Rituals are important in marking the significance of a change in life, and although women often celebrate upcoming births, before today I’d never witnessed a ceremony that celebrates the conclusion of a woman’s childbearing years. Nimbin-based Doula Kirrah Holborn gave my beautiful friend Hellena a special ceremonial blessing to honour Hellena’s new stage of womanhood.
Almost three weeks ago, Hellena was in hospital undergoing a tubal ligation. After eight children, she and her partner Currawong feel that their family is complete. When Kirrah heard about Hellena’s operation, she shared that she had been learning about sacred closing ceremonies for post-natal women and offered to perform a ritual. As it happened, I was around when Kirrah turned up at Hellena’s house!
Here’s what I saw of the ceremony.
We start by walking together to the peak of Mountain Top. This is a sacred section of land just behind Nimbin Rocks. Indigenous people have spoken to Currawong and Hellena about the stories of this land and the spirits that still inhabit this place.
Close to the top of the hill, a huge Moreton Bay fig stands as a sentinel over the property.
The landowner slashed the grass recently, and we find the peak cleared nicely for us.
Kirrah and Hellena start laying blankets and pieces of material on the ground. Long, skinny sarongs are placed in horizontal lines along the length of the blanket. Later they're used to wrap individual parts of Hellena's body.
Once the groundcoverings are completed, Kirrah explains the simple ceremony to Hellena.
After Hellena is lying down, Kirrah uses a pinch of smouldering sage leaves to smudge the air, ritually purifying the location and Hellena's body from the company of malevolent spirits.
Kirrah starts at Hellena's feet, blessing them for all the places they've been, all the places they're still leading her to, and for the role they've played in her childbirthing years.
Once she's finished speaking the blessing, Kirrah wraps Hellena's feet with the scarf that is lying underneath them.
Next, Kirrah stretches up to bless Hellena's legs, rubbing them as she does so.
After wrapping the legs, the next section of Hellena's body is her belly — the childbirthing centre. With a gentle massage, Kirrah speaks blessings on this part too.
Throughout the ceremony, Hellena lies still with her eyes closed, fully relaxing into the massage and blessing.
Once all Hellena's body is wrapped, Kirrah moves around to the top of the head and gently massages Hellena's temples, gently talking all the while.
The sun is slowly disappearing over the peak of the neighbouring hills as the ceremony reaches completion.
Hellena's body and head are fully wrapped and supported by the heat of hot-water bottles. She feels warm and enclosed within the wrappings, and Kirrah massages her gently.
Kirrah slowly removes the hot-water bottles and unwraps the scarves from Hellena's body, allowing the late-afternoon air to once again cool her skin.
Now fully unwrapped, Hellena revives herself with a drink of water.
Hellena embraces Kirrah in gratitude for the peaceful and validating ritual.
The ladies chat as the sun sinks behind the hills and we feel the pull of home calling us back down the mountain.
Back at home, Kirrah temporarily wraps Hellena's belly with a Bengkung binding. It's a long piece of cloth that's wound around the abdomen in the style of Malaysian women who use it to promote postpartum healing and recovery.
In the bathroom, Kirrah sets up a small altar of crystals and beautiful, natural treasures. The room is lit with candles and decorated with fresh leaves and flowers.
During our absence, Currawong has filled the bath with hot water, almond oil and a sprig of spearmint. Kirrah adds almond milk, honey, and rose petals before Hellena sinks into the scented water.
After rubbing her hands with mandarin oil, Kirrah gives Hellena one last blessing. She already smudged Hellena's naked body with sage before Hellena stepped into the water, and we appreciated the new scars on Hellena's abdomen that indicate where the surgeon cut into her body to sever and cauterise her fallopian tubes.
I appreciated this simple, affirming ceremony. Kirrah was gentle in blessing and massaging Hellena’s body, honouring Hellena for her childbirthing experiences and also for the new stage of non-fertility that Hellena has deliberately entered into. I saw that Hellena really appreciated the energy that Kirrah gave her in the ceremony and came away feeling relaxed and honoured.
Kirrah said that she learned the original rebozo closing ritual from Birthwork and the sacred postpartum ritual from Sacred Pregnancy, and that it would be easy to adapt these ceremonies to suit a range of women’s life situations. If you’re interested in using the steps of this ceremony to honour a woman’s permanent transition from childbearing years — whether through tubal ligation, hysterectomy or childbirth — it should be easy to use Kirrah’s technique as an example to follow.