We experience so many transitions during our lives. So few of them are marked or celebrated. Birth, marriage and death are the most popular. Some transitions like turning 21 used to be considered important but now that young people are considered adults at 18, the need to 'receive the key' don't seem to fit anymore.
For women some of the most significant changes are not marked at all or not in a meaningful way.
Starting to menstruate:
Becoming a woman with the start of menstruation is still a taboo
subject for many girls and women alike. Many girls in the transition to
womanhood experience shame and a sense of confusion. Of course different
from my generation, young woman today are exposed to all sorts of
messages on the internet. Google 'onset of menstruation' or 'menarche'
and what comes up is medical information.
In Aotearoa / New Zealand, there are a few organisations providing support for girls becoming women.
as well as individual women like Kathryn Firth here in Auckland.
Becoming a mother:
It is impossible to imagine what it feels like to have a child before
it happens/ The joy and strength of love feelings, knowing that if
necessary, you would die for your child. The angst, worry and heartache
and sense of enormous responsibility of this small defenseless little
person being utterly dependent on you. The sense of being in an unknown
landscape without a map.
However young or old you are when you give birth, the world of your
childhood is different from the world of your growing child: the
opportunities, expectations, the influences and what is seen to be
There are so many books, blogs and 'experts' giving advise to be a
parent. My only thoughts are that actually there are no maps because
1. we come to motherhood out of our own experience as girls and
women and our childhood experiences have a powerful (usually
unconscious) effect on us.
2. Our baby is a unique person from day 1.
Motherhood is a dance between me as mother and my baby plus all the
known and unknown influences on us. Pile on top of that, exhaustion
and the changing dynamic with our partner, if we have one. It is amazing
that most of us manage as well as we do. It truly is the most important
job in the world.
There is another transition that is not talked about much - just as important as these other two - and that is menopause.
For many women the physical aspect of stopping bleeding is greeted with relief and joy. I, for one, didn't miss bleeding one little bit.
Menopause often coincides with a time when our children (if we have any) don't need us in the same way they did when they were young.
Menopause is a powerful emotional, psychological and spiritual transition. For many women, menopause brings with it a question of 'who am I, if I am not a mother?". This is true even for working mothers, because the challenge of menopause is, I believe, is to hear the call from deep within us.
It is the woman in mid-life for whom the Inanna story can speak so deeply. Diane Wolkstein, author of the seminal book 'Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth', with
whom I had the pleasure of working in 2007, states that when Inanna made her descent to the Underworld, she was in mid-life, with children.
Leslie Kenton, author of many books including 'Passage to Power' contains this wonderful quote:
To mark a transition well, we need to understand the process of change.
What does this mean with menopause?
It means that we need to reflect on what it is that is 'dying' or changing:
- my body is changing
- my sexual desires may be changing (some women lose interest in sex, others find new vigor and interest)
Perhaps some of the biggest changes are psychological / spiritual:
There is something profound in realising that I have less days in front of me than behind me. This insight focuses the mind and heart. Some women report that with this knowledge, they decide to make significant change: leave a stagnant relationship, change career or follow their passion ...
Re-imagining Ourselves is a powerful process to deepen our understanding of transitions.
Marking transitions through reflection and personal ritual and ceremony can be life changing and transformational.
If this touches you, piques your curiosity.... I would love to hear from you :)