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!

An Easter ritual

Friday, the day of dying:
We reflected on the fears, old habits, and limiting beliefs that are affecting us, preventing us from the realization of our Selves.  What do we want to die to?  What within us must die? We wrote it down.

Saturday, the day in the tomb:
We walked into the forest, symbolizing going inward to the dark places, the tomb where transformation takes place.  While walking, we spoke of these fears, old habits, and limiting beliefs we wanted to release.  We stopped near a large tree and burned the papers inscribed with our most personal struggles.  We buried the ashes and, there, made a mandala from small items the forest offered.  This simple circle represented the cycle of life and death, the impermanence of all, including our fears, and the transformation of death to life.

Sunday, the day of new life:
We worked on our vision boards, knowing that the women we want to become might better be expressed in images than in words.  The life we want to manifest begins by envisioning it.  These images, we hope, will fill the spaces left by those things we burned and buried.  New life comes after death.

My time: the rituals and margins

Time flies.  When I was 2 weeks overdue with Leo, I sat around twiddling my thumbs all day and badly wanted him to arrive just so I would have something to do.  Now, that's hilarious.  Since he came into our lives, I have a whole new relationship with time, one that is now defined by my personal rituals and the margins of time I have here and there.  Rituals stop the doing and let me simply be in time and the other requires the maximum use of time.  Both are important in their own ways.

Those first few days and weeks of Leo's life completely blurred together and I wouldn't have been able to tell one from another if it weren't for a couple of rituals I've implemented into my life.  Rituals provide us a way to mark time and allow for a special observance of events.  In a way, they give us our time back by simply honoring it. 

Each day, I take one photo and I write just a bit about my day.  Then, before going to bed, I write 3 things I'm grateful for and one thing I love about myself.  These are my rituals.  They have given me a chance to stop and observe what has happened, to appreciate what has passed, and to internalize it all before moving forward with the time that flies.  They put little markers in the timeline of my forward-moving life and give me something to look back upon in appreciation.

And now that I've made an attempt to get back into my previous life, with all its responsibilities and demands, I find myself using the margins of my time more than ever.  I've become an expert at creatively using the tiny slots of time within my day to accomplish something.  Thank God for smart phones.  Suddenly a traffic jam is an opportunity to send an email and waiting for something on the stove to boil is a chance to clean up around the house.

In the midst of it all, I've tried to land on a daily practice for solitude and silence.  Some days, that seems out of the question and other days I snag those moments when Leo is napping or late at night.  I try to remind myself that balance does not mean doing it all and I hold onto the small rituals that give it all meaning.