Certain things are inherent in human nature, like the need to acknowledge and honour many of life’s changes that occur throughout our journey. Some of these major rites of passage include: coming of age, marriage, and pregnancy to name a few. However, in contemporary western culture we have lost many of the traditions or rituals that have previously marked and helped us navigate many of these changes. A fundamental need to acknowledge these events is highly important as it helps us prepare for the next step or come to terms with change and also create or deepen a sense of community. One way of helping a mother-to-be prepare for her journey into motherhood is to hold a Blessingway. A Blessingway is a ceremony or ritual held to honour the mother-to-be in order to give her support which can help her prepare both emotionally and mentally for the labour and birth of a new child.
Since becoming more familiar with the notion of Blessingways and what it symbolizes, I realize what a wonderful event it is for not only the new mother but also the seasoned mother. I found Shari Maser’s Blessingways: A Guide to Mother-centered Baby showers to be an excellent comprehensive guide for all mothers-to-be, and I particularly like that she expanded on the idea of community through the voices of other mothers who have also had a Blessingway. For example, one mother writes “Becoming a mother used to be a community event, but now it’s not. It’s very isolating, especially for stay-at-home moms. The nurturing and ritual of a Blessingway can really bring a Woman’s community together to help her through this transition time Women need that.” (page 187) This statement really encapsulates why Blessingways are, in my opinion, a much-needed tradition in our culture.
The actual ritual of the Blessingway will vary as the ceremony is uniquely tailored to suit the personality, religion(or not) and energy of the mother-to-be. Many common practices incorporated into a Blessingway include: painting the expectant mother’s belly with henna, bathing her feet, or my favourite, making a birthing necklace with beads that have been picked specifically for the new mother. Shari Maser also writes “…the necklace you make will serve as a tangible reminder to the mother-to-be that she has a strong circle of support made up of many people who love her and her baby. It is also a reminder that there is beauty in birth and that every birth, like every necklace, is unique.” (page 89).
Another beautiful practice commonly done at a Blessingway is the tying of yarn or floss from one roll of thread or ball of yarn which is then worn around each individuals’ wrist. During the Blessingway this is usually done in a circle, and before the string is cut, the women are all connected by this one strand around each of their wrists. This symbolizes (amongst other things) their connection to each other through the-mother-to-be which the Blessingway is being held for. The string will act as reminder of the mother-to-be and also symbolizes their support for her. The string is worn then later cut once the baby is [safely] born or when the mother is feeling more confident in her mothering skills during the postpartum period.
There are many ways to honour the mother-to-be, from artwork to poetry and even song. The point is to draw upon the symbolic and be mindful of how the activities of the Blessingway will reinforce the meaning and ritual for the specific mother-to-be. Normally, all the details are planned in advance by the host of the Blessingway to ensure a certain flow.
In essence, the Blessingway is a wonderful, empowering and even a healing experience that can bring together a community of women. The ritual also helps solidify the love and support for the expectant mother while building friendships between the women present at the Blessingway. The wonderful thing about a Blessingway is that it helps to bridge the gap between one’s old life and new identity as a mother. Also, having other women there for you that have walked or are walking this journey of motherhood is equally reassuring. And not to mention that on a more practical level, the Blessingway can easily allow for one’s friends to coordinate postpartum meals because ultimately, it is community which helps us through this wonderful and sometimes challenging journey that we call life.
Another excellent resource on Blessingways is”Mother Rising,” (co-written by Yana Cortlund, Barb Luke & Donna Miller Watelet). This book is written from a more pagan perspective and has some wonderful photos taken from an actual Blessingway. Both books mentioned are excellent resources if you are interested in learning more or planning a Blessingway (Here are some more ideas found on Pinterest).
*Photo courtesy of Stefani and photographed by Denise Jolley