Setting sail across the ocean of birth

Kym's boatPreviously I’ve compared labour to a voyage into uncharted waters. Birth preparation is making sure our ship is strong, sound and seaworthy – ready for the adventure. Of course what every ocean journey needs is a good send-off – crowds cheering, rousing sea-shanties, champagne smashed against the ship’s prow. How can we give a pregnant woman a fitting celebratory send-off for her maiden voyage on the tides of birth?

Antenatal care in western industrialised culture tends towards the rational and functional, with a focus on the physical aspects of pregnancy and birth. This may well be necessary and expedient, but carries a risk that the emotional, social and spiritual dimensions of impending parenthood become overlooked. Sheila Kitzinger in her book Rediscovering Birth details the rituals and celebrations that other cultures engage in as a way of supporting women through the transitions of birth and motherhood.

Baby showers are an example of a social celebration of the upcoming birth – but they tend to be mainly about the baby, with a materialistic or practical focus on the ‘stuff’ that may be useful in the early weeks.

A mother blessing or ‘blessingway’ ceremony is a pre-birth celebration that focuses on the mother and the emotional and spiritual preparations she is making, acknowledging the pregnancy and birth as a significant rite of passage in her life. This is a westernised adaptation of Navajo traditional practices for celebrating rites of passage, and generally involves bringing together the pregnant woman’s close friends and female relatives to offer their emotional support and collective wisdom as she prepares to birth her baby. Traditionally they are a female gathering, but a pregnant woman may choose to have her partner or male friends and family present. Typically there is some kind of shared activity, for instance making a string of beads, quilt or wall hanging, symbolising everyone’s good wishes for the birth and creating a lasting artwork or memento for the mother-to-be’s birth space. There may be singing, dancing, nourishing the pregnant woman with a massage or decorating her belly with henna. Mother blessings often conclude with ‘weaving the red thread’ to symbolise the connections between the women there and the support they are offering the mother-to-be, and a shared meal afterwards. Mother Rising is a wonderful book with a compendium of ideas for creating a mother blessing ceremony.

In Oxfordshire I know of two wonderful practitioners who lead mother blessing ceremonies – Liz Nightingale at Purple Walnut Midwife, and Jackie Singer who has written a great book on rituals for motherhood, Birthrites. I have also been part of several lovely ceremonies organised by a close friend of the mother-to-be.

Mother blessings are as individual as the mothers they celebrate, but their aim is to nurture the mother-to-be, surrounding her with love and support, and filling her with confidence for the journey she is about to make.

Picture credit: Visual affirmation by Sophie Fletcher, founder of Mindful Mamma