Almost all new mothers will have a baby shower thrown for them. It is a sacred time before the birth to honor the woman that she is before she becomes a mother through the transformation of birth. Wait WHAT?! That’s what a baby shower is for? I think so, at least that’s what I think it should be. We have so few opportunities in our culture to come together as women and hold space for one another during and surrounding our most monumental transitions.
I believe that like most things, the baby shower has been coopted from it’s original purpose. It has turned from blessing the mother to an event filled with gifts, many of them plastic, wrapped in paper that will be thrown away. An event where we play games that focus primarily on the baby and the mother as a vessel, rather than honoring the amazing transformations she herself is undergoing. There is rarely space to speak light or hopes for the mama aloud, or to talk about the births that have come before.
For myself I decided to host a blessingway at my home. The blessingway is a healing ceremony rooted in Navajo tradition, a spiritual and private ceremony that prepares a woman for transition to motherhood. It is a time for the mama-to-be to gather with the women closest to her, toward the end of her pregnancy, and cultivate positive energy for her upcoming birth experience.
In my experience, a blessingway ceremony helps the mother-to-be to feel more confident and supported as she goes into the powerful experience of giving birth. It is an empowering event that helps the pregnant woman prepare emotionally, mentally and spiritually for her new role in life as a mother. I carried memories of mine with me into our birth and felt the affirmations of my closest friends as I did the work of labor.
What are common components of a blessingway?
Connecting with the string ceremony
A spool of string or yarn is wrapped around each woman's wrist while everyone sits in a circle. The women then cut individual pieces of the string and tie it around their wrists into a bracelet, to wear until the expectant mother goes into labor. When labor begins, the attendants at the blessingway are notified by phone or text. They then cut the string on their wrists and say a prayer for the woman's safe, easy and joyful birth. Until the birth, the women who wear the string bracelet is to keep the expectant woman in their thoughts and prayers.
The sharing of food and drink
My blessingway featured quite possibly the best potluck I’ve ever been to. It is such a deeply human thing to come together and share a meal. I loved how loved I felt by all of my women bringing food to nourish us in our time together. Something I didn’t do but which would be awesome, would be to have everyone bring double portions so you can freeze food for your postpartum!
Creating a birth necklace
Each woman brings a special bead to the blessingway. They sit in a circle and one by one, offer their bead to the expectant mother along with a blessing for her birth and experience as a mother. The beads are then strung together into a necklace or bracelet, so that the mother-to-be has as a physical reminder of the support of trusted women in her life during the end of pregnancy, labor, and postpartum.
Making birth art
Art projects are a lovely way to celebrate the upcoming birth experience. Simple craft materials can be used to create pictures, painted rocks, prayer flags, onesies, or other pieces of art with inspiring images and messages. Mama can place the art in her birth space to carry her through labor. I was given this beautiful hummingbird to place in my birth altar!
Pampering the mother
A blessingway is a special time for the expectant mother to feel completely pampered and nurtured, filling her emotional cup to the brim so that she is as rejuvenated, relaxed and rejoiced as possible, before going into her labor. She can sit in a decorated chair while her feet are bathed in a large bowl of warm water and fragrant flowers. Her friends can massage her shoulders, hands and feet, braid flowers into her hair and paint her toes.
Decorating the belly
Body paint or henna can be used to adorn the woman's belly, helping her feel celebrated and beautiful. Some women also enjoy creating a belly cast, a plaster cast of her pregnant torso, which can be decorated and displayed as art after it dries.
YOU CAN STILL HAVE PRESENTS! Whether you ask for them, or open them is up to you. The gifts I received were thoughtful and mostly mama focused, rather than baby clothes we don’t necessarily need.
A couple of things that I did differently…
I love Jo and would’ve invited her anyways but at my blessingway she served an incredible and important role, together with Patsy she served as my elder woman. My matriarch, the crone to my maiden. I asked Jo to lead us in introducing ourselves by maternal lineage, a hugely powerful and simple way to honor the feminine. mine goes like this:
My name is Paige, I am the great, great granddaughter of Augusta Blood, the great granddaughter of Hope, the granddaughter of Laura, the Daughter of Penny and the mother of Lyra.
I also asked Jo to read a story or a poem, the one she brought to us by Lucy H Pearce was perfect and had me crying before circle was even truly begun:
“It is a hymn to the powerful woman. The crazy woman, the mad one, the witch, the hag. The creative woman: the dancer, the poet, the artist. The activist. The sexual woman. The strident woman. The playful trickster. The passionate woman. The wild mother. She who follows her own spirit, who dares to put herself first, who shouts in the face of authority and follows her heart not their god. She who dares to give voice to what is inside her, who shakes things up and burns them down. She who quakes with rage and rolls with laughter, who moans with pleasure and wants more. She for whom every piece of life needs to have the marrow of its bones sucked, who dances naked, and eats with her fingers. She who stamps and says no. She who stands in the doorway and will not let them in. She who opens her legs and dives into her juices with delight. She who dares. She who does what they say cannot be done, must not be done. She who tries and fails. She who does it her way. She who longs to walk topless in the sunshine and dance naked in the moonlight.
It is for her, and all of us, who long to be more like her wherever on the path we may be. We who have sniffed the smoke as she walked past our door one hot summer afternoon and thought, I long to burn, but I mustn’t, I’m too afraid, too old, too young, too busy. I don’t know how. I’d lose my job, my husband would divorce me, my mother would disown me, my friends would laugh.
This is for you, Burning Woman… ARISE!”
It was important to me to incorporate fire into my blessingway. I wanted a physical manifestation of the burning off of the old me and the birth of myself as mother. We were each given a red butterfly and it represented what we wished for me and my unborn child, after speaking our wishes in circle we each burned our butterfly, offering our hopes to the fire. If a fire isn’t possible for you, consider having lots of candles to be lit in your space!
I also had a drum circle at my blessingway, I wanted to be a little outside my comfort zone and encourage the primal sound of the drums. My babe inside me was constantly surrounded by the beat of my heart and the rush of blood in my veins and I wanted to bring that to our ceremony. For this I hired Patsy Onatah of The Humble Drum to facilitate my circle, and that is the single best thing I did for myself. HANDS DOWN. Patsy brought such life, passion and joy into my ceremony. She allowed me to be truly present because I knew that she had my ceremony in her warm hands. It also meant that ALL of my women could participate rather than have the double task of also facilitating.
I had wanted to use song at my blessingway and Patsy led us through a couple of affirming chants. We also all joined together to sing Savage Daughter. My favorite blessingway song, and especially so now that my baby is a girl.
Patsy’s facilitation of the closing of circle remains one of my most profound memories. She walked us through a short guided meditation reestablishing the intention set earlier in the night and then played the ocean drum over me while each woman came in turn to lay hands on me, embrace me, and whisper things to me. Tears coursed down my face as I opened myself to the sweet vulnerability of their love for me and my child.
Whatever it looks like for you, this time is so precious, and it is about you. Your transition from maiden to mother and your journey towards welcoming your beloved child. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, this is your experience and I encourage you to make of it what you dream. There are so few opportunities to embrace the ritual of life, you must make your own. I find that in each circle I create or enter there are surprises there, there is more openness than I expect, and there is joy, tears & transformation.