Blessingway: A Woman-Centered Celebration of Birth
posted by: Heather Ruch
When I was pregnant with my son, my first child, in 2000 my co-workers threw me a wonderful baby shower at which I felt completely awkward. The gifts were awesome as this was our first baby and we felt a great need to acquire “schtuff” with not so much money to do all the acquiring.
With all those women watching me open gifts in great anticipation of my enthusiastic reaction for each one I felt like it was Christmas morning but I was the only one getting the gifts. It was overwhelming. It felt uneven and I felt off balance.
Sure the cake was yummy, we laughed, we joked, we had a great time yet no one talked about the transformation that was about to take place.
I was completely panicked over the idea of giving birth and then having to care for a baby. When I raised the subject of my fears with the women I worked with – the only women in my daily life – they would say oh, don’t worry everything will be great.
No one talked about the fear that I was feeling and I felt I had to ignore that part when I was around these other moms.
After my son was born – with a serious look in his eyes that he still has today – I left my full-time job to be a stay-at-home mom and became active in La Leche League to support my choice of breastfeeding. At the meetings, I met moms who were in the same place I was: enjoying the ups of motherhood yet struggling with the many downs of being a mom.
With these women I could talk openly about mothering from the joys of first crawls and first steps to the darker moments when I felt like I was doing everything wrong and the weight of being a mom was suffocating and too heavy a burden to carry.
Facing my fears by talking about those moments when I felt like I couldn’t and that I wasn’t enough for my child with my mom friends allowed me to make sense of it all.
Those moments of self-doubt do not have to define me, they don’t have to define my mothering. Talking through them allowed me, and still allows me, the freedom to acknowledge that I have fears and reminds me that I can set the fear aside and keep moving forward.
Those extraordinary women are still a huge part of my life, 12 years later. Through these women I have learned of another way of celebrating pregnancy and the birth of a child with what is called a Blessingway.
While a baby shower is a party, a Blessingway is more of a ceremony. Both are celebrations yet they take different forms and hold different meanings.
Each Blessingway is as unique as the woman and the baby she carries. Shari Maser has put together a wonderful guide to creating a beautiful ceremony in Blessingways: A Guide to Mother-Centered Baby Showers and Celebrating Pregnancy Birth and Motherhood. Maser talks of the planning and progression of a Blessingway as a quilt where all the pieces and people come together to create comfort, to create a peaceful, calm place for the mom-to-be.
For my own Blessingway in 2003 to celebrate my second child, the ceremony began with a sign hung on the door asking all who entered to pause. Each woman was invited to enter the space with loving and supporting energy by setting aside the cares of the day and to focus on the wonder and beauty of this woman and her growing child.
To open the ceremony, we sang a song of the spirit, “I am opening up with sweet surrender to the luminous love light of the one. I am opening. I am opening.” This song always moves me to tears. I sang the song to myself during the birth of my daughter and it truly helped me to focus my thoughts, my energy, and my efforts to the experience of birthing her through letting go of my fears and opening to the possibility of having an amazing birth.
From there we introduced ourselves. We all knew each other already but, as Maser explains, “Even for a close-knit group, there is great value in taking the time to recognize and appreciate each person as an individual link in the chain of loving kinship and friendship.”
The naming is an opportunity for each woman to acknowledge her link to her children as well as the link to her mother, grandmother, and so on while creating a circle among the women present. From a skein of yarn, each woman wrapped a length around their wrist while they introduced herself.
My introduction went like this: I am Heather, mother to Jason, daughter of Suszanne, granddaughter of Gladys, and great-granddaughter of Catherine. Then I passed along the skein to the next woman who wrapped it around her wrist and made her introduction.
When the circle of yarn and introductions was complete, we each snipped off our piece of yarn and fashioned a bracelet that we wore until Kait’s birth. The intention of the bracelet is to serve as a reminder of what each woman goes through during pregnancy and birth and as a reminder to send loving thoughts to the woman as she prepares for her journey.
At other Blessingways, we have prepared bracelets in advance made with hemp rope or beads. I still have the bracelet from Melissa’s blessingway and when I wear it I’m still reminded of the beauty, the blessing, and the wonder that we experience through birth.
Each woman was asked to bring a bead to my Blessingway that symbolized each of their children. Going around the circle, each woman shared the traits they hold dear in her children that she wishes for this new child. The beads were strung together to make a necklace which I wore for the remainder of my pregnancy and during my birth. [You can see the necklace in the henna photo below.]
There’s a long history around the use of henna to prepare a woman for turning points in her life. As a bride or a mom-to-be, this decoration brings beauty to the woman and allows the women in her life to bestow wishes and courage. My friends decorated my pregnant belly with henna and while they designed and drew on my skin they each shared a story of a personal journey, or a wish for me during birth.
To bring the ceremony to a close, votive candles were passed around to each woman and then lit. A request was made of each woman to take the candle home and, if possible, when I went into labor the women could light the candle while thinking upon the journey of birth and sending strength.
A meal train was organized and for weeks after the birth of my daughter my friends brought us dinner. Our time was freed to spend together as a family getting to know this new little person and welcoming her into our lives, into our family.
Then we ate lunch and had cake and talked about anything and everything. There were no traditional presents brought yet each woman shared with me a part of themselves and a part of their journey through pregnancy, birth and motherhood that I will cherish always. While giving birth to my daughter, I knew I was part of a community and I knew that all the women in my life believed in me and sent me the strength I needed to birth my daughter.
It was, and still is, a truly magical experience for me.
A Blessingway is absolutely a celebration and it is a time for women to acknowledge the magnificent and extraordinary transformation that is pregnancy, birth, and motherhood.
“I had never heard of a Blessingway before, and I couldn’t imagine it would be much different from a baby shower. But it was different. The Blessingway was not about getting ready for the material needs of the baby’ instead it was all about honoring my womanhood, my motherhood, my value as a member of this community of women. It made me feel powerful enough to meet any challenge, but at the same time it made me realize that I would never have to face any challenge completely alone.” A quote from Margo in Blessingways.
Special thanks to Lara K. for planning so many Blessingways for our group of moms and for sharing her work with me!