The Legacy of Childbirth | The Goddesses of Midwifery

Most genealogies record the patriline and ignore the matriline, unless, of course; it was a particularly important and noteworthy matriarch, as was the case with Ruth of the Hebrew Bible.

In the novel The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, the author presents what can be described as a hypothesis of a legacy that passes down from Mother to Daughter. It is the legacy of motherhood and the relationship it has with the Mother Goddess and the miracle of birth.

Growing up as a modern woman where women tend to marry later in life and view starting a family as a ‘sacrifice’; we are not taught that we, as women, can partake in the mysterious journey of birth and of bringing life into this world.

In ancient times, this was a sacred rite. It was this journey that transformed a maiden into a mother. Another important rite was the menarche. It was when women were initiated into womanhood. It was a period during which one was not a mother, but was able to become one.

Cultural and religious attitudes towards childbirth, menarche and menopause are widespread throughout history and around the world. Concerns regarding ‘impurity’ especially during menstruation and childbirth led to the introduction of many taboos that secluded and isolated women from the rest of their communities. With these customs came the need for ritual purification.

In the midst of all this, there is the worship of Periyachi Amman of the Tamil Hindu tradition. The Goddess Periyachi, who is venerated in Singapore, Malaysia and Reunion Island, is considered an aspect of Kali Amman. Periyachi Amman has a specific function, though. The protection of the unborn child as well as the newborn.

Many a times I go to temples and I see the prayers for the newborn taking place by her murti statue. Periyachi Amman is the Goddess of Midwifery. Before the advent of modern medicine, it was precisely women such as Periyachi Amman, who would be there to deliver and protect a child that people wanted to destroy.

It is a sad truth of life that not every child that comes into this world is wanted. I read statistics a few years back that stated that only 50% of pregnancies are planned and wanted. The rest, it seems, are an accident; an unexplainable force of nature; something that happens without us meaning for it to happen.

Then, there are other stories, stories of infertility and of desperately wanting children and not being able to have them. The story of Santana Lakshmi, in particular, reminds us that children–progeny–are one of the very material blessings from the Goddess. When we do not want to have children, we deny ourselves this blessing.

I had a conversation a few months back with a friend of mine After Roe Fell and we were on our way back from Mass at a Catholic Church, an institution that has always maintained a strong stance against abortion.

Women are marrying later or not marrying at all. This is increasingly the norm in secular societies. It is a trend that cannot be reversed. And the truth is, no one really wants to go back to the days of arranged marriages and abusive spouses.

This is not just a problem of the developing world where traditions are strong and choices are scarce. I have personally known well-educated women who are trapped in relationships that they willingly chose and refuse to get out of; no matter how detrimental it is to the children she and her partner have brought into this world.

I have always maintained an anti-abortion stance for at the end of the day, who am I to deny an unborn child the right to life? If a soul wants to come into this world to sort through their karma, to make their mark, to do whatever they are destined to do; then who am I to tell that child No? And if I am the parent that God has chosen for the child, then, I will have to accept the life that is seeking to express itself through me.

Perhaps my beliefs stem from a fundamental truth that I believe: our children are not ours. They come from the Divine. Parents are custodians of those children. Our children will one day return to their Maker, much like we, too, will one day have to return to our Maker.

In the Catholic tradition, it is Our Lady of Guadalupe that is evoked to protect the unborn who is vulnerable. Despite the little that is written about Mother Mary in the Gospels, we do know that she was there when John the Baptist was born. While we cannot say for certain that the Virgin was the midwife, but it was common during those times for women to come together to help with the delivery of a newborn.

Beyond the strong relationship that we have already associated with women and children; there is another relationship that has, in recent decades, undergone many changes. It’s the journey of fatherhood.

After all, the conception of the child begins with the consciousness of the father. Without him, there can be no birth. Without him, future generations cannot be born. Through the discovery and the strides that science has made, we even know that it is the father’s sperm that determines the gender of the child.

I don’t know if there are men out there who dream of becoming fathers. I speak to men I know and it is a rite of passage. For the older generation, it was something that they had to do whether they liked it or not. For the younger generation, it is a choice and one that many are willing to forgo completely.

If you ask me, there is no failure in life for not having had a child. It is not the end of the world. Life will go on for life can take care of itself without us.

In pop culture, the stereotype, at least in my generation, was the commitment-phobic guy who wanted to remain a bachelor forever. The last thing he ever wanted to do was get himself a ball and chain. He routinely mistreated women and was glorified for his devil-may-care attitude.

The new generations are increasing ‘woke’. They judge the older generations harshly for patriarchy, for climate destruction, for all the woes that they have already inherited from those who were poor custodians. To the older generation, we, the millennials, are drifting away and floating away from long-held traditions that informed who they are and who they are meant to be.

Coming back to Periyachi Amman, the Goddess of Midwifery. It is said that she is the one who protects the uncreated, the unborn and that which is yet to be. Perhaps what we wish for at the end of the day is that we can give our children a good family, a good country, a good community and so on. But perhaps the wish is even simpler than that.

May your child be blessed with a good father.

Goddess Periyachi at Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, Singapore

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