Closing the Bones (الشّد - Al Shedd), the Moroccan Way!
Closing the Bones!
If you are a birth worker you may have probably heard about closing the bones, especially becoming more popular in the West, but have you ever heard of its history in Morocco - North West Africa?
Yes, that is right!
This is probably (from what I know of) the first time that Moroccan postpartum traditions, such as these, are officially being written about, revived, reclaimed and restored outside of Morocco... and it is a huge honour for me, that God has led me to this path, a path I never imagined to walk on, a path with big responsibilities and a path to support my fellow women around the world and my beloved country.
I am blessed to do that.
Morocco is a land with sacred traditional postpartum medicine spanning centuries and passed down from generations from sister to sister, elder to elder.
Before we get into what it is, we need to know a little about the Kingdom of Morocco and 'herstory'. Morocco is a beautiful land (of course I am bias, I am Moroccan), nestled in North West Africa, bordered by Algeria to the East, Mauritania to the South, the Mediterranean Sea to the North, the Atlantic Ocean to the West and the strait of Gibraltar separates Morocco from Spain. Europe is a stones throw away and Sub Saharan Africa at its doorstep. Mountains, beaches, sun, snow, desert, countryside, all seasons, hospitable people... it has everything. A land of Amazigh people, now with mixes of Arab and Andalucian descent.
Some of the nations that colonised Morocco are Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, England, Arabs and many others... Morocco gained its independence in 1956 (the year my father was born). The north of Morocco, which is where I am from, has a lot of influences from the countries that colonised it, from the language to the dress code.
"France and Spain's motivation for colonizing Morocco were based off of the three "Cs" of colonialism which were Christianity, the civilizing mission, and commerce. Religion served as motivation because the French and Spanish wanted to send missionaries to Morocco to convert the Muslims and Jews to Christianity. In addition, the White Man's Burden was a concept where Europeans viewed themselves as better than the people they imperialized. The French and Spanish people saw themselves as superior. By colonizing other nations, they thought that they would be helping out the inferior people and making them civilized. Then, they wanted the opportunity to trade and do business with Morocco. All in all, Spain and France had multiple motivations for imperializing Morocco" (website on colonisation of Morocco).
I am thankful to my grandmothers, great great grandmothers and all the Moroccan women who stood firm and held onto their sacred medicine and knowledge.
From my life in Morocco, the elders in my life and learning with traditional qablas (miwdwives/receivers), I have come up with 6 stages of Traditional Moroccan Postpartum Medicine for healing nafsas/nfissas (new mothers).
I have classified it into: Welcome Her, Honour Her, Nourish Her, Nurture Her, Close Her and Celebrate Her.
So what is it??!!
Closing the Bones in Morocco is known as (الشّد - Al Shedd - to close). Sometimes it is referred to as closing the nfissa (new mother) or closing of bones. It is the 5th stage of healing and a very important one.
It is a sacred, ancient and traditional ritual and ceremony, which is actually quite hard to put into words. It is not a 'massage' as we are now accustomed to, but it is a ritual performed with the use of a traditional cloth, worn and used by women until today. It is done by 1 or 2 women...it is much easier with two women.
The woman is 'swaddled' 'closed' 'pulled' using this cloth from head to toe. Starting from the head and going down, all parts of the body are closed, aiming to aid the bones, muscles, organs and everything to slowly go back to the pre-pregnancy state. After the full closing, the women lays on her side and her legs are massaged and rubbed strongly, her hips are squeezed down, her pubic bone is slightly pushed and then a belly binding is done using the same cloth. There is also another variation where the woman is also closed on her side and also massaged with olive oil on her legs, arms and stomach.
It is a sacred ritual and ceremony, which heals the new mother but also helps to close the pregnancy and birth phase which has ended. It is a physical, emotional and spiritual experience; usually prayers are made before starting. It is combined with other nourishing, nurturing and celebrative rituals, rather than a stand-alone affair.
It is commonly known to be used for postpartum women, however in Morocco, it was also previously used during the wars when Moroccan men would come back after a rigorous day and need to be 'closed' to recover and heal and go back to war again.
Thanks to science, we know that the pelvis slightly expands during pregnancy and labour to make way for the baby to born, the uterus is much larger to accommodate the baby, organs move and shift, the body produces 30-50% more blood and lots more changes happen to the pregnant woman's body. Then the woman will go through labour and birth, both intense and natural phenomenons which deplete a woman of lots of energy, changes to her body and a natural 'trauma'.
Firstly, isn't it amazing how all these changes occur in about 9-10 months to bring a new life to the world and then how the elders knew about these changes and knew what healing would best support the new mother (without science).
In this day and age it is great to have science help 'prove' things and show that yes women are in an open state after birth, things have actually shifted and need time to go back into place. However, even with all this science, most countries do not offer ANY postpartum healing support to new mothers, it is hard to find paid services and even in cultures where this exists, like Morocco, these traditions are slowly fading away... due to modernisation and colonisation.
However, even if science did not exist to prove these claims, it is more of a common sense thing that our elders had. A woman is pregnant, everything is bigger and she feels the changes, she is in a hotter state... then she gives birth, everything is out and going back to a smaller state, she is colder and 'open'.
Closing the bones is that ritual there to help the new mother close her bones, support her organs shifting back and close that void space. The elders in Morocco have a saying that the new mothers grave is open for 40 days, because they know how vulnerable she is.
Again, as I said, it is difficult to put into words and understand until you have seen and experience it for yourself. The body feels hugged, squeezed and any woman who has given birth (or not) will tell you how good it feels.
In Morocco the new mother, traditionally, would get a closing about 3-4 times in the first week alone. The sooner it is performed within the first 40 days, the more effective it will be for the body. It is almost always done after the hamam (stage number 4), which is another amazing ritual where the new mother is lovingly washed, rubbed, massaged, steamed and scrubbed. She is always kept warm; warming foods and drinks, covered head, feet and body, closed and celebrated.
I know many of you may be thinking, where is the baby?
Baby, is being taken care of by, most likely, a female relative in the family and mother feeds and tends to baby whenever needed.
The emphasis is on the mother, rightly so, because she needs to heal and feel better to take care of herself and baby.
Because of my mission to document, revive, reclaim and restore traditional Moroccan postpartum medicine, I am currently developing an online course, postpartum summit, live closing the bones trainings (in England from Summer 2019) and our first UAE workshop will be in Dubai on September 22nd 2018. I am also offering the training officially on my Tribal Sisterhood Retreats in Morocco (June 10th-17th 2019).
Just as countries colonised my nation and so many others, I am very passionate about appropriation, extremely passionate. We still see in this day and age, people continuing with the 'colonising' culture by appropriating traditions and sacred medicine from other nations. It is very common with the Mexican culture where I see people around the world teaching Mexican birth and postpartum rituals without having training from people of the culture... and even if they do have training, they have not received any blessing or 'certification' from them to teach it to other professionals, however so many do!
That is not fair. These women fought to preserve these traditions, as did my people. They did it while fighting to feed their families and the traditional qablas in Morocco still exist on donations.
So my message to you women out there is to be aware and make sure that any training you take is not appropriated, because I know you want to learn to share, support other women and spread the love. So this love needs to be sincere and we need to have love for the elders who preserved it and support them.
We should not forget women like Rahma, a traditional Qabla in Morocco, who when I talk to, she weeps, tears rolling down her face because her husband does not work, she has been working for so long with not much to show for it, she needs to fund her daughters accommodation at university, she needs to help her sons open their own small businesses and so many mouths are open, waiting for her to feed them.
Do not forget her tears and tears by all the elders. This is why we need to respect the knowledge, train from ethical sources that give back and acknowledge this.
With all the work I am doing, firstly I pay the traditional qablas every time I meet them to learn with them. They are happy to share their knowledge and they NEVER ask for anything, but this is out of respect for them and they are the ones who NEED the money most. I also donate 10% of all net profits to projects to support them. I am actually going to register an official charity next year to raise money to support the traditional medicine to restore it and also to provide free trainings to change the currently overly-medicalised birth culture. I also acknowledge them openly in all my work. I have also done a free interview and a free workshop with donations being received and shared fully with the women in Morocco.
So feel free to talk about the Moroccan postpartum medicine, but please do not forget to tag, and reference my work, so people can know the source and get more information if they need to.
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With much peace, love and kindness,