Since men were invited into the birthing room several decades ago, they’ve slowly ventured into most other parts of pregnancy and birth. Even the baby shower is looking different these days, with many inviting the boys, turning it into a BBQ, and renaming it the “baby-cue”.
While this is overwhelmingly a positive thing – who’s going to argue with a man who wants to change a nappy? – some women are choosing to reclaim a small part of pregnancy as strictly women’s business, by holding an event called the ‘blessingway’ (sometimes spelled as a 'blessing way').
Doula Lynda Taylor says the blessingway, based on a traditional Native American ceremony, is becoming more popular in Australia. While a baby shower involves gifts, games and baby talk, blessingways “are about honouring the mother-to-be, and honouring her journey, which is going to be very much a spiritual journey. It’s a rite of passage”.
A blessingway surrounds the mother-to-be with the important women in her life. Through ritual and symbolism, the women connect with each other, tap into the power of the feminine and celebrate motherhood.
Taylor says many find the ceremonial nature of a blessing way appealing. “In this world, people have lost so much culture. They’re needing something, needing a ceremony and time to stop, take stock and recognise and celebrate these different transitions,” she says.
Expecting twins, Stephanie Cranford was facing the transition from two children to four when she decided to have a blessingway. Typically beginning with a spiritual cleansing ritual involving “washing” the body with a smoking stick of sage, Cranford says she was a little apprehensive on the day.
“I had a group of 16, with my close girlfriends, sisters and mother. It was a mixed group with different values and expectations,” she says. “You could feel some were nervous about what they had entered into as it was new and different to the usual chitchat at a baby shower.”
After its start, the blessingway moves from cleansing to creating a space for the participants to come together and feel confident, nurtured and secure. A circle is cast and the presence of the Divine is called in. Candles are lit. Something living, like flowers, are placed in the centre to represent the Great Mother.
In this space, Cranford says that she let go of her anxiety and asked the women in her circle to open their hearts and connect. “Then what happened next,” she says, “was pure joy and magic.”
“There were many tears and hugs shared. It was a powerful feminine experience and it definitely helped me feel more connected to all the feminine energy and strength that we have lost as a society.”
Beth Howison also chose a blessingway in the lead up to the arrival of her second baby. She says that in particular, the ‘binding of the wrist’ ritual was an emotional part of the day. This involves passing a ball of red wool around the circle, or throwing it to create a web, with each woman tying it around her left wrist three times. Symbolising the umbilical cord and a connection to each other, each woman wears a shorts section of the string around her wrist until she hears of the baby’s arrival, at which time it is cut off.
Each woman was also asked to bring along a few beads to make a birthing necklace for Howison. Special words of encouragement and poems were read, again moving everyone in the circle to tears.
Hair braiding, henna art, mantra chanting and crystal bowl singing are other activities that mums-to-be can include in their blessingway.
At the end of the blessingway, candles are extinguished and the circle is closed. But the power of the day remains.
Howison says her blessingway helped her heal from a traumatic previous birth, and helped her find the confidence to birth at home. She says she continued to draw on the positive energy of the day in the following weeks.
“When I was feeling worried about the birth, worried if I’d have the inner strength to birth my baby myself, reading over the poems and positive words from the blessingway helped me to stay positive,” she says.