What triggers for you when you think about your identity . . . Who are you really? Usually it comes down to answering the what, where and why of who you are: What are you are like? Why are you here? Where do you come from? Funnily enough, these questions of identity all come back to the story of your birth – your Birth Song. And who knows all about that? That’ll be your mother.
1. What are you like?
There’s probably a lot of words you can use to describe what you are like. Happy, sad, funny, quiet, excitable, serious, flighty and dependable are all words used to describe people. While everyone does these things some of the time, it’s often down to what sort of personality you have. Your personality type gives a bigger picture of what you are like.
There are so many personality tests and types, and you can go hunting for a method that suits you to discover more. Relational and tasky types are described here in this blog, but that’s only one aspect of life. If you don’t know much about what type of personality you have, you could do a search for “Personality Types” to find out about how to assess and discover what type you are. There’s a lot of info out there.
There’s another avenue to finding out more about what you are like though. Have you ever thought to ask your mother what she sensed about you before you were born? She may have had some glimpses about what you would be like. It might be interesting to compare notes. Western women don’t tend to pass on details of birth to adult children. But maybe we should.
It’s quite different in some cultures. Pregnancy is often celebrated with a “birth song”, right from the start. And this song is a key identity marker for the young child.
Your Birth Song – in other cultures
There’s a certain tribe in Africa tribe, a tribe called the Himba, and when a woman of the Himba tribe knows she is pregnant, she goes out into the wilderness with a few friends and together they wait till they hear the song of the child to come.
Because they know that every heart has its own unique beat … it’s own wild purpose. And when the women attune to the song of the coming child, they sing it out loud.
And then they return to the tribe and teach this child’s unique song to everyone else.
Then when the child is born, the Himba tribe gathers and sings the child’s song to him or her. When the child begins school, when the child passes through the initiation to adulthood, when the time comes to get married, at each milestone the village gathers and chants the child’s song.
To the African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits sins, falls short, or loses her way, the individual is called to the centre of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them.
They sing their song to them because the Himba believe that change most happens when we remember who we are — remember our identity — Whose we are… that change most happens when you are named out of the chaos, when your name is sung into the cosmos.
The Himba women see birth songs as an important aspect of motherhood.
Maybe we should too.
2. Why are you here?
Do you know your ultimate purpose? If you believe that God has oversight of what happens on earth, then you will understand he has set you in your own time and place in history. Everyone has a unique, God-given purpose. And when you are fulfilling that purpose, that’s when you feel most alive. That purpose is closely aligned with your identity.
Your birth song will also connect strongly with your purpose. The Himba women are doing more than just singing nice imaginings. They tap into the very essence of God’s intent for a person. Right from the world go. This is what I did when my new baby son was born, and I prayed over him.
I know I’m not alone. Mothers often sense a little about the little person growing inside them during those weeks and months pre-birth. But we rarely say anything about it. Have you ever asked your mother about her ideas about you pre-birth? About why she thinks you are here on earth? Her ideas could be called “your birth song”, and it would be good to know!
Perhaps she is far more aware of your identity than you realize.
3. Where did you come from?
The big-picture answer to “Where did you come from?” has to do with geography and family history. For me, my forebears were originally from Britain. They arrived in Australia during the gold rush era of the 1850s. And now here I am, a 21st Century Aussie. This story is part of my broader identity.
But there is a more personal side to my story, which has to do with my own arrival into this world: the story of my birth. I’ve only gleaned details over the years. We never spoke about it openly.
Do you know the story of your birth: your birth song? Or know what your mother thought about you when she was pregnant? Probably not. Unlike the Himba women, we don’t tend to do “birth songs”, musical or otherwise. A newly conceived baby is often a guarded secret. All with good intentions. The information is closely held to help avoid disappointment if there is an early miscarriage. However, the habit of secrecy remains, and we rarely tell details to our offspring.
The Himba are very different. They understand each child’s birth song is incredibly important. Each unique song calls a person back to remember who they are: the best and truest part of themselves, giving a sense of identity. Similar to the Himba, many Australian aborigines sing birth songs. The song is a newborn child’s birth story, put to music, and becomes part of the baby’s distinctiveness. During childhood, female family members sing the song over the child, giving a sense of place, worth and meaning.
What’s your birth song? Remembering who you are
So what about you? Do you “remember who you are” because of a story your mother told you? Not many of us think about this until parenthood is just around the corner. At that point, many have a yearning to find out what happened at the time of their birth.
If you didn’t already know the answers to these questions, then it’s normal to start wondering about them:
How did your mother manage during pregnancy?
What happened the day you were born?
How did your mother “do” labour?
What sort of baby were you?
It seems as though these questions tap into something more. It’s a deep knowing of who you are. As Ann Voskamp wrote above: “The Himba believe that change most happens when we remember who we are — remember our identity.”
But what’s so important about remembering who you are?
Finding out about Your Birth Song
In a general sense, we humans long to understand the beginnings of our existence in pre-history by exploring evolutionary theories and creation concepts to gain a sense of our humanity, our identity. It’s all about understanding our place in this world. Just the same, your identity is all about your beginnings. Your birth song, or birth story, is a part of your own history on this earth. What do you do if you know very little about your beginnings? Does knowing about your birth story affect your understanding of your identity?
Your mother is the obvious person to ask about your first days. But even if she is no longer in the picture, there are usually other people such as your aunts, other family members, or perhaps her good friends who can be a mine of information. That’s what I had to do, because my mother died of breast cancer when I was 16. I never asked her because she was long gone before I my children came. However, I do have snippets that I learnt when I was growing up. Skip over here to read some of my birth story.
Getting answers when no one knows
I feel for adopted children though. Their journey of self-discovery is much more complicated. Watch this man as he expresses his desire to know his mother, but leaves her free as well.
If you are adopted, there are probably more people who know about your birth story, than you realize. And if you are not in touch with anyone who was around back then, ask God. It’s amazing what you become aware of when you tune into him. Jesus suggested we keep on asking:
Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
Check out Psalm 139 in the Bible, especially verses 13-16. He knows you. He designed you.
Knowing your birth story fills some gaps in understanding yourself and your place in the world. It’s like remembering who you are, giving you a sense of place and time about your very roots. It’s about your identity.
If your mother is still around, let me encourage you to ask her what happened during the year when you were born.
What do you already know about your first days? Let me know in the Comments, below.