Birthing blessingways

When I was an expecting mother, a friend threw a birthing blessingway for me and it was one of the most treasured ceremonies ever thrown for me.  This friend is quite gifted in leading rituals and blessings and she taught me (possibly without knowing it) the incredible beauty of honoring time, honoring seasons of life, and bringing a community together to bless an individual facing a transition.  The space she created for me, with women who knew me intimately and loved me well, was indeed a blessing. 

My friend left Uganda a couple of years ago, and I have tried to fill the gap she left in our community by hosting birthing blessingways for other expecting mothers. Now, this ceremony has become absolutely sacred to me and is always a time I feel a great sense of Connection.  In no other ceremony do I feel as many goosebumps trickle up and down my arms as I do when I am with a group of women who surround a creator of life and honor her coming transition, honor her body, honor her excitements and her anxieties.  The spirit created in these circles of women is beyond expression and it has truly become the most sacred ritual I take part in.

Below, I share some suggestions for hosting a birthing blessingway for an expecting mother in your life.  When done with a spirit of reverence and community, I know it will bless all who attend.

A birthing blessingway is quite different from a baby shower.  Gifts are not necessary, although they can be incorporated if the host or the mother wishes.  Rather, this gathering has an emphasis on emotional and spiritual support for the expecting mother by those women who are closest to her.  It is not a gathering for the whole family and all of her friends, but rather a gathering of the women in her life from whom she feels the greatest love and support.  It is important that the mother make the guest list herself.  Preferably, it should be a rather short list to make for a more intimate gathering. 

It is also best not to incorporate time for guests to dole out advice for the mother.  Chances are, she's already overwhelmed by the unsolicited advice she has received from everyone else.  Encourage this to be a time of simply listening to and validating the mother.  It can be hard to hold our tongues with advice we want to give because we want to "help" our friends, but encourage guests to notice if the advice will truly serve the mother or if it might be coming from a place of making the advice-giver feel better about their own motherhood knowledge.  This can be a tricky line to draw, but it is one that encourages mindfulness in our interactions with women bearing life and facing many emotions.

Here are suggested elements to incorporate into the blessingway ceremony:

  • Ask guests to write a blessing to the mother before the ceremony, which they will read aloud.  In this blessing, they can include characteristics they see in her that will make her a great mother, what they will pray for, and what they wish for her, etc!  If you would like, you can ask the guests to arrive earlier than the expecting mother and when the mother arrives, the host can blindfold her and lead her through a line of women, who will each hold her hand and read their blessing to her one-by-one.  Collect the cards and papers these blessings were written on and give them to the mother.
  • Invite guests to bring a bead with them to the ceremony that reminds them of the expecting mother or represents a blessing they would like to give to her.  For example: "This is a red bead and red is a strong, bold color.  You are one of the strongest women I know and your boldness will serve you well in motherhood."  Each woman will give their bead and their explanation of it to the mother.  String these beads together for the mother to have with her during labor to remind her of all the women standing with her and to squeeze in her hands during a contraction!
  • When guests have been seated, go around the circle and have them introduce themselves through their maternal heritage as far back as they remember.  (You may want to give them a heads up on this so they can look it up before coming!) For example: My name is Dani and I am the mother of Leo, the daughter of Ruby, the granddaughter of Ruby, and the great-granddaughter of Blanche.
  • While each women introduces herself, pass around flowers and a piece of ribbon.  Each woman should wrap the flowers in the ribbon during her introduction, adding to each other with each woman to eventually make a flower crown.  At the end of the introductions, crown the expecting mother!
  • If the guests did not read their blessings to the mother as she entered the gathering, you can go around the circle again and do this.  Perhaps you can provide a ribbon that each woman wraps around her wrist after reading her blessing.  When all the guests have finished, note how the ribbon literally ties all the women together and remind the mother that all these women are here for her during this season of life.  You can then pass around a pair of scissors to cut the ribbon so that each woman can tie it around her wrist as a reminder to pray for the mother.
  • Provide a time for the mother to share about anything on her heart and mind regarding the coming baby and birth.  Invite her to share her excitements, fears, and emotions about anything from the changing relationship with her partner and other children to finances or the birth itself.  Encourage the guests to listen well to the mother without interjecting pieces of advice.  Don't rush this time - the mother may find herself processing emotions she has not had the time or space to acknowledge.
  • While the mother is speaking, one woman (or multiple women!) could draw a henna mandala tattoo on the mother's belly!
  • Say a final blessing or prayer over the mother.  This can be done by "anointing" her belly with oil - perhaps a special essential oil.

Do you know a mother you would like to bless, but you live far from her?  Throw her a blessingway from a distance!  Ask her for the contacts of her closest female friends and invite her to write out her thoughts and emotions about the birth and baby.  Share her thoughts with these women and ask them to send the mother a card with a written blessing, as well as a bead, as explained above.  It is sure to encourage her and remind her of the women in her life who will support her through this time.

Here I am at my blessingway, surrounded by very special women and feeling more than blessed.  I do, however, acknowledge that I look more hippie than ever with my flower crown, labor beads around my neck, henna belly tattoo, and rainbow California shirt! Ha!

Here I am at my blessingway, surrounded by very special women and feeling more than blessed.  I do, however, acknowledge that I look more hippie than ever with my flower crown, labor beads around my neck, henna belly tattoo, and rainbow California shirt! Ha!

Leo's birth story

Leo’s due date was April 25, 2015 but he decided to wait another 2 ½ weeks to arrive.  Every day, for two weeks, I woke up thinking, “This HAS to be the day.”  Then I would go to bed that night, hopeful contractions would start while I was sleeping, but I would wake up in the morning feeling no different. At 2 weeks overdue, my midwife, Rhoda, referred me to Dr. Stroud’s office to have check-ups and make sure the baby was still healthy and not under any stress.  

On May 11th, I went into Dr. Stroud’s office to get a biophysical profile, or BPP, which monitors the baby’s heart rate, practice breathing, and other indicators to make sure it was still fine.  While lying down, the nurse pointed to my stomach, which was tightening, and told me I was having a contraction.  I had no idea that was a contraction because it happened quite often over the last several weeks.  I just thought the baby was moving.  So after we left the doctor’s office, I began paying attention to the contractions and they kept coming, although I couldn’t really feel them.  When we got home, Eric and I went for a walk, which we had been doing every day to encourage labor along.  I had a hard time finishing the walk and I felt a ton of pressure in the bottom of my belly, but this was nothing new.  It had happened before and those other times I thought maybe labor would start, but I was always left disappointed, so I didn’t want to get my hopes up.  After dinner, Dad said he was going to check some fields in the Ranger and I thought taking a bumpy ride might also help a bit. I also took any excuse to get out of the house, so I went along.  I could feel some contractions coming and going, but they were very slight.  Eric and I watched some television that night and I paid more attention to the contractions, which certainly seemed more regular, although I still could hardly feel them.

I decided to go to bed, thinking I would need lots of rest, and I slept well.  I woke up early the next morning, on the 12th, feeling more crampy than normal and I went over to my mom and dad’s house and told Mom that I really thought today was the day.  The contractions started being 6-7 minutes apart, and at this point I tried to go on with life as normal.  At 7:00am, I texted Rhoda and my doula, Kristin, telling them I was pretty sure this was it.  I caught up on a couple of photo projects I had been putting off and wrote some emails while sitting on a birth ball.  After a while, I had to stop what I was doing when a contraction came and close my eyes.  I imagined myself on a swing that took me high in the air and then back down again.  I’m not sure why that visualization came to mind, but it helped make each contraction seem less painful at that point.  Eric was doing some reading for his PhD and he told me to let him know if I needed him.

At about 2:00pm, I started making some vocalizations with each contraction and I texted Rhoda and Kristin again, letting them know contractions were stronger and closer together.  Rhoda advised me to get some rest if I could, so I lay down, but I couldn’t fall asleep.  My doula, Kristin, came within the hour.  Eric started filling the labor tub and he put on some music while Kristin pressed on my lower back with each contraction to help ease the pain.  I was a bit hurt that Eric was focusing on tasks and not on me, so I asked Kristin to switch jobs with him.  From that time onward, Eric never once left my side.  I wouldn’t let him!  Even if I asked for some water or chapstick, I did not want him to leave the room and I made someone else get it.  I wanted him right there with me and he was definitely my biggest support!

I asked Kristin to tell Rhoda that I would like her to come soon, and she showed up around 4:30pm.  When she arrived, Kristin walked over to my parents’ house to give my mom an update and to tell her things were progressing nicely.  She and Catie, the midwife’s assistant, were trying to fill the birth pool, but didn’t have enough hot water, so they began boiling pots of water on the stovetop.  Catie also began preparing an herbal bath for after delivery.

Rhoda checked my cervix and I was only 2 cm dilated, but she told me that I should not be discouraged because the hard part of labor for first-time mothers is the thinning of the cervix and mine was about 70% effaced.  She monitored my and the baby’s vital signs, which looked great.  I was laboring in the bed and on the bathroom floor.  It felt good to put my chest on the ground and my butt up in the air to relieve some of the pressure.  It had been a few hours of active labor and I remember wanting to know how much longer it would take which, of course, nobody could tell me.  I asked, “Is it going to be several more hours of this?”

I didn’t want to get into the tub too early, because I had heard that the water can help relieve contractions a bit and I wanted to wait until I really needed that relief.  Around 5:30pm, I decided I needed the relief and I got into the tub.  I was pissed when my first leg went in and the water was hardly lukewarm.  “It’s cold!” I protested.  I was looking forward to immersing myself in really warm water.  Both Kristin and Catie continued to boil water on the stove and dump it in the tub.   After a couple of contractions in the tub, I asked someone to get me my labor beads that my friends gave me during my birthing blessingway in Kampala.  I really wanted something to squeeze in my hand and the beads also reminded me of women who were thinking of me and standing with me from afar.

 
 

I started feeling sick with each contraction and I didn’t want to poop in the pool, so I was really holding back, which made each contraction worse.  I got out of the pool and went to the bathroom after grabbing a bowl to throw up in while sitting on the toilet.  I was so cold and shivering from getting out of the water, so Eric and Kristin covered me with lots of towels while I sat on the toilet.  It felt good to be on the toilet, in a seated position, where I mentally knew I could release and let it all go if I needed to!  With each contraction, my stomach tightened so much and I could see it tighten around the baby.  I started dreading that sight and it made me feel nauseous. I used a lot of vocalization throughout my labor and I didn’t hold back!  I was loud!  I commented that I couldn’t imagine laboring at a hospital where I would be self-conscious of the noise I was making.  I was grateful that the people who were with me didn’t mind and even encouraged me to make as much noise as I wanted!  My contractions were about 2-3 minutes apart at this point.

I asked Rhoda to check me again and I was now 5cm dilated.  Rhoda had Kristin do “rebozo sifting” on my tummy, which involved putting a cloth around my tummy while I lay over a birth ball and she shifted the cloth back and forth, which apparently encouraged optimal positioning of the baby’s head on the cervix.  She did this while Eric ate dinner.  After this, Kristin went again to my parents’ house to let them know all was still progressing well. 

I felt like the contractions kept coming so close together and I couldn’t get a break.  When it got hard, I went back to my favorite position with my chest on the ground and my butt in the air, but after a while, Rhoda told me that I would have to lean into the pain, to relax and let go.  She advised me to find another position that allowed gravity to do its work.  She first advised me to sit on the toilet again and lean back.  This did seem to help, even just mentally, knowing that this is what it would take to move things along.  After some time here, she had me try something else with Eric.  He sat on the birth ball, his back against a wall and his legs spread apart.  With each contraction, I squatted between his legs and leaned back onto him.  It was hard at this point, but it did make me feel like things were progressing.  I kept thinking of something I had read, which said when I am in labor, 300,000 other women around the world are also with me in labor.  That was a mantra to me.  I kept repeating that number in my head and I loved thinking that we were all in this together.  It was about 8:00pm.

Rhoda had been monitoring the baby’s heart tones during my different positions and I didn’t know that she was seeing something a bit concerning for about 20 minutes.  She finally told me that the baby’s heart rate was staying too low in between contractions and she would feel better if we transferred into the hospital so the baby could be more closely monitored.  I completely trusted her judgment and although I faced a moment of disappointment that my baby would not be born in the cabin, I knew it was the right thing to do. She delivered her suggestion very calmly and then began to contact the hospital and the OB/GYN whom she partners with, Dr. Stroud.  We hadn’t prepared a hospital bag, so we started walking around the cabin, throwing things into a bag.  I threw on some clothes and a fuzzy robe to keep warm.  I didn’t feel scared.  It was all I could do to just stay with each contraction when it came and do whatever else I needed to do in between contractions so we could leave. I felt completely in the moment and this prevented any fear from arising.  Rhoda’s calmness through it all also helped me feel like there was no reason to be scared.  I asked Eric to be the one to tell my parents that we were going to the hospital, so he went and let them know.  He and I rode with Rhoda during the 20-minute drive to the hospital. During the drive, my contractions mostly stopped and I commented about it to Rhoda, who told me that the adrenaline has kicked in, which slowed down my contractions.

We arrived at Dupont Hospital around 9:00 pm and I was put in a wheelchair.  They pushed me through a hallway where there were lots of pictures of newborn babies lining the wall and those pictures gave me so much hope.  It reminded me of what all this labor was for and that I would soon have one of those in my arms!  We met Dr. Stroud in the elevator.  I had heard so many great things about him from many different sources, and he was so calm and nice right away.  I had even contacted him early on in my pregnancy, asking about midwives and he told me about Rhoda, so I reminded him of that.  Everyone at the hospital was calm and they moved very smoothly in all that needed to be done.  They set up a fetal heart rate monitor, put me on an antibiotic IV for my Group B strep, and checked my cervix, which was 6-7 cm dilated.  The baby’s head was at 0 station.  

During this time, a woman was by my bed on a computer, asking Eric and I questions to register us.  Contractions were really coming one after another and at this point, the woman asked me what my pain goal is.  “What?!” I asked.  “What is your pain goal?” she repeated.  I snapped back, “What the hell is a pain goal!?”  And she promptly replied, “I’ll put you down as an 8.”  It seemed like the dumbest question to me, especially in the midst of pain that I certainly could not think about rating.  It was all I could to do just make it through the pain and I did not want to come out of myself to think about answering such a ridiculous question!

Dr. Stroud wanted to break my bag of waters to see if there was any meconium in the amniotic fluid, which would be a sign of the baby’s stress level.  I asked him if it would make contractions worse and he smiled and said “I like to think it makes them more efficient.”  There was slight meconium in the amniotic fluid, but he said it wasn’t enough to worry about.  Breaking my bag of waters certainly did make the contractions stronger.  I had to lie down in the bed for him to break it, which was a horrible position to labor in, but the contractions were so strong and I wasn’t getting a break in between them, so I felt like I was incapacitated and couldn’t move to another position.  I felt like I was thrashing in the bed and I reached for anyone and anything to hang on to.  I swore I heard someone whisper the word, “c-section” and I felt so sad.  I silently began to mourn to myself.  After a few more contractions, I finally spoke up and said, “I heard someone say c-section.  Is everything ok?”  Dr. Stroud was surprised and he replied, “I didn’t hear that.  If someone said ‘c-section’ they must have been talking about someone else!”

Within 20 minutes of my arrival at the hospital, my baby’s low heart tones resolved itself, but I still needed to wear a wireless monitor.  Someone finally asked me if I wanted to get out of bed and I said I did, but I didn’t feel like I could move.  “Well we can help you with that!” they said.  So a few people helped me out of bed and I went into the shower, where Catie held the shower hose and sprayed it back and forth over my belly while Eric sat just outside the shower.  The water kept moving the heart rate monitor, so she kept spraying the water on the side of my belly, near my leg and I started to get annoyed at this because I wanted it on my stomach.

I remembered the squats that Rhoda suggested when we were at home, and there was a bench in the shower that I could lean into, so I kept doing those squats with each contraction.  I also used the bar in the shower to hold on to.  The IV in my hand came out around this time.  Dr. Stroud asked me if I wanted him to check how far along I was, but I was scared that I wouldn’t have progressed, so I answered, “Only if it’s good news.” He didn’t check me.

While laboring in the shower for about 30 minutes, I began to feel the urge to push with each contraction and my little team cheered me on.  Kristin reported that there was a table in the hallway with vaginal delivery supplies, so clearly nobody was thinking about a c-section.  I felt so encouraged when the urge to push came, because I knew this meant I was nearing the end; I was so tired.  I was also now getting some breaks between contractions, which gave me some much-needed rest.  Eric was just outside the shower, holding my hand and encouraging me.  Once, he touched my stomach and I really didn’t like that, so I pushed his hand away.

The urge to push kept getting stronger and stronger.  After a while, I felt like the contractions and pushing was like the movies, so I thought I must really be getting close, but Rhoda and Dr. Stroud were on the other side of the room, whispering to each other and they didn’t seem very concerned, so I was confused.  I asked Dr. Stroud to check me, so he came into the shower and soon told me that I was completely dilated!  He suggested we move out of the bathroom and I ended up squatting with my knees on the floor and my arms and chest on the bed.  Dr. Stroud said he could feel the baby’s head and he encouraged me to really push with each contraction.  A few people kept asking if I wanted something under my knees, as it must hurt for them to be on the floor, but it was the least of my worries.  I was so concentrated that I didn’t even notice, although the next day some big bruises showed up.  I just wanted to get this baby out! 

I was so hot and started sweating.  Someone began fanning me and someone else put a cold towel on my back.  It was awesome how they knew just what I needed.  It felt amazing.

The baby started to crown and Dr. Stroud told me I could reach down and feel the baby’s head if I wanted.  It was so beautiful to feel that and know how close we were to meeting each other!  He had me stand up and lean over the bed so he could catch the baby.  He also told me that since there was some slight meconium in the amniotic fluid earlier, the NICU team had to be present at the birth in case the baby needed assistance breathing, but if the baby cried, they would leave.

I had to give really big pushes now. Dr. Stroud told me to curl over myself with each contraction. I pushed as hard as I could, 2 or 3 times with each contraction.  I pushed even when I didn’t think I could anymore because I didn’t want to prolong labor any more.  Finally, I pushed the head out and I could see the head while looking in between my legs!  Dr. Stroud had me stop pushing for a minute and then another big push for the shoulders and the baby was out!

I instantly turned around and sat on the ground while they wiped him off and he cried.  I yelled, “Oh my god! Oh my god! Give me my baby!”  I wanted him in my arms ASAP.  I didn’t even think about checking the sex of the baby, but Eric announced that it was a boy!  Although we had decided not to know the sex of our baby beforehand, I had been convinced I was having a girl, so I was surprised!  They handed him over to me as quickly as they could and I held him while sitting there on the floor.  What a beautiful moment!  After a minute, everyone helped me get into bed with him.  His cord wasn’t very long, so he lay a bit low on my tummy.  When the cord stopped pulsing, Dr. Stroud had Eric cut it.

About 15 minutes after the birth, I delivered my placenta and they held it up for me to see.  I thought it was beautiful with all the veins running through it. I’m so glad they let me see it.

As I held my son and Eric stood beside the bed, we all made our own remarks about him, most notably that his eyes were wide open and alert. He was so magical and perfect! The staff asked us if we had a name and Eric and I looked at each other in anticipation of what the other would say.  We had talked about a couple of choices, but hadn’t finalized on anything.  Then Eric said exactly what I was thinking: “Leo Walker Kreutter”

Dying for New Life

I'm rarely in the US for the changing of seasons, so this week, as the snow melts and the weather starts to warm up, I find myself drinking in this transition into Spring. 

A couple of days ago, I walked around our yard to see what beauties of nature I could find.  I noticed a few straggling leaves on each tree - leaves who had refused their time of death in Autumn and instead clung to their life as they knew it on the limb. They had somehow made it through a brutal winter, still stubbornly hanging on.  But new life is coming soon, and these old guys are in for a big wake-up call when they'll be forced to finally give up the fight and let the new buds spring forth in their place.

I also have a new life on the way, set to arrive in about 6 weeks.  I've noticed patterns in my dreams, revealing the fears tucked away in my subconscious about all I must die to in order to let this new life really thrive.  Even as I write a list in my journal of these things I know I must let go, I feel a deep resistance to it all. To...

Letting go of a spontaneous life. Letting go of my precious sleep. Letting go of my body as I know it. Letting go of my youth.  Letting go of how I desire to use my time.

The wise have always told us that Death is always required if New Life is to enter, and all of nature seems to be telling me this, too.  I cherish the fact that my baby will be born in Springtime and in the Easter season - a whole season dedicated to New Life after a winter of hibernation and death.

Love in its fullest form is a series of deaths and rebirths. We let go of one phase, one aspect of love, and enter another. Passion dies and is brought back. Pain is chased away and surfaces another time. To love means to embrace and at the same time to withstand many many endings, and many many beginnings – all in the same relationship.
— Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves
 

So I also write down all that will be brought forth if I choose to let go of the old and usher in this New Life.  I will gain...

A kind of love I've not yet known.  A growing relationship with Eric. An opportunity to question and learn and grow in myself. A connection with every other parent on the planet. An added piece of my identity.

I know I must let go in order to gain.  I look inward and tell myself not to be like those stubborn leaves, hanging onto their old lives and refusing to fall into what is.  So I let myself die to the old things in order to give birth to something entirely new.

Is there something you must die to in order to bring forth something new in your life?

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them.
— Ecclesiastes 3:1-5