When a woman is pregnant, we plan baby showers, we give gift cards and lots of baby stuff. But there is very little acknowledgement that the woman, her body, her life, her emotions, her everything, is in a state of transformation. Giving birth is a HUGE life event. Planning a blessingway ceremony celebrates this.
In childbirth class, I try my best to offer lots of accurate and useful information that is evidence-based and practical for important decision making before, during, and after giving birth. But you can only fill your head with so many facts. Inevitably, there comes a point in pregnancy that you need to process your hopes and fears and know that you are supported by your partner, your birth team, and your community. That's why I teach my Birth Empowerment class, and it's why we encourage Blessingway celebrations.
We end the Birth Empowerment class with a blessingway for the couple. The blessingway ceremony is the perfect opportunity for the pregnant couple to connect with their community and each other as they prepare for their birth. The blessingway has become a tradition in my practice. It is so important to honor each family as they embark on this incredible life-changing journey through pregnancy, birth, and parenthood.
A blessingway is a Navaho tradition that honors the woman’s transformation from maiden to mother. I used to shy away from the word blessingway because it has a religious affiliation. But the more blessingways I perform, the more the word blessing feels appropriate. Our childbirth class blessingway is not religious in any way. But it is a soulful experience that couples appreciate.
Before I get into what we do in our Birth Empowerment Class, I want to say something here about planning your own private blessing way...
It can be hard to know if you should take the reigns and plan your blessingway yourself or ask a close friend to do it for you. On one hand, it may be easier to do it yourself, and you don’t have to have the awkward conversation of asking someone to do something for you. On the other hand, pregnancy is the perfect time to seek out support and learn to speak your needs to your friends and family.
Another consideration is how big you want your gathering to be. Some people want a large gathering with all their close friends to celebrate their pregnancy and upcoming birth, and they really shine in a larger group. Other women would prefer a small intimate group of the closest women in their circle. Some women want their blessingways to be very ceremonious, and others want it to be more relaxed, like a party.
No matter who plans it or what it looks like, please allow yourself to be yourself, speak your desires, and receive the blessings from those around you. They truly love you and want you to feel that love. I know it can be awkward receiving this sort of attention, especially when you are used to giving and taking care of others. But now it’s your time to receive.
Our Childbirth Class Blessingways
1. Blessingway Beads. This is my favorite blessingway tradition. I encourage each person invited to bring a special bead that they have picked out for the mother. The bead should be something the guest has picked with the mother in mind. The bead can signify birth, babies, womanhood, transformation - whatever the giver feels moved to give. At the blessingway, we string all the beads onto a cord for the mother to wear or have during labor. Many mothers have said that these birth beads give them strength and focus during labor. It is a powerful and tangible way for the new mother to be reminded of just how much support she has.
2. Corn Meal Bowl. Each woman gets a chance to place her feet in my blessingway bowl. This bowl was my blessingway bowl and my marriage bowl. The bowl is filled with cornmeal which represents fertility, and I also add aromatic lavender and rose petals. One at a time, guests kneel before their friend and massage her feet. As they massage her feet, they offer their good wishes, good thoughts, and blessings for her and her birth.
3. Washing Her Feet. After the corn meal massage, she needs her feet to be cleaned off. For me, gently washing the mother's feet in warm water is so humbling. I kneel down before her showing my support and my belief in her ability to give birth in the way that is right for her. This feminine activity is very nurturing and empowering.
4. Washing His Hands. I found a way to include the men into the ceremony by washing their hands. As my assistant pours the warm water over their hands, I gently and respectfully wash his hands. He is symbolically cleansed of all the extra things that get in the way of them being fully present and engaged with the upcoming birth. Men are going through this huge life transition, too! It is essential for them to know that we as a community are here to support them as they step into the role of Father.
More Ideas for Blessingways
5. Lighting the Birth Candle. Make sure you have one main candle that is larger than the rest. This is going to be the mother’s Birth Candle. She will light it when she goes into labor. Also make sure you have enough candles for all the guests. Have the mother light her candle and then all the guests one at a time come and light their candles from her flame. If your group likes to sing, this is a perfect time to sing a song together. Once all the candles are lit and the song is sung, have every one blow them out to save them for the birth. When the mom goes into labor she can tell someone to tell every one that it is time for them to light their birth candles. All the candles will be lit again to support the birth.
6. Flower Crown. Making a flower crown is a beautiful way to adorn the pregnant woman. It serves two purposes. The first is to make her something beautiful. The second is to change the way she looks. There is deep symbology here. The whole point of this ceremony is to honor the transformation that the pregnant woman is going through. Combing her hair, or braiding her hair, or placing a flower crown on her head, changes the way she looks. She will be forever changed after her birth. She will look different too.
7. Belly Painting. You can use body paint or henna to decorate her full, round pregnant belly. This is great fun for everyone involved. One thing to keep in mind is that henna lasts longer than body paint.
8. Birth Affirmation Flags. Gather all of your art supplies and get creative. Some people get fabric and fabric paints. Each person writes/draws their birth affirmation on the fabric. Once all the pieces are gathered, they are strung together like prayer flags. The new mom then hangs the birth flags in the room she will be birthing in.
9. Herb Bath. Get a pretty wooden bowl and place in the salt and herbs such as lavender, sage, or rose petals into the bowl. Or, choose the herbs that she is going to make her postpartum herb baths with. Have each woman in your circle hold the bowl and gently mix and massage the herbs with their hands while they speak out their hopes and blessings to the new mother. Continue to pass the bowl around the circle until every one has massaged their blessings into the salt and herbs. Then, have someone in the group scoop up the bath into several cloth bags for her to take home with her to bathe in whenever she wants. Our Soothing Herb Bath and our Postpartum Herb Bath are perfect for this!
10. The Red Thread. Symbolically, there is a red thread that connects us all. It is called the umbilical cord. We were, at one point in time, connected to our mothers and to each other. The red thread is the web of life that we are all a part of. To perform this ceremony, make sure you have enough tread to wrap around all the guests wrists or ankles. Stand in a circle and hold your hand in the center of the circle. Have the person holding the thread wrap it around their wrist and pass it to the person on her left. Continue wrapping and passing the thread until it makes it around completely. Now, if your group likes to sing here is another great opportunity for a song about birth. When you are ready use the scissors and cut the thread between you and to the left. Pass the scissors to the next person until every one has been released. Tie the thread around your wrist or ankle and wear it until the birth. I always wear mine until after the baby is a few weeks old at least. Usually, I just wear it until it falls off on its own.
Remember, these are just a few ideas to help you plan your blessingway. There are an infinite number of ways to personalize your blessingway. I encourage you to take some of these ideas and get creative, come up with your own ways to celebrate this incredible time of your life as you embark on the journey to motherhood.