by Molly Rouse
Blessing the Mothers-to-be
1. More focus is on the mother's connection to herself and her circle of women, receiving their support.
2. More focus is on preparing the mother for birth and motherhood.
3. Less focus is on the baby and gifts for the baby.
Australian postpartum doula Julia Jones says, "The birth of a mother can be more intense than childbirth." We don't hear about this much in our society, but I believe it to be true. In the US, the focus tends to be on pregnancy, birth, and the baby. As a postpartum doula, I work to shift the focus and celebration to the HUGE TRANSITION that a new baby brings to a mother's life. Mother Blessing Ceremonies are a great way to start that shift!
Here is the scene: the space is intimate, peaceful, gentle, and subtle. The list of attendees is be kept small, between 5-10 guests, with no invitations out of mere courtesy, but people who are supportive of the mother's philosophies on pregnancy, birth, and parenting. The elements of the ceremony might include sharing poetry, blessings, or prayers; singing; creating a visual symbol of support - a mobile made by the group, string tied around each woman's wrist, or candles that will be lit when labor begins; and feasting (yum!).
Depending on the expectant mother's style, personality, and preferences, her Mother Blessing gathering can take many different forms. It can be spiritual or secular; formal or relaxed; focused on art, words, silence, or food. In the end, the intention is to focus on connection and support. These elements go a long way in helping a woman on her birth- and motherhood- journeys.
I chose to have Mother Blessing Ceremonies before the births of each of my 2 children. The first one, in 2006 was held in the community where I grew up, and included about 15 women (mostly my generation and their moms). Everyone brought a poem (I still have them all in a scrapbook my sister made) and a piece of 2-dimensional art to be added to a birth collage, which I planned to have with me in the hospital room when I gave birth (which didn't happen, but that's another story). There were so many unknowns, and it helped to hear many of the other moms in the group share their birth stories. This gathering was followed by a bigger party and baby shower. All of our families joined us as we feasted and opened gifts. It was all lovely; my husband and I felt super loved-up and exhausted at the end of it. When our son was born, this same group of people brought us food and checked in with us as we transitioned to parenthood.
The ceremony that my sister led just before the birth of my second child 6 years later, was a different scene. Held at a good friend's home, there were seven women with me in the circle. I had two miscarriages before this pregnancy, and with heightened emotions, this intimate gathering was just what I needed as I was about to give birth. We all decorated cardboard birds to be hung on a mobile, and then, in a circle, each woman spoke from her heart to share a blessing just for me. My tears flowed as I received words of honesty, admiration, and support. Next, I was asked to speak about my pregnancy journey. Each woman wrote down words phrases that stood out to her. Two friends collected the papers and a few weeks later, used them as inspiration to compose a song for baby Alma. Hearing myself speak about my own journey was an amazing gift, as was the song that I still sing to 3-year-old Alma. This sweet ceremony was followed by painting my big belly with henna, and a relaxed and delicious multi-course meal. As I fell asleep next to my husband that night, I felt so ready to bring Alma into the world.
From these experiences, and attending and hosting ceremonies for other mamas, I can say that Mother Blessings are wonderful whether held in addition to baby showers or instead of them. After your first baby, you often don't need all the stuff for the baby, but for every birth, you need the support and love of your community. The members of your circle of support want to raise you up in this holy time of life.
I celebrate you, Sweet Mama!
Note: Mother Blessings are based on Blessingways, a Navajo (Diné) tradition of marking rites of passage. I choose not to use the word 'blessingway' out of respect for a tradition I do not belong to.