Blessing Ways: Not Just for Hippies
That’s right, blessing ways are not just for hippies.The history of a blessing way: Women used to sit in circles, around fires, sewing or weaving together. They used to sit in sacred circles where their souls were fed by the nourishment of belonging. Some women still do, and we need to. Circles heal, uplift, and empower. The Blessing Way ritual is inspired by American Indian traditions, in which family and tribe bless any significant endeavor. The participants at a Blessing Way would pray for the help of spiritual forces to safely guide the recipient on their path, and would offer their prayers and symbolic gifts of power and meaning. This ritual was a way to ceremonally mark significant transitions in life, in a spiritual and meaningful way. With roots in this American Indian tradition, Blessing Way ceremonies have an inherent respect for nature, spirit, animal and plant life. These traditions direct us to experience pregnancy, birthing and moving into motherhood as a sacred transition. Within the Blessing Way ceremony we practice being in tune with the cycles of life. We experience the support of our elders, be that our friends who have become mothers first, or our chronological elders. These traditions encourage us to become humble as we pass through the gateways of motherhood initiation. My Take on a Blessing Way: Yes, I am kind of a hippie. We birth at home, cloth diaper, bed-share, etc etc etc…. BUT, I have learned so much about birth and traditions. I really, really want women to know that you do not need to be birthing at home – or even at a birth center – to have a blessing way. The entire point of a blessing way is to show support and love toward a woman who is becoming a mother. This can come in any form. There can be religious aspects, spiritual aspects, cultural aspects, literally anything goes. I have yet to attend two similar blessing ways. You can bring affirmation banners into your hospital room, and you can read them aloud even if you choose a medicated birth. You can have friends and family light candles even if you are being wheeled in for a c-section. That’s the beauty…. Just as every woman is different, every labor and birth is different, and every blessing way is different. My Latest Blessing Way: I have been honored to have 3 blessing ways in my life, and have attended many more. My first baby received countless baby showers, but my last three babies did not. With each of my boys, I was surrounded by the women I love and blessed with stories, crafts, and a few gifts to help with my labor and postpartum period. I am going to focus on my blessing way for baby #4. I hosted the event myself, at my house. I feel strongly that every pregnancy should be celebrated, and I had numerous friends offer to host. However, I was capable of covering all of the costs and wanted to hold the party more as an afternoon with girlfriends instead of a big party. My three little ones helped create decorations to hang and started a large project that would be included in the birth room. I ordered items to make paper flowers, homemade candles, and an affirmation banner. I hired a henna artist to come and henna everyone’s hands. I really wanted to spend a day with my friends, feeling spoiled and having fun. Most of the women had never been to a blessing way. (We move a lot, so these women were not at my previous babies’ events.) When I sent out the invitations with specific instructions, many of them had no idea what to expect. I asked for absolutely no gifts. With a family of 5 already, the last thing we need is more ‘stuff.’ Everyone was to bring a dish and drink, and I would provide a dish, mimosas, and wine. Everyone was told to exfoliate their hands well so henna would last longer. I also requested for each woman to come with a blessing, a prayer, a quote, or their own words that could be included in a banner for the birth of the baby. I must say that the eclectic group that came was beyond fun. Having crafts allowed for conversations to flow, and the henna artist created a wonderful atmosphere. The blessing way last far beyond the invitation’s listed hours and I wouldn’t have changed anything. The Branch and Flower Background: I was inspired by a random pin on pinterest that had a large tree branch with 100’s of hemp strings hanging from it. Some of the strings had orchids and other flowers tied in. The beauty was simple but wonderful. I felt as though it would add a feeling of nature and peace to my birthing room. (We birth at home, so setting up a room is a wonderful way to prepare for me.) Instead of using live flowers, I chose to create the look using paper doilies cut and rolled into flowers. I was afraid real flowers would either start to smell, dry out odd, or lose petals. The end result was breathtaking. The Affirmation Banner: This is a tradition in most cultures. It is believed that by surrounding the birthing woman with words written by other mothers (or friends), she is then surrounded by their spirits, their support, their love throughout her labor. I could not agree with this more. This was the first birth that I actually hung my banners. It was very important for me to have them up. Actually, it has been 2 weeks since having Ollie, and I still have them up. I feel so loved when I see them. The banners hold prayers, Irish blessings, inspirational quotes, pictures from my children, and kind thoughts from others. I simply pinned them onto string and hung them throughout the birthing room. The Candles: I love candles. I hate chemicals. The chemicals in most store bought candles are horrible to breathe. Instead of handing out candles as thank you gifts, we made our own candles with beeswax and essential oils and dry herbs. The result? Heaven in candles. My house smelled of lavender and rosemary for an entire day afterward. As a childbirth educator, I started a tradition of lighting a candle whenever one of my couples went into labor. It is a tangible way to bring light to their journey. It provides a sense of support to the birthing mother, knowing someone lit a candle for her. I have passed this tradition on to my friends and family, even my online community. I know that it has been done since the dawn of time, but I felt as though it was not happening enough anymore. Every birthing woman deserves to feel loved during her labor. While this birth was so fast our birth team didn’t make it, and not a candle was lit, the thought of knowing these women stood in my kitchen, chatting, laughing, and telling birth stories while making their candles is enough for me. They can now use their candles as they please, and I hope that they will light them for another laboring mother. The Henna: I am very cautious about chemicals. I made sure that the artist I hired used organic henna free of chemicals. It was worth every penny to know that what she used was safe. She provided each woman with a beautiful hand or foot henna signifying something the woman wanted, believed in, or was special to her. Learn more about the history of henna: http://hennaartconnection.com/history-of-henna I chose to have my entire belly henna’d up to my heart (the day after the blessing way), as well as my hand. My 6-year-old daughter also had her hand done. The artist created and image with six large flowers and six peacock feathers that wrapped over my belly. We were becoming a family of six! She said a blessing over the belly, talked to the baby before, during, and after, and was just wonderful throughout the 2-hour process. The Blessing: This to me is what the entire event is about. Throughout the party, the women shared with me their stories, advice, and prayers. We talked about growing families, growing the heart, love, and support. There was no judgement – just love.
Other Ideas to Include in a Blessing Way:
- Labor of Love necklace: All guests bring a handpicked bead to be strung on a necklace that can be worn while the mother labors.
- Drums/Music: You can chant a short lyric or quote welcoming the baby or supporting the mother.
- Belly Casting: Creating a mold of the belly.
- Hands-On Prayer: All guests place a hand on the mother’s belly and repeat a blessing or prayer.
- Candle Lighting: A prayer/blessing said while lighting candles.
- Prayer Flag: Similar to the affirmation banner, but hung as flags.
- Quilt Making: Everyone brings a square of fabric that is later pieced together to make a quilt.
- Pampering: The mother (and guests) can be pampered with pedicures, manicures, massages, etc.