way to honor Mothers as the foundation to humanity's health and as the caretakers of the future generations. This small ceremony is a way to honor the right order of Life.

  

In my experience both with our family in Mexico and working with midwives in Mexico, Closing of the Bones is facilitated several times during the first 6 weeks after birth.

 

In my experience serving birthing and postpartum women for the past 19 years and working with hundreds of students serving their respective communities for the past 6 years, is that if postpartum Mothers are able to experience this simple ceremony even once, especially at the end of the 6-week period after birth, tremendous healing is offered.

 

From an INNATE student, practicing massage therapist:
" I performed a closing of the bones on a mom that is 2 years postpartum and it was profoundly healing, and it aided in her moving her breath from chest dominant back into a diaphragmatic breath.
She had come in numerous times for pain relief and her structure wouldn't acclimate to any changes being made until after the closing of the bones. Afterwards her entire body fell into place and her musculature relaxed all over. Such a beautiful process to witness, even years postpartum."
 

The work of traditional midwives or ‘authentic’ midwives, is to care for the health of the people from womb to tomb.

 

When I write 'traditional midwife,' or ‘authentic midwife,’ I am not only speaking to the intergenerational transmission of midwifery from within a specific cultural context. I am speaking to midwifery in its origins as it applies to all of our ancestors.

 

And the origins of traditional midwifery - no matter what lineage we come from - have always been rooted in: In what way are we conceived? In what way do we gestate?  In what way do we give birth?  In what way are we cared for in the postpartum time? In what way are we raised? In what way are we in our relationships? Because within the answers to these questions, the health of both present and future generations is cradled.

 

Traditional midwifery is aligned with and abides by the Laws of Nature; both the cyclical Nature of our bodies and the eternal Nature of our Souls. Through this alignment, true HEALING is understood and practiced. 

 

These are the life-giving, life-carrying capacities of traditional midwives. The potential of Planetary WELLNESS resides within this traditional, authentic midwifery care. 

 

Cross-culturally, midwives (what we may now refer to as ‘birthkeepers,’ - so including doulas, lactation consultants, massage therapists, mental health practitioners / all maternal health providers into this grouping) have been under tactical attacks for a very long time – in attempt to destroy the wisdom, knowledge and understanding to support and exalt LIFE.

 

These external attacks against midwives are no longer needed. The internalized oppression of midwives / maternal health care workers is so strong – that the midwifery community now attacks itself / destroys itself from the inside out.  This can be seen through the policing and ‘call out’ culture of the birth community, especially within the United States.

 

Women’s bodies are the same – no matter what land our ancestors belong to.

 

Therefore – the physiologic NEEDS of women in the childbearing continuum are the same. And therefore the CARE that women need is the SAME –  no matter what land our ancestors belong to, no matter what land we call home.

 

No person has the authority to decide who is ‘allowed’ to offer care to another human being – or not.

 

Each care provider, in integrity and connection with their SELF, decides what care is appropriate – based upon the needs of the Mother they are serving. THIS is the formula for authentic caregiving; this is the root of traditional midwifery.

 

May we step out of the collective narratives that enslave us. May we connect with our core Truths that liberate us. And may we show up in our work and in our lives in alignment with Nature’s laws.

 

Rachelle Garcia Seliga

Copyright 2020

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Registration for the only INNATE Postpartum Care – Certification Training of 2021 is now OPEN! INNATE’s Training is for those dedicated to thriving life on Earth, through the pathway of maternal health. I hope you will JOIN US  for this 9-month learning journey!

***

For a FREE CLASS on how Community is our Immunity in the postpartum period, click HERE.

 

 

 

(1) Wikipedia explanation on the Rushnyk: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rushnyk

(2): [Gillard and Brown 1996 and Diane Lee 2013]

(3)  PT Lauren Rae Mallari- Snyder of Thrive Physical Therapy

 

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