We have, likely, all been to a baby shower. Everything decorated in pink or blue balloons and streamers. We play games like, guess the melted chocolate bar in the diaper or how big mama’s belly is.
Often, the conversation turns to the challenges of childbirth and how hard life is with a new baby. All in all, the main purpose of the day is the gifts upon gifts for the new baby. Within the bags and wrapping you can find everything from stuffed animals and onesies of all sizes, to car seats and strollers. This tradition can be very helpful to new parents as babies don’t come with all the paraphernalia we feel we need as soon as they arrive. Through all of this excitement of preparing for baby, often someone is left out, MOM.
When I was pregnant the first time, I felt there must be something out there, some way to mark the importance of the rite of passage I was about to embark on.
Living in a city with no family and limited access to friends and acquaintances outside my chiropractic practice, I felt disappointed that we had no cultural traditions that really spoke to the gravity of this transformation.
As a society, we have become wrapped up in the commercialism of new parenthood and forgotten the deep emotional and spiritual path that new mothers are embarking on. As women are seeking to reconnect with the community, there has become an increasing trend to honour new mothers through holding A Mother’s Blessing or Blessingway ceremony.
I discovered the Blessingway in my third pregnancy, and finally felt I found what I was looking for.
The Blessingway is historically a Navajo tradition of celebrating a member of the community’s rite of passage. This may happen as they reach puberty or enter into marriage or some other major life transition.
As a way of honouring mothers as they enter into one of life’s greatest rites of passage, women today are holding Blessingways for their friends and family.
Who is Invited?
Some will say to only invite the expectant mother’s closest family and friends. This can be wonderful and intimate if she already has a close network of people who are supportive of her birthing and mothering intentions. No token invitations or invitations out of obligation are necessary or advisable for a Blessingway.
Not all women have such a network. Some have family who are far from supportive of the mom’s plans for her birth or mothering. With more and more nuclear families and women starting their own families in cities where they may only have work colleagues as their main connections, they may not have a network of women who have the same beliefs as they do.
Here in Ottawa, I have become blessed to know a community of women who will happily host a Blessingway for an expectant mother who they know only as an acquaintance and are happy to attend Blessingways for total strangers as a way of offering support to our local community of mothers.
What Happens at a Blessingway?
A Blessingway is not a baby shower and no gifts are brought for the baby. This celebration is about the woman who is about to become a mother, or a mother of two, or three, or more. Each pregnancy is a new transition to a different life, so this ceremony is not exclusive for first time moms.
This ceremony is a gathering of a community who is there to offer support to this woman and food is brought by each guest to share, pot luck style. The guests may also be asked to bring a bead for a necklace and a quote or blessing written on paper that relates to birth, mothering, or self empowerment.
The host of the Blessingway may say some words explaining what the intention is for the event.
“A Blessingway is a wonderful ritual for the mother-to-be. It celebrates her step in motherhood. A Blessingway is an opportunity to show our spirit and support for another woman we love. She can garner our collective experiences and power and use it to solidify her own strength to follow her new path. Today we will be celebrating Mom’s Name in her journeys into motherhood (or in her journey into mothering two, etc).”
All the guests will be asked to go around the room and introduce themselves. If it is a group of people who are close to the mother, they may be asked to share how they know the expectant mom or something they admire about her. Remember this is about honouring her.
Each person may then be asked to read the quote or blessing they have brought with them, or share a supportive and empowering piece of wisdom about pregnancy, birth, or parenting. This printed quote can be glued into a scrapbook for the mom or blessings can be written in by hand. This is not the place to tell childbirth horror stories or to joke about how hard life is with baby. The rule here is, if you have nothing positive and supportive to say, find something, anything, positive to say, or don’t say anything at all.
After this opportunity to share our motherly wisdom, it is time to create a gift for the mother to carry with her on her journey. A necklace is strung for the mom to wear during labour. This necklace will symbolize all the womanly energy her community is sending to her, to bring her strength during labour, birthing, and early mothering. Guests are asked to bring beads that hold some significance. Either something that is significant in their lives, like part of a piece of jewelry they owned, a stone that has certain energetic properties, or anything that speaks to them, in terms of shape, colour, and anything else. The mother who is being honoured holds the string as each guest comes to her and places a bead on her neckalce, while stating their wish, blessing, or intention for her and baby’s journey together.
There are a few other rituals that may take place at a Blessingway. Examples may include washing the mother’s feet or brushing her hair. I have to say, I personally have not been to a ceremony in which either of these have happened. I feel it is likely due to our culture creating so much distance and less intimacy between friends, family, and community. We have lost so much personal touch when it comes to really connecting with the women who surround us. I would love to be honoured in this way and would love to honour another woman this way but, to me, it still seems to cross cultural barriers. But maybe that’s just me. I would love to see women push past this barrier and incorporate these forms of honouring into our ceremonies.
Another example, which I have seen, and personally experienced, is applying henna to the mother’s pregnant belly, hands or feet. Applying henna also has roots in celebrating rites of passage in countries like India, where a woman before her wedding has a Mehndi ceremony where her hands and feet are decorated with henna.
Some women will also take this as an opportunity to have a belly cast created. A belly cast is just that, a cast of the pregnant woman’s belly. It is a way of preserving a memory of the pregnant belly, just as it was, while the baby made its home inside.
Both henna and belly casting take time, so don’t leave these for too late in the evening.
The people who are invited to a Blessingway are only those whose intention is to fully support the mother and send her positive energy. This isn’t a ceremony where you need to be obligated to invite family members who are less than optimistic about your specific birthing plans. At the end of the ceremony, guest may be given a candle. The guests are instructed to light the candle when they get word that the mother is in labour. As they light the candle, they are to send positive energy to the mother and baby for their journey. If you feel there is anyone who may be sending worried or fearful energy if they get word of labour starting, do not notify them until after the birth and ask them to send blessings for breastfeeding and beyond.
A Mother’s Blessing Can Create a Community
Being pregnant with my third child, and after parenting two children, with only my husband, and a few close friends around for support, I was longing for community. Realizing how isolated we are all as mothers, I wanted, more than anything, to spend time with women. I would have been thrilled to have a houseful of women baking bread, while the kids ran at our feet, and I can’t say I have ever baked bread. I had visions of how it must have been for my grandmother who lived in a home between her two sisters and had all her family within a 5 minute walk. I wished my sisters lived in the same city and as I just needed to be surrounded by womanly energy.
It was in this pregnancy, that I attended a Blessingway for a fellow chiropractor and it became clear that this was the sense of community I was longing for. A room full of women spoke words of support and encouragement. They honoured who she was and her intentions for her upcoming birth. I knew I wanted to surround myself with women in a similar way.
A Blessingway was held for me and it was exactly what I needed to feel that sense of community I was longing for. The women, who attended my Blessingway, were acquaintances mostly, as I only had a small group of close friends in Ottawa. These women, who took an afternoon away from their families to share their blessings with me, have since become some of my closest parenting friends and a real system of community support.
Next time a friend or family member is pregnant, consider honouring them with a Blessingway ceremony. It is a great way to boost the expectant mom’s confidence in herself and shows her that she does have a community to turn to when parenthood gets challenging. The connections made just by attending a Blessingway ceremony, even if you did not previously know the expectant mother, can create a life long support network in a world where mothers often feel alone in parenting.
Have you ever attended a Blessingway? What other traditions or ceremonies do you think honour expectant mothers?