I have had the privilege of leading or attending Mother-Blessing ceremonies for pregnant women for almost two decades now and in that time I have observed how much these occasions bond women together and increase the confidence of the mother to be. In fact, a midwife once commented to me that she had noticed how the women she attended who had a Mother-Blessing approached the birth with less fear, so I thought I would like to share with you what we have learnt over that time.
The Navajo Indians, are most associated with their Blessingway Ceremony for women before birth and we need to be sensitively aware that we are not misappropriating their sacred ways disrespectfully because seemingly we have lost our own traditions in our culture. However, I truly believe that somewhere deep in our memories, we women of these Isles remember when, we too, gathered to bless mothers and their unborn children. On so many occasions I have witnessed women deeply moved, often to the point of tears, as they experienced women gathering in ceremony for the first time, commenting that they “know” what to do, they “remembered” and it felt uncannily familiar to them. Nowadays in our culture most of the focus is on the physical health of the mother, but in a Mother-Blessing, the mother-to-be’s closest female friends and relatives gather in circle to attend to her emotional and spiritual needs, bringing small gifts and sharing maternal experience and wisdom with her.
One of the key themes of the Mother-Blessing is the symbolic show of solidarity for the mother in the giving of many parts that make a whole... For example, each woman in the circle offering a bead, along with a blessing, a story, maybe a poem or a song or some words of birth-wisdom. These individual beads are then strung to make a necklace that can be worn during labour, some mothers then hang them above their bed or baby’s crib after the birth. Over the years we have found that, having been inspired by the essence of this, many different ideas have emerged according to the whims and desires of the mother. Here are a few memorable ones:
Another way to create a more lasting memory of the Mother-Blessing, is to ask the women to write down their contributions so that the mother or another can put it all into a scrapbook to share with other family members, her children and the unborn baby when it is older. I found that women really put so much effort into this, creating beautiful and much treasured artworks, often handwritten, with delicate borders and illustrations, they became something of an heirloom to be passed on to future generations.
Why Women Only?
Traditionally Mother-Blessing ceremony was attended by women only but again, in taking the essence as being about offering solidarity and support, there is no reason , if the mother wishes it, why the circle should not embrace women and men together. I have led such ceremonies and they have been every bit as sensitive and meaningful as the women-only occasions. Of course, another option would be for the brothers to do it for themselves and call a men-only circle for the father-to-be! Another point worth mentioning is that a Mother-Blessing ceremony does not need to be “led” in a formal way, although it is a good idea to have someone holding it together, you do not need to have a celebrant in the way you would for, say, a naming ceremony or wedding. I believe that somewhere deep within our woman-source, we know how to do these ancient circle gatherings and there is most emphatically no right or wrong way to do them as long as it feels right for the mother. Often the ceremonies I have attended included a meal afterwards to which everyone attending has brought a dish (however the mama-to-be needs a few supportive friends to ensure she is not left with a pile of washing up afterwards!), some have been outdoors, with a fire, some indoors...one was in a (large!) bathroom and one was in a bedroom! The best time to hold a Mother-blessing is towards the end of the eighth month of the pregnancy.
One more vital and perhaps more sobering aspect that women are learning is the courage and commitment to be an available and supportive circle post-birth for the women who need it. We all know that not every woman experiences the birth of her dreams, sometimes the birthing pool goes cold whilst the reality is a 4am dash to the hospital in an ambulance. Can we then be available to witness grief, disappointment, sadness, anger and confusion? For in the same way that our mainstream culture often wishes only to focus on the physical condition of pregnancy so post-birth all too often the only acceptable public face is that of excitement and gratitude and advice to “put all that behind you now, you have a lovely baby”. Sometimes the need arises to sit and listen, to non-judgmentally witness the birth story as often as it needs to be told as a means of offering the mother a gentle healing. I wonder how much less post-natal depression there would be if a woman could be cared for in this way? On a less intense note, a promise from each Mother-Blessing friend of a nourishing meal on a certain day, perhaps with a rota drawn up, can do much to help the mother recover and establish breast feeding knowing that she and her family’s needs are being cared for by the community for a few days.
Sharing with our daughters!
In creating contemporary ceremonies like this, they become accessible to all women, whether they have religious convictions or none. Several women have commented to me how they are pleased that their daughter will grow up seeing the Mother-Blessing as a “normal” part of the pre-birth experience. I like to think that this is a small way that we can begin to be the change we want to see in the lives of women in the West.
Author: Kate Rose
Kate's life has changed so much in the past six years, through illness and a deep retreating into menopause... she is not who she was and not yet who she is becoming and peaceful with that.