This is the last article I’ll have published for a while:
While I was pregnant with Max I had (to endure) two baby showers. I’m about to out myself here… I’m not a big fan of The Shower. The games bore me and small talk isn’t my forte. During my showers I was the center of attention for several people who were practically strangers (how awkward) and a few that I loved (slightly less awkward). I was subjected to the guessing game, How Big Is Her Waist? (offensive) and to everyone yelling at one another for saying the word, “Baby” (*yawn*). I was honored that people showed up but unmoved by the actual events of the shower. I appreciated the gifts but hated opening them as everyone predictably oooowed and awwwwed over the cuteness of each item. I’m pretty darn sure I’m not alone in feeling this way. Though I may be the only asshole to admit it. After the second shower, I started to wonder if there were any alternatives, in case we had a another baby.
When I found out I was pregnant with baby number two I started to consider having a Mother Blessing ceremony. I heard about this ceremony while pregnant with Max but thought it sounded too eccentric. I thought, “Hmmm, not only would I be the center of attention but people would also be focused on me while talking to me? That sounds intense – and weird.”
As I continued to contemplate what I wanted, I received an invitation to my doula’s daughter’s Mother Blessing. “Perfect!” I thought. “Now I can see what this thing is about before I decide if it’s a good fit.”
Well… OH MY GOSH. I was moved by the intimacy and meaningfulness of the entire ceremony. Every woman in the room shared a bond with the mother-to-be. The sincere words that were voiced were empowering (I think for everyone) and had me in tears. The environment felt communal and supportive. And the bond I felt with the mother-to-be was intuitive, immediate, and beautiful, even though it was my first time meeting her.
Attending this Mother Blessing peaked my interest and put me into research mode. I found out that a Mother Blessing is a ceremony that is adaptable to fit a woman’s personal beliefs. It can take the place of or be held in conjunction with a traditional baby shower. And like a baby shower, it is held before each pregnancy or adoption. The common thread with all Mother Blessings is that it brings together women in your community who want to support your journey into motherhood. I also found out that it isn’t that eccentric (read: weird) at all!
A little bit of history:
A “Mother Blessing” is modeled after the “Blessingway” ceremony that is a sacred ritual of the Dine (Navajo). A traditional Navajo Blessingway is held for a women who is about to give birth as well as for men who are preparing to leave for war. It’s purpose is to bring the Navajo community together in support of the person making a significant life transition.
In the 1970’s, American midwives – led by Raven Lang, Jeannine Parvati Baker, and Nan Koehler – adapted the Navajo Blessingway into the modern ceremony that many pregnant women celebrate today. Out of respect for the sacred ritual of the Dine (Navajo), many people are starting to refer to the Blessingway ceremony given to a woman as a Mother Blessing, Birthing Way, Belly Blessings, or Alternative Baby Shower.
Modern culture has become focused on the baby-to-be and has lost sight of the mother about to be born. I felt this way during my own baby showers. The event was completely about my unborn baby, leaving me feeling like a vessel without a life of her own. I was present, but the party wasn’t for me. If only I could have removed my womb and sent it instead. Though, I would have missed out on all the yummy food.
A Mother Blessing is different than the typical baby shower. It’s purpose is to honor the mother-to-be by acknowledging the profound rite of passage labor and mothering brings. It also provides a safe space for the mama to express her deepest fears about labor and to receive words of encouragement and support. In short, the Mother Blessing is all about the mama. It is about empowering the mother-to-be. And of-course, gifts can still be a part of the event.
Having a Mother Blessing:
First step: Who do you want to invite? This is a very important step!
I chose to invite only the women in my life who have been supportive of my transition into mothering. This list comprised of women I knew but wanted to know better, women I always felt supported by but only spoke with occasionally, and women whom I already shared a deep friendship with. It was important that those invited brought a good attitude and positive energy with them. I didn’t invite anyone who had a history of doubting my mothering choices or anyone who ignored my mothering life (um, except my mother-in-law but I have a lot of love for her so she was a worthy exception to the rule). I didn’t invite people because of fear of hurting feelings. A Mother Blessing is meant to be an intimate and meaningful ceremony. So, the idea to keep in mind is “quality before quantity.” Invite only those who lift your spirits.
Step two: Making the invitation – get detailed!
The invitation needs to include an explanation of what your Mother Blessing will entail as well as instructions if your guest are to bring items with them. For my Mother Blessing, guests were asked to bring a flower and a bead. Those who were unable to attend still participated by mailing these pieces. Relatives and friends from far away mailed flowers, beads, and thoughtful letters to be shared during the ceremony. I also had loved ones who live close by send these goods because they had prior engagements or were uncomfortable with the intimacy of the ceremony. Allowing people the option to mail the ceremonial pieces gave my guests the freedom of relinquishing their presence but the ability to still participate.
Step three: What do people do at a Mother Blessing?
The ceremony can involve rituals from your religion or rituals that you create. Many ceremonies include: making birthing necklaces and bracelets, hair brushing, foot washing, sage burning, sharing positive birth stories, passing on wisdom and blessings, singing, gift giving, and feasting on potluck fare.
The woman being honored usually has a primary role in planning both the guest list and the ceremonies. I made the guest list and picked out what ceremonies I wanted to have at my Mother Blessing. My closest friend hosted it at her house and made the fabulous spread of food while my doula facilitated the actual ceremony. We worked as a team and the entire event went without a hitch. Not to mention… because the three of us had a role in making it happen, it was a relatively stress-free process to getting it done.
Following is an outline of what we did during my Mother Blessing:
# 1 – Introduction.
Taking turns, each woman lighted a candle, placed it on the table, and introduced herself. And since this ceremony is about the power of women she also acknowledged her mother, grandmother, and her children. The introduction sounded like this:
I am Michelle, daughter of JoAnne, granddaughter to Elizabeth, and mother to Maxamilian and BellaGrace. I light this candle in honor of, ______, to support her journey into motherhood.
Seeing Grandma Harmon shuffle over to the table while introducing herself in her shaky grandma voice brought tears to my eyes and bombed my chest with esteem and love. I suddenly felt incredibly privileged to be sitting amongst the women who filled the room.
#2 – Bead Giving Ceremony.
Everyone was asked to bring a bead that reminded them of me, meant something to them, or was symbolic for a sentiment they wished to share. A bowl was passed around the room and each woman placed the bead into the bowl sharing words of support, wisdom, and gratitude.
This part was very special and touching because every woman brought a unique element of wisdom to the room. Afterwards, my closest friend made a beautiful necklace out of the beads. This necklace was worn while I was in early labor to remind me of the connection I have to all the women present at my Mother Blessing.
#3 – Umbilical Cord Ceremony.
A long string of yarn was passed around the room. The yarn represented my connection to the baby in my belly as well as the alliance I had with each woman in the room. Once the circle was complete each woman cut the yarn and tied it around their wrist or ankle to make a bracelet. While this was being done my doula explained the purpose of the string: With the wearing of this bracelet each woman is reminded of Michelle’s upcoming labor. Michelle is also wearing the bracelet to remind her that we support her journey into mothering two children and have confidence that her baby will be born complication-free. This bracelet will give her the wisdom to know that she can give birth and that we believe she can do it.
Upon finding out labor started, each woman “cut the cord” sending me their prayers and well wishes.
#4 – The Flower
Each guest was asked to bring a flower with them. The flowers were placed in a bowl that sat on the table in the center of our ceremony. I took the bowl of flowers home and it became the center piece on my kitchen table – another reminder of the love and support I had been blessed with. I am looking forward to passing on both the necklace and dried flowers to BellaGrace. They are now family heirlooms.
Fifteen people attended my Mother Blessing and the entire event took about 2 ½ hours. While everyone was arriving and introductions were being made we all munched on the amazing spread of food and talked. After the ceremonial part of the Mother Blessing, we ate up the rest of the food and chatted. The energy in the house was amazing. Women who had never met before were sharing personal stories of their own lives while long time friends enjoyed the excitement of the gathering. I was loving the environment and company so much that I had to be reminded to open the baby gifts! It truly was a blessed event that gave me the support and empowerment I needed to birth my 10 pound baby girl.
“Mother Blessings : Honoring Women Becoming Mothers,” by Anna Stewart
“Blessingways: A Guide to Mother-Centered Baby Showers–Celebrating Pregnancy, Birth, and Motherhood,” by Shari Maser
“ Mother Rising: The Blessingway Journey into Motherhood,” by Yana Cortlund