Reclaiming Childbirth as a Rite of Passage

Weaving ancient wisdom with modern knowledge

It’s time for a childbirth revolution. The modern approach to maternity care fails women, families and care providers with outdated practices that centre the needs of institutions rather than individuals. In this book, Rachel Reed weaves history, science and research with the experiences of women and care providers to create a holistic, evidence-based framework for understanding birth. Reclaiming childbirth as a rite of passage requires us to recognise that mothers own the power and expertise when it comes to birthing their babies. Whether you are a parent, care provider or educator, this book will transform how you think and feel about childbirth.

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Chapters

Part One: The Weft

  1. Herstory: an overview of the herstory of childbirth from early humans to the emergence of modern maternity systems.
  2. The legacy: how the legacy of herstory continues to influence the modern cultural landscape of childbirth.
  3. Blood mysteries: an exploration of women’s bodily rites of passage and how they are interrelated with the childbirth experience.
  4. Childbirth as a rite of passage: key elements of childbirth as a rite of passage and the role of care providers (setting the scene for Part Two).

Part Two: The Weave

  1. Preparation: pregnancy and cultivating self-trust for birth
  2. Separation: early labour and releasing the external world
  3. Liminality: labour, betwixt and between, and transition
  4. Emergence: birthing the baby and witnessing body wisdom
  5. Integration: birthing the placenta and mother-baby enchantment
  6. Medical birth rites: how to centre the woman when her childbirth rite of passage includes medical intervention.
Overview of the childbirth rite of passage and rites (practices):

Interviews about the book

The Natural Birth Podcast – Reclaiming Birth as a Rite of Passage with Rachel Reed

Happy Homebirth – Birth as a Rite of Passage with Dr Rachel Reed

Pregnancy Birth and Beyond Media – The Herstory of Midwifery, Reclaiming Midwifery Expertise and Rites of Protection with Dr Rachel Reed


Praise for the book

I have always loved the way Rachel Reed thinks and this book is an extension of her thinking. Three hundred years ago Rachel would have been the wise woman of the village and 300 years later she is calling to that village of women, where childbirth always has and always will sit at the throbbing heart.

Hannah Dahlen, Professor of Midwifery, Western Sydney University

I love so much about the wisdom shared in this book. In particular, I love that Rachel uses as her central narrative a beautiful and detailed description of the normal undisturbed physiology of birth. She describes the birth-dance shared between mother and baby, including the hormones, instinctive body processes, brain changes, sensations and feeling states.

Rhea Dempsey, childbirth educator, birth attendant, counsellor and author of Birth with confidence: savvy choices for normal birth and Beyond the birth plan: getting real about pain and power


Brilliant! Rachel has deftly woven a rich fabric of ‘ancient wisdom and modern knowledge’. It is durable, it is wearable and, in usual Rachel Reed style, refuses to conform. With sound logic, she confronts and challenges us to rethink and reject erroneous assumptions and behaviours around care-providing by exploring their origins, and why we acquiesce and cling to them.

Jenny Blyth, independent birth worker, birth educator and bodyworker, film-maker and author of The down to earth birth book and Birthwork: a compassionate guide to being with birth


Reclaiming childbirth as a rite of passage is the book we have been missing. The analogy of weaving is right at the heart of this book, giving shape and structure to the threads that run through the chapters. Understanding childbirth today requires that we explore the herstory of birth and how the rites and rituals that once served us were stripped away. Rachel Reed’s description of childbirth is one of the most beautiful and illuminating I have ever read, illustrated as it is by the fictional narrative thread of Eve and her birth story. This book has positivity at its core, not only listing the birth rites we have lost, but recounting the many rituals that we can reclaim and integrate into the lived experience of childbirth and postpartum.

Maddie Mahon, doula, doula trainer, birth activist, breastfeeding counsellor and author of Why doulas matter and Why mothering matters


This book weaves together ancient knowledge, herstory, science, customs, politics and the ancient art of midwifery, all of which combine to create the understory or – as Rachel aptly names it the waft and weft, that the weaving, or the experience of birthing in the modern world, happens within. Rachel weaves this all together so we can see what’s going on in birth today and invites the reader to awaken to the situation. She then puts forth a call to action to all to participate in reclaiming childbirth as a rite of passage into motherhood for all women, no matter what. And her book offers all the evidence required to support this reclamation.

Jane Hardwicke Collings, founder of the School of Shamanic Womancraft, teacher of the Women’s Mysteries, author of Ten moons: the inner journey of pregnancy


Reclaiming childbirth as a rite of passage is essential reading for all women, midwives, doctors and birth workers. In fact, anyone who is planning on being around women during birth needs to read this book! Dr Reed leads us through herstory with the story of Eve, weaving ancient wisdom and current research in such a divine way that makes reading this book an absolute pleasure.

Dr Clare Davison, private practice midwife and midwifery academic


This is the book about childbirth that needed to be written. While modern medicine has helped countless people, our current technocratic approach to birth is leaving a trail of traumatised mothers around the world. Fortunately, Rachel Reed has expertly drawn from history, culture, science, and from women themselves, to provide us with practical solutions for this crisis by reclaiming our rites of passage that mark our transition into motherhood. This is a must-read for all parents and professionals.

Billie Harrigan, founder and director of Birth Trauma Ontario, perinatal consultant, traditional birth attendant


No matter what you think you know about birth, midwifery, obstetrics, history or your own body, you will learn something new on every page. This is truly a stroke of literary genius that will be hard to improve upon. It gives words to what we already intuitively know about birth and gives us all permission to usher in and insist upon a change to modern birth culture. It’s the perfect mix of evidence and traditional knowledge that I have been unknowingly craving and I feel refreshed to have immersed myself in this book.

Dr Melanie Jackson, private practice midwife, midwifery researcher, midwifery mentor and facilitator at Transformative Birthwork and Melanie the Midwife

A book designed for all women, whether planning to have a baby, having had one or caring for someone going through this incredible journey. This book should be on the curriculum of every midwife, obstetrician and doula. These pages contain the herstory of lost wisdom, the loss of control over our bodies through the generations, but give us back the red thread to once again find our way, and take back our rites of passage for ourselves and others. A powerful book full of interest, fascination, deep knowing and ever more learnings for us to consider and grow from.

Katie James midwife, lactation consultant and host of The Midwives’ Cauldron podcast

Dr Rachel Reed