Beautiful Blessingway.

A few months ago, my best friend (and Mayday Mama) messaged to ask me what dates I had free for a Baby Shower. I was touched – isn’t this kind of thing usually reserved for first babies? However, I also dislike baby showers. This is no slight on those who have one; I had one in my first pregnancy and have been to numerous showers for friends that have been lovely but I really struggle with the emphasis on games and gift giving – it feels very material and rarely focuses on the needs of the mother or baby, just on pretty things and cute outfits.

I’d seen Blessingways mentioned on various pregnancy sites and had always been struck by the emphasis on the spiritual and emotional side of things: Mother the mother in her transition to motherhood so that she can mother her baby. Sadly, in our western culture, this seems to be a lost process, with such focus on all the ‘stuff’ that one apparently needs in order to raise a child, half of which is utterly unnecessary.

Blessingways are a Navajo tradition and their purpose is to surround the pregnant Mother with her women; her ‘tribe’; her ‘village’. Of course, we don’t tend to live next door to family members or our closest friends anymore – geographical mobility means there are often hundreds or thousands of miles between us and our nearest and dearest. There’s no doubt that this can make the postpartum days, weeks and months feel like a lonely and isolated time. Mums are hard on themselves and that can escalate without a village there to tell you ‘It’s OK’. Simultaneously, the idea that women must ‘bounce back’ to ‘normal’ as quickly as possible after giving birth is EVERYWHERE, and undoubtedly has a negative impact on maternal mental health. Time to bring back emotional and physical support for postpartum women and their new family.

So Debbie, and another of my best friends, Ellen, set about pulling together this most wonderful occasion, in the shortest of time frames. I simply sent them the contact details for the ladies and asked them to ensure that no one brought a gift, and that was it!.

Blessingways can include creating a birth necklace, a cast being taken of your bump, birth art – words, pictures or affirmations painted on paper for you to look at during labour, stones or flags, belly henna, pampering for mama, dancing, eating nourishing food, sharing birth stories and a ‘connecting with the string’ ceremony (more on this later). Anything to send the pregnant lady into labour feeling strong, positive and supported.

I actually started proceedings on my own, a few days prior to the Blessingway. I wanted my bump henna’d but knew that it would take hours and that I wouldn’t be able to move much afterwards. Sure enough, it took three hours (baby was very wriggly!) and I sat on the sofa for a good three hours afterwards (bliss!)

The amazing result was the work of Reena Mak – a local henna artist (MK and London, UK). It was her first ‘bump’ and I was in awe of her steady hand and keen eye for detail. She gave me plenty of information about the henna she was using (natural, organic henna – under no circumstances should you ever be tempted to use black henna, whether pregnant or not, as it contains harmful toxins and can cause permanent scarring), including the essential oils it was mixed with (lavender and eucalyptus, which smelt divine and were beautifully calming). She was also very patient – stopping each time he wriggled to allow him to jig about a bit. The henna dried and crumbled off late that afternoon and I avoided showering (nice) until the following day. It was at its darkest a few days later, just in time for the Blessingway. This site is great for ensuring the darkest possible stain but do be aware that bump henna is unlikely to come out as dark as that on hands and feet.

Debbie and Ellen arrived early to set up the most beautifully relaxing environment – delicious, healthy snacks, fairy lights, flowers and crafty bits. I was incredibly touched by the effort they went to.

When the ladies arrived, the chaps took the wee ones outside to play in the sunshine – it was lovely to hear them shrieking and having fun out of the window as we chatted and ate lovely food.

First up was the necklace ceremony. Each guest had brought a bead with them. Others, who couldn’t make it, had sent beads to Debbie. I had wondered how it would look with only 12 or so beads threaded on but Ellen had bought some beautiful wooden and ceramic ‘filler’ beads to make it longer.

As each of these ladies gave me their bead, they explained its meaning and/or gave me a positive message to carry with me into labour, birth and beyond. Now, every time I look at it, I am so touched by the fact that it represents these women in my life. It is a physical reminder of their messages of support and is completely unique, including amber for promoting calm but also energy; rose quartz to promote bonding and healing; feathers for gratitude; a turtle (from my TFTMS cowriter, Lauren) for patience, persistence and protection. There’s a bead from Cape Town (we visited earlier this year) on there, and I snuck on a shell from the Scillies (the place I love most).

Then I sat and ate yet more food(!) whilst each guest wrote a card, which they then sealed and placed in a jar – I haven’t read these yet, but each person has ‘promised’ something they will do for us when the baby arrives. This could be something practical, such as: ‘I will come and clean your kitchen/do your laundry/help you with breastfeeding/entertain your other child(ren)/bring you food’ or the more emotional/spiritual ‘I will be your shoulder to cry on/a listening ear’, for example. I will open these once the baby is born. I suspect they will make me cry – I felt very emotional during the Blessingway (in a good way!)

Next, Ellen threaded more beads onto a long string, before each lady wrapped it around her wrist and passed it on to the next person. Eventually, they were all connected in a circle, before the string was cut to create a bracelet for each of them. When they hear that I’m in labour, they will cut the string and light a candle, given to each of them to take away, to wish me a safe and empowered birth.

At some point during these proceedings, Primrose popped back in, probably because Milla had disappeared from her sight when she came to find Lauren. It was lovely for them to be involved, along with another friend’s two boys.

Finally, we all headed to meet the chaps who had done a brilliant job of BBQing yet more lovely food. We sat in the sunshine and the ladies (including the toddlers!) created some Blessingway bunting – lots of flags filled with words, affirmations and pictures to buoy me along in labour and release lots of oxytocin. I haven’t looked at these yet either but I know that at least two of them refer to gin(!) Other forms of birth art include painting stones with empowering words, creating a quilt or mobile for the baby or creating a ‘vision board’ for the birth.

For anyone who feels the way I do about baby showers, I thoroughly recommend this lovely ceremony. You cannot help feeling empowered, supported and loved and, of course, this will have a positive and calming effect on any lady feeling apprehensive about labour or birth…

But perhaps most importantly, it focuses on what is truly important. In our society, so much emphasis is placed on the material – the nursery, the travel system, the clothes your baby will wear; so many women fear birth; so much of the media focuses on negative birth stories and so many women don’t have a ‘village’ around them once their baby arrives. This Blessingway brought home to me all that is important – guidance, love, positivity and knowing that, when you I be feeling at my most exhausted and vulnerable, help is there in the form of these brilliant women who surround me, and it’s OK to ask for it.

Did you have a Blessingway? What did it mean to you? And what did you make to look at/wear during your baby’s birth?

Jo, The Mother Side x

Photographs 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9 & 11 courtesy of Jenny at Rose Tinted Glass, Jenny is a birth, newborn and family photographer, based in Oxfordshire. Along with being supremely talented, she is also absolutely lovely!

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