By Jo Arnold
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 mother’s blessing ceremonies 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: a mother’s blessing. 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!
Rituals 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 blessing. I wanted my bump hennaed 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 blessing. 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.
Read more about the bead ceremony on page 2…