Sydney McCall Patel
Grieving the Maiden - Ritual Support For Postpartum Depression
Updated: Feb 17
Guidance for new moms
by Sydney McCall Patel, Marriage and Family Therapist, Marin County, California
With birth comes death. The two are inextricably intertwined. The death of a mother’s freedom, girlish sexuality and silly immaturity occurs when our first child arrives into the world. Pregnancy and birth are existential gateways giving us great strength and often great sadness as we enter into our new domestic roles.
I recall early on in my pregnancy mourning the loss of young friendships. I mourned friends whom I hadn’t seen for far too many years and suddenly longed for — how we moved around the playground like tornadoes swirling in our own excitement and stories. And later, as we would hold hands and dance our way through cobblestone streets in far off cities, never knowing what the night would bring, intent on being free and full of desire.
I found myself heartily missing and cherishing my young carelessness and wild impulsivity as
I felt the forward motion of someone deeper and more sane arising. The feelings of joy and grief coexisted as my belly grew. These profound emotional changes in our view of self and the world arise naturally for so many.
When my son was born, amidst the mystical thrill and waves of love, I did feel sad to my bones, which was very surprising at the time. I realized that in this rite of passage, as in all rites of passage, something, someone was left behind, and that was the girl I was, the girl who herself had always been a child and had been cared for and now, in some sense, never more.
In my work as a postpartum therapist, I have often seen this sadness operating without the client’s full consciousness of it — and a death unrecognized is a death unprocessed, undigested. We have the potential to rise from the ashes of our former selves, stronger and closer to light — but without a ritual recognition of the need to mourn, which we see with physical but rarely psychic death, this proper moving on can be very difficult.
We leave little room for these inconvenient feelings of sadness and loss. We struggle with the societal pressures to be the happiest we’ve ever been and feel guilty for experiencing anything but joy. We hold an expectation that with birth there is only happiness rather than the whole spectrum of emotion.
Unless we make room for the grief it can leak out in ways that disturb us. We judge ourselves for not being good parents, we think something is wrong with who we are and that maybe the feelings of sadness mean we should not have become mothers. Yet it is the sadness we have to actually move through to discover who we are as mothers. Finding a way to ritualize this can help us honor the grief and give us back our power.
There are many factors that contribute to postpartum depression/anxiety. Lacking the space and structure to grieve the transformation is but one. However, it’s one that you can address.
Find a PPD/Anxiety support group in your area, or online if you’re just too busy or too far away. Speak your truth to a circle of moms and in that clear air, say goodbye to the girl who stays behind so you can welcome the mother you can become.
If a group doesn’t work for you, create your own ritual. You can journal, make art, talk to friends, family, a therapist, seek out and read the stories of other women. Go to the ocean or another body of water. Dance, shout to the sky, write the words the maiden would say to the newborn mother and sail them out on the water. Take some article of clothing or anything with a strong association of childhood and bury it or burn it or leave it on a tree in the forest.
Put your hands together in prayer and say the words you would say to that girl, say goodbye if you will or hello if its appropriate. Listen to your heart and speak it’s words.
And if you don’t feel like there’s anything to grieve, still take the time to honor the carefree one who has to step aside for awhile, the one who used to be the center of attention and now sometimes can feel like merely the holder of the center of attention.
Grieving the maiden is honoring your truest self.