What is a Blessingway? More than a baby shower…

September 23, 2012

Written by Rachel Lorena Brown

My friends and I were so privileged to plan a double blessingway*** for our dear sister friends and resident birth goddesses Wendy Rush and Laura Curtis, who were both due in September with their third and fourth babies. Their brother David, who wanted desperately to attend the blessingway but was unfairly discriminated against by myself, described it as “giving structure to the love and support that already exists.”

I loved planning this event with Katie and Laurel and I think we were a very good team—Laurel’s theatrical talent, Katie’s consciousness of beauty and aesthetics and my desire to create an ambiance centered in female power—I watched Laurel weaving wreaths of ivy for us to wear before the ceremony started and Katie arranging rose petals in the bowl of rosewater we washed our hands in at the beginning and just beamed with love for them. Laurel and I also had an amazing time shopping for the “altars” we created to honor Wendy and Laura. It was a fun but also surprisingly touching experience. We were so lucky to be able to use Sara’s beautiful extended stay apartment as a venue.

I know some might not be familiar with the concept of a blessingway. An excellent resource is the book “Mother Rising” from which we pulled the outline of our event. From what I understand, the origins of a blessing way are from a Navajo tradition; a ceremony of rites, prayers and songs based in honoring healing, fertility and creation. More recently they have become an alternative to a traditional baby shower; focusing on the personal experience of a woman either becoming a mother or adding another child to her family. She is “blessed” by the strength and support of the women present and her connection with them as they participate in the rituals together.

This was the definition Katie placed on the invitations:

“A blessingway is a special ceremony designed to acknowledge, honor, and celebrate a woman’s journey into motherhood. Different from a baby shower, a blessingway’s main goal is to provide a loving place where an expectant mother can explore the challenges and joys that lay before her as she approaches childbirth and motherhood. Surrounded by the most important women in her life, she will gain a sense of power, confidence, and support that will help her before, during, and after the birth of her child.”

Each guest was also asked to bring a bead that represented a wish they had for Wendy and Laura’s upcoming births and/or new  experience of motherhood, and a thought to share with each baby, telling them something wonderful about their mother.

Laurel and I were in charge of creating two altars to be the focal point of the ceremony; one for Laura and one for Wendy.

This is Wendy’s altar. Every piece we chose was symbolic: an uncorked glass bottle represented the release of pent up fears and anxieties, allowing for something magnificent–the tall peacock feather you can’t see in this shot–to grow. A chalice that had been cracked but was still whole, representing female energy and strength through brokenness. Laurel created gorgeous ornaments with silver, Wendy’s comforting birth color, and we  placed pictures of her husband and children on the altar to honor their place in Wendy’s life and their part in the upcoming birth.

These chess pieces were very special. When I saw them, tears sprang into my eyes and I knew what they represented. I know it looks a little Breaking Dawn (ugh) but the pawn symbolizes Wendy’s previous traumatic births at the hospital and the queen represents her hope of an empowered homebirth. I loved that in the game of chess, the pawn can only move  one way (reminiscent of a woman forced to lay on her back) and the queen is the most powerful, versatile player in the game; she is free to move any way she wants.

Laura’s altar also had pictures of her loved ones and a chalice with a cloudy pattern representing going from confusion to clarity. She also had an uncorked bottle and ornament containing the silver “birth mist.”

This was the central piece  of Laura’s altar, representing her three young boys guarding their new little brother “about to hatch.” Laura’s sons have been so lovingly invested in the pregnancy and so attentive  to their mother–she calls them her three little doulas. We wanted to create something to invoke that feeling of love and belonging that exists in their family.

Here are the two “thrones” for our guests of honor.

The blessed sisters upon their arrival!

When all the women arrived (And the reporter from the Daily Herald..heh…) we welcomed them and invited each guest to dip her hands in a bowl of rose-water. This symbolized cleansing themselves of any outside worries they had brought with them and committed to be fully present at the blessingway that night.

Next, each woman stood and introduced herself by her matriarchal line. Example: “I’m Rachel, daughter of Lorraine, grand-daughter of Marylynn, great-granddaughter of Emma,” etc, honoring our fore-mothers and their strength within us by voicing our connection to them. Oh, I LOVED that! In our culture we rarely reference our matriarchal line and I loved the implied reference to ancestral birth. When Laura introduced herself she mentioned one of her great-great grandmothers who was 4’11 and successfully birthed a 13 lb baby. “We have good birthing genes!”

When introductions were completed, we clasped hands and created a circle. Katie stated the purpose of the circle; which was to connect, become separate from our daily cares and fully focused on our purpose there. She said “Let us form this circle with clear thoughts, wise words, and kind hearts.”

Katie spoke about how the circle was open to the elements of nature and that we wanted to invite the “four directions” to be present within the circle. She read this portion from the book:

“The spirit of the East, who brings the breath of new life and gives relief from difficult laboring energy. The spirit of the South, who inspires fiery determination and prompts a baby’s first cry. The spirit of the West, who calms the waters of a baby’s uterine home and ensures the plentiful breast. And the spirit of the North, who comes from the land of quiet rejuvenating spaces to tell tales of surrender and of our ancestors.”

Then I got to summon the Mother Goddess and encouraged each woman to concentrate on her own perception of the divine feminine and how that manifests for her–whether it be a specific Goddess, Mother Earth, Heavenly Mother, or the inner mother inside of each of us (“the place of our higher selves”)–and we invited Her energy to be present with us within the circle. This is a portion of what I read:

“We invite the Goddess to join us today. She is earth herself, her body reflecting mountains and valleys, fields and rivers. Her palpable sensuality is a celebration of physical existence. She represents the waves of primordial waters from which all life and consciousness arise. The great Goddess is woman’s faceless, egoless, primal self. She is peaceful in her body and her truly miraculous power–as woman, as earth–to create life.”

I also acknowledged the energy of the loved ones who were not there that night, our husbands, children, and brothers. Then each of the women received a bindi on their brow chakra or “third eye” to mark their honored place in the circle. The third eye is supposed to bring focus to a central point and purpose, “helping us to perceive truths and understanding that are not readily apparent.”

Once the circle was cast and each woman had received a bindi, Laurel presented the altars and explained why each piece had been chosen. Then she read a beautiful group hypnosis/relaxation script that Katie had written especially for the blessingway. It was powerful! The first portion was relaxation, which always makes me feel blissfully like my muscles are melting, and the second was a peaceful guided visualization about the birthing mothers surrounding themselves with the support, comfort and love of the women present at the blessingway and meeting their precious babies. Katie did an incredible job.

“Laura and Wendy, imagine this room filling with all your closest friends, loved ones, ancestors, and angels. Some are here with you, some have passed on, and some have yet to come into this world, but all are with you here, in this room. They are spiraling, circling, and surrounding you. Offering protection and sending love and blessings. Take in their love.For those of you who have journeyed here with Wendy and Laura, consciously visualize the safe container you are forming for them. Send them your love and your blessings. Visualize your deepest wishes for them. Take your blessings and hopes and expand them into this space…”

After the group script, we had a fear release. We dimmed the lights and Katie lit a fire in a glass bowl with colorful pieces of sea glass.

Here is the fear release I put together:

“One of the best ways to be open in supporting Laura and Wendy tonight is for us to release the fears we are holding onto. These fears may be related to pregnancy and birth, rooted in painful memories, doubts about ourselves, anxiety for the future. Some of you present in the circle tonight may also carry fears on behalf of Laura and Wendy and their birth experience. Remember, these fears bind you, holding you back from being the person you were meant to be. Releasing your fears and expectations creates space and love in your life–that space can then be filled with wishes, blessings, and other positive love-centered energies through the remaining work of the blessingway.

Take a pinch of herbs from the bowl as they come around to you and as you hold it in your hand, allow yourself to concentrate on your fear. Allow it to take shape in your mind, and imagine yourself walking up to face it. Inspect your fear, become conscious of how it has created barriers in your life, how it has affected you and your dear ones. Imagine the place within you where your fear has been locked up…now imagine yourself unlocking the door of that secret place and letting your fear fly out like a bat or a dark bird. Envision light flooding into that once-dark space. Clench your hand and capture your fear within the herbs…now throw it in the flame. Let it go and watch it smolder and disappear. It is no longer with you…now you are free.”

The women were invited to approach the fire one by one and burn their fear, speaking it out loud or silently as they chose. I was one of the first few to release my fear into the fire and when I threw in my herbs, the glass bowl exploded! There was a loud cracking noise and the bowl just flew apart. It was really funny but kind of terrifying at the same time. Wendy exclaimed “That was  some witchery!” Everyone sprang into action suggesting how to put the fire out, and a few seconds after Laurel doused it with baking soda the flames flared up again, which metaphorically was kind of horrifying. I guess my fear was pretty potent and didn’t want to be destroyed. :) When the first fire was effectively vanquished, Katie quickly set up another fire in a less volatile bowl and we continued around the circle releasing our fears. No one released the fear of exploding glass bowls, which proves that everyone there was pretty brave.

After the dramatic fear release came one of the sweetest parts of the night. We turned our attention to the most important “unseen” people in the room; Laura and Wendy’s babies. We honored them by each person in the circle addressing the babies directly one at a time and expressing love, good wishes for the labor and birth, and telling the babies about their mothers. The women who were present were so open and kind. Some women told the babies how much Laura and Wendy had meant to them in their own lives and talked about their strengths and what powerful, passionate women they are, some blessed the babies to have certain gifts, everyone assured them of the loving arms waiting to receive them, the siblings ready to play with and adore them. People talked about the healing power they would bring with their births, hearts making room for them.

It was simultaneously this incredible mix of celebrating the relationships and friendships with the mothers and promising goodness to these new little souls about to come into the world. It was tremulous and tender. I have never witnessed something like this before and there was a sublime humanness and perfection to it. It was humbling to feel so much love in the room. I was thinking of the thousands of good wishes I must have extended to expectant moms, always along the lines of “you’re so awesome! you’ll be an awesome mom!” but somehow the element of speaking directly to the baby made it so much deeper and more personal. I remembered how much Laura & Wendy gave to me during my own pregnancy and Chai’s birth. Laura’s voice in my head telling me I was doing beautifully, to trust my body, to “let it be big.” Wendy holding me up during a surge when I couldn’t get down to the floor, for teaching me how to nurse. So many lives have been touched by these beautiful, vibrant women. While they were sharing, many in the room were in tears. It was especially beautiful watching Jenny speak to her grandchildren, and Laura and Wendy speak to each other’s babies.

When we finishing speaking to the babies, we had the pregnant goddesses move to another room for a luxurious pampering session where Julia and Rachel C painted henna on their bellies, Mary braided their birth colors into their hair, and everyone took turns massaging their hands and feet and brushing/playing with their hair. Someone even put some fresh grapes in a bowl and fed them. It was true, dedicated pampering; the only thing missing were the palm fronds. I think Laura and Wendy were pretty happy about all that.

Every guest had been asked to bring a bead each for each mama that represented them and their hopes for the births. Some guests had to leave early and presented their beads during the pampering session.

After the pampering, we reconvened in the circle and presented the rest of the beads–they were strung on a necklace for these lovely sisters to wear during labor and the rest of the pregnancy, symbolic of all the support. I wish I had written down which bead everyone brought and the meaning, because it was so interesting to see what people chose–so many thoughtful ideas! “Trees of life,” ancestral power, beauty in imperfection, fierceness, passion, fire and water, power of nature were some of the themes.

Katie stringing the beads to make the blessingway necklaces. They turned out so amazing, I wish I had a picture of the final version, but just trust me. They look incredible and the beads were chosen with so much thoughtfulness. A necklace like that is so powerful and contains so many magical properties that it belongs in Skyrim.

Rachel Clark shared this poem along with her beads (and read it beautifully):

MORNING SONG (Sylvia Plath)
Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.
Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.
I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.
All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.
One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square
Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

When we finished with the beads, we listened to Jenny Lowe share some thoughts she had prepared for her daughters. She first had us examine the hand of the person next to us and notice the strength and individuality in all those hands, how tiny details reflect our personalities and what is unique about us. We are powerful as individuals and as a support for one another.

Jenny referenced the book “Women who Run with the Wolves” and talked about being wild, how birth is a wild experience and we were not meant to be docile, passive creatures, but fierce mothers with energy and spirit who could birth passionately and run and give chase. She also told a story about how birthing elephants use a support network of other elephants that is rarely provided in the zoo or circus setting.:

“It seems an elephant went into labor in a North American zoo and her keepers carefully put her in a pen all by herself away from all the other elephants. The laboring elephant became frantic and hysterical, crashing back and fourth in her pen. The zookeepers, concerned that she would harm herself, called a European zoo that had recently had a successful elephant birth.

“Where are the midwives?” the incredulous European zookeepers cried. “Where are the other female elephants to help with the birth?” Once the other female elephants were allowed to join the laboring mother elephant they surrounded her, stroking her with their trunks, calming her and helping her throughout her labor. When the baby elephant was born they cleaned it and kept watch over it while the new mother rested.”

Jenny connected this story to the concept of women needing to help women give birth, and how it was meant to be this way, how we need each other. I wish I had her talk in its entirety because it was really wonderful. She also spoke directly to her daughters and gave them counsel and expressed her hopes for them. So, so glorious to hear such a wise and strong woman engaging with her daughters this way.

I don’t have any picture of this next part, but for our last activity, we created a web by wrapping yarn around our wrists so we were all connected. As we passed the yarn around we chanted “We are the flow, we are the ebb, we are the weavers, we are the web.” We cut the string and tied it so we each have yarn on our wrists to remind us of the connection and to wear until the babies are born. Lastly, every woman was given a candle to light when L and W are in labor to manifest their supportive presence and send good energy even if not physically at the birth.

To end the blessingway and open our circle, we joined hands while Katie read the following:

“Today we have succeeded in forming a beautiful, sacred space for Wendy and Laura’s blessingway. The strength and energy we have helped them to raise is shining inside of them and radiating out for us all to see. The power of the feminine spirit has been unveiled in each of us tonight. May we carry the knowledge and gifts we’ve received into everything we do from this day on. Let us stay connected to Laura and Wendy, creating a cradle of support, as they await their birthing days and beyond. This has been a powerful night. Let us take care of our children, for they have a long way to go. Let us take care of our elders, for they have come a long way. Let us take care of those of us in between, for we are doing the work. Our circle is now open, but unbroken.”

Several guests brought gifts for the babies, so at the very VERY end we had our traditional baby shower moment after all. :) It was like the end of Return of the King…more stuff kept happening.

The “Wood Nymphs”

It was such a deep-feeling night and we were so, so happy with how the blessingway turned out. It’s the kind of thing I have always wanted to do and I hope I get to plan and participate in thousands more. Our culture needs more female empowerment rituals…especially intensely personal ones that celebrate relationships and individual strengths. I wish every pregnant woman and new baby could be honored like that, because everyone deserves it. I hope Wendy and Laura know how very loved they are.

***At the time of the writing of this post, “Blessingway” was the term used and understood in connection with a gathering honoring an expectant mother. The author now prefers to use the term Mother’s Circle out of respect and a desire not to appropriate Navajo culture and customs. The term ‘Blessingway’ refers to a sacred spiritual ceremony performed by the Navajo people to celebrate rites of passage that occur throughout the entire life cycle, and not only the passage into motherhood. “Mother’s Circle” or ‘Mother Blessing’ is a more appropriate term for a ceremony that was influenced, and respectful, of this tradition, but not practiced in accordance with the Navajo faith and culture.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

angela June 19, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Thank you so much for posting this!! what a beautiful beautiful bunch of women and spirits!! I won’t lie, I borrowed a bunch of your ideas, sorry, but you made it so gorgeous. I am hosting for a doula friend of mine and I cannot wait to feel the feminine energy and help her and baby feel loved, appreciated and powerful. super hug!!!

Kylie May 2, 2014 at 10:50 pm

This is truly beautiful! Such a more meaningful way to celebrate rather than playing silly games! Love this. Love!!

Sarah L. Dixon February 9, 2015 at 3:30 am

Thank God I saw this blog. I got an idea on what to do with the baby shower that I will be throwing up for my sister. Thanks a lot.

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