Compiled by Holly Keich
You may be asking yourself, what is a Blessingway? A simple definition is that it is an alternative baby shower for mothers. But Blessingways are so much more than that. A Blessingway is celebration given to a woman who is soon to give birth to honor her passage into motherhood, whether her first child or her last. It is centered on the mother and is intended to weave and strengthen a support network for the woman, reaffirming her inner strength, skill and intuition to be a role model and caretaker for this child.
While baby showers can be commercial in focus, a showering of gifts for the baby, a Blessingway is about honoring the woman, our friend, sister, daughter, mother-to-be. This is a sacred time in the mother’s life and deserves more than gifts of car seats, baby wipes and a sea of pink or blue gifts. A Blessingway acknowledges that the birth of a child, the becoming of a mother is a rite of passage that the woman is about to go through. It is a wonderful way to honor motherhood and provide the mother with a true show of support from her loved ones. The memories of this experience will last much longer than those newborn sleepers received at a shower.
Blessingways are steeped in a much more solid tradition than baby showers too. The Blessingway is reputed to derive from a Navajo people. The story of the creation of the Navajo people and their emergence onto their sacred homeland is recounted in a ceremony known as the Blessingway, which is the foundation of the Navajo way of life. The Blessingway is an important aspect of the Navajo religion and is not specific to pregnancy. It can be used for anyone expecting a baby, adopting a baby, or just in need of a celebration of life in general. Any life transition or celebration will work: divorce, move, career change, remarriage – the ceremony can be creatively adjusted for other life events. And it needn’t include only women. Yes, there are co-ed parent or family blessings. The father is included and treated to the same blessings at the mother.
The Navajo have a saying, “whatever happens here on Earth must first be dreamed”, and that’s exactly what a Blessingway does. When traditionally performed in it’s entirety, the Blessingway is a two-day ceremony whose purpose is to obtain peace, harmony, protection and to help realize the goal of a long, happy life.
The Basics of a Blessingway
Pre-Planning – Involve the mother-to-be in the planning process. By doing so, you empower her to make the ceremony her own and she can pick and choose what activities appeal to her. Some of the more traditional rituals may not be comfortable for everyone, so think of some modern alternatives like a day at the spa or “paint-your-own” pottery.
Invitations – Invitations are similar to any other invitation, but should have a positive woman centered theme. You may want to explain the purpose of a Blessingway – to bless the woman’s way into childbirth, so she can remember all women who have gone before her in childbearing and allow you to pledge your support as she enters into her birthing experience. Here is where you will want to indicate if you require the guest to bring something for an activity. You may also want to mention that gifts are not requested.
Attendees – Keep it small. 6-15 guests. Don’t invite anyone out of courtesy, but rather invite guests that really mean something to the mother and will positively contribute to her birthing or parenting experience and is supportive of her philosophies.
Location – Somewhere that has a calm, peaceful and relaxed feel about it. At your home or one of the other guest’s. If this isn’t an option, a park or an alternate serene setting can work.
Atmosphere – The atmosphere should be akin to a candlelight dinner. Relaxing music playing in the background, candles or incense burning, all things helping to trigger a wonderful response by the guests and leave them with a sensory memory of the occasion. Turn off the phones and pagers. This is a sacred moment that shouldn’t be interrupted.
Food – Typically food at a blessingway has meaning behind it. Everyone could bring a dish that reminds them of their mother or a comfort food. Or everyone could bring a dish that represents the mother’s favorite food. For example, have everyone bring a chocolate treat if mama is a chocoholic. The point is that it is something from the heart.
Whatever you do at a Blessingway, it should serve to strengthen and uplift the mother-to-be. Be open to customizing activities to suit the mother’s definition of being uplifted.
Foot Washing – symbolizes readiness for a journey or new beginning, and handwashing will clean away fears. The feet or hands should be dried and can be smoothed and massaged with cornmeal, or anointed with oils. The midwife or mother is usually the one to honor the mother with these aspects, but it can provide a wonderful time for guests to bestow quiet words of love and encouragement.
Hair Brushing and Braiding – is another way to nurture and pamper the mother. If there is a brush that is, for example an heirloom this can act as a way to connect the mother to her female ancestors. Adorning her hair with flowers can also help connect her to Mother Earth.
Necklace– Each guest brings a special bead to string on a necklace for the mother to wear until and through labor. A nice way to approach this ritual is by sitting in a circle and passing the cord, each guest adding a bead, or beads for each number of children they have, then the mother can add a final bead after the birth to represent her own child. The necklace or bracelet symbolizes the strength of our shared experiences as mothers and women.
Bracelet – Similarly, a ball of beautiful string is used to connect each woman’s wrist to one another’s in the circle – a web of womanhood. When the cord connects all of you, explain that this unites you all as sisters and represents the circle of sisters and the circle of life. Then you cut the cord, leaving enough length to tie the ends into a bracelet. Explain that thought it appears we were then separate, the bracelet reminded us as women, we were all gut from the same ball of yarn, You may suggest that the woman wear the bracelet until the birth as a reminder of the same strength a group of women can hold for a birthing mother.
Candles – Either making them as a group or giving them as a party favor. The reason being is that all the guests will be asked to light the candle when they are notified that the mother is in labor and will leave it lit until the baby arrives.
Smudging – Taken from the Navajo origins of the Blessingway, if the Blessingway is taking place in the Honoree’s home, a bundle of dried sage is often lit, then the flame burned out and the sage is allowed to slowly burn down. This is to symbolize a cleansing of the woman’s home, either for a homebirth or for the arrival home from the birthplace, purifying of her soul and blessing for the birth and baby.
Belly Casting – is another ritual that can be very fun. Either to have the guests cast the mothers belly and chest, or to have the cast already done and ready for the guests to paint or decorate.
Painting the Mother’s Belly with Henna or Paint
Song – Such a wonderful way to invite a loving spirit. Many women like to have each guest sing a lullaby their mother used to sing or one they have used with their own children. If all the guests are familiar with one particular son, say a lullaby , spiritual hymn, this can also be sung together as a group.
Sending away your trouble or fears – by having guests voice them, write them on paper, and then burn them from a bowl and sending them away.
Storytelling – Each woman’s personal birth stories (but beware if you think horror stories will be passed around. Remember you are strengthening and uplifting the mother!), or stories of how each guest knows the mother or inspirations stories of each guests relationship to the mother – how they met her, what drew them to her, why she was important to them. This can be done during the hair brushing or foot washing or during candle lighting. This can also take the form of poetry reading or reciting an inspirational story or fable, and either have just one read or invite the guests to bring a poem or story of their own to read.
Quilting – Probably one of the oldest forms of female rituals. It’s very meaningful to ask in the invitation for each guest to bring a customized quilt square that tells of a certain quality the mother possesses. Either assemble the quilt at the Blessingway or assign a friend to complete the quilt and present it to the mother and baby after the birth. This will become an heirloom that tells a story about the mother.
Keepsake Journal – This can be passed around during the foot washing or hair brushing for the guests to write down inspirational thoughts and poems. After the birth, the mother can write of the baby’s birth story.
Nurture Basket – In the invitation, instead of baby gifts, instruct the guests to bring a gift that would uplift, inspire, or nurture the mother. This can be gift certificates for a massage or restaurant, bath goodies, books or journals, framed quotes, drawings or photos, luxurious robes or pajamas, teas or chocolates, etc.
Prayer Flags – Inspired by Tibetan prayer flags, these are strips of cloth that are cut about 3”x18”. They are handed to each guest to write a birth blessing or positive message on it. When the guests are through the mother is given the flags to read and take with her to her place of birth. Messages can be anything. Some examples include: “You are a strong woman.” “Your baby will be born at the right time.”
Make sure to take pictures of the event!
For more ideas about Blessingways, be sure to look in Jennifer Louden’s, Pregnant Woman’s Comfort Book. Another great resource is Blessingways: A Guide to Mother-Centered Baby Showers – Celebrating Pregnancy, Birth and Motherhood by Shari Maser.
No matter how you choose to celebrate the birth of a new baby, it is a special occasion. For women, a Blessingway can be 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. It is a time to celebrate and rejoice in new life.
An Ode to Faith
-by Patrick Overter
When you have come to the edge
Of all the light you know,
And are about to step off
Into the darkness of the unknown,
Faith is knowing that
One of two things will happen,
There will be something solid to stand on,
Or you will be taught how to fly.
Holly supports mother, child & family connections through the opening of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in 2009. Om Baby is located in Camp Hill, PA and is available for Blessingway rentals.