Archives

Mother Blessings and the Power of Ritual

Mollyblessingway 116You are the
most powerful
intelligent
inspirational

Woman

Close to my heart.

You continue to
become
exponentially more amazing.

Always giving
others the step UP.

Force of the cosmos
connecting the Web

You are.

Thank you.

–Phanie

 

At the end of September, my friend sat on the floor during my mother blessing ceremony and wrote the above poem for me. When she gave it to me she said, “I’m not like you, I don’t write things and share them on the internet.” It was very powerful to receive the gift of written word from someone who does not often write, but who knows how deeply writing speaks to me. 

My mother’s circle of friends began holding mother blessing ceremonies for each other in the early 1980’s. At the time they called them “blessingways” in honor and respect for the Navajo traditions that inspired them to begin their own tradition. As awareness of cultural appropriation increased, we shifted our language to use “mother blessing ceremony” instead, though I confess that “blessingway” remains the term rooted in my heart for these powerful, mother-honoring celebrations of the power of the life-giving woman. After having been blessed with a ceremony during her last two pregnancies in the late 1980’s and having co-hosted coming-of-age blessing ceremonies for me and my sisters in the 90’s, my mother reintroduced the mother blessing ceremony to my own circle of friends during my first pregnancy in 2003. We’ve been holding them for women in the area ever since. I believe each pregnant woman deserves a powerful ritual acknowledging her transition through pregnancy and birth and into motherhood, regardless of how many children she has.

Early this year, I became unexpectedly pregnant with the baby who will arrive into our arms at the end of October as our fourth living child. I did not intend to have more children and it has been hard for me to re-open the space in my mind, heart, and family to welcome another baby when I had mentally and emotionally “shut the door” and moved on from the childbearing chapter of my life. (However, it turns out that writing blog posts about how you’re not having any more children is not, in fact, an effective means of birth control.)

In the book Rituals for Our Times, the authors Evan Imber-Black and Janine Roberts, identify five elements that make ritual work. Mother blessing ceremonies very neatly fulfill all of the necessary ritual elements (which I would note are not about symbols, actions, and physical objects, but are instead about the relational elements of connection, affection, and relationship):

  1. Relatingthe shaping, expressing, and maintaining of important relationships…established relationships were reaffirmed and new relationship possibilities opened. Many women choose to invite those from their inner circle to their mother blessings. This means of deeply engaging with and connecting with those closest to you, reaffirms and strengthens important relationships. In my own life, I’ve always chosen to invite more women than just those in my “inner circle” and in so doing have found that it is true that new relationship possibilities emerge from the reaching out and inclusion of those who were originally less close, but who after the connection of shared ritual, then became closer friends.
  2. Changingthe making and marking of transitions for self and others. Birth and the entry into motherhood—an intense and permanent life change—is one of life’s most significant transitions in many women’s lives. A blessingway marks the significance of this huge change.
  3. Healingrecovery from loss, special tributes, recovering from fears or scars from previous births or cultural socialization about birth. My mom and some close friends had a meaningful ceremony for me following the death-birth of my third baby. I’ve also planned several mother blessing ceremonies for friends in which releasing fears was a potent element of the ritual.
  4. Believingthe voicing of beliefs and the making of meaning. By honoring a pregnant woman through ceremony, we are affirming that pregnancy, birth, and motherhood are valuable and meaningful rites of passage deserving of celebration and acknowledgement.
  5. Celebratingthe expressing of deep joy and the honoring of life with festivity. Celebrating accomplishments of…one’s very being.

Notice that what is NOT included on this list is any mention of a specific religion, deity, or “should do” list of what color of candle to include! Mollyblessingway 177I’ve observed that many people are starved for ritual, but they may also be deeply scarred from rituals of their pasts. As an example from the planning of a past ceremony, we were talking about one of the songs that we customarily sing–Call Down Blessing–because we weren’t sure if we should include it in case it would feel too “spiritual” or metaphysical for the atheist-identified honoree (i.e. blessings from where?!). I also remembered another friend asking during a body blessing ritual we did at a women’s retreat, “but WHO’s doing the blessing?” As someone who does not personally come a religious framework in which blessings are bestowed from outside sources–i.e. a priest/priestess or an Abrahamic God–the answer, to me, feels simple, well, WE are. We’re blessing each other. When we “call down a blessing” we’re invoking the connection of the women around us, the women of all past times and places, and of the beautiful world that surrounds us. We might each personally add something more to that calling down, but at the root, to me, it is an affirmation of connection to the rhythms and cycles of relationship, time, and place. Blessings come from within and around us all the time, nothing supernatural required.

I also find that it is very possible to plan and facilitate women’s rituals that speak to the “womanspirit” in all of us and do not require a specifically shared spiritual framework or belief system in order to gain something special from the connection with other women.

In the book The Power of RitualRachel Pollack explains:

“Ritual opens a doorway in the invisible wall that seems to separate the spiritual and the physical. The formal quality of ritual allows us to move into the space between the worlds, experience what we need, and then step back and once more close the doorway so we can return to our lives enriched.”

She goes on to say:

You do not actually have to accept the ideas of any single tradition, or even believe in divine forces at all, to take part in ritual. Ritual is a direct experience, not a doctrine. Though it will certainly help to suspend your disbelief for the time of the ritual, you could attend a group ritual, take part in the chanting and drumming, and find yourself transported to a sense of wonder at the simple beauty of it all without ever actually believing in any of the claims made or the Spirits invoked. You can also adapt rituals to your own beliefs. If evolution means more to you than a Creator, you could see ritual as a way to connect yourself to the life force…

In the anthology of women’s rituals, The Goddess Celebrates, wisewoman-birthkeeper, Jeannine Pavarti Baker explains:

The entire Blessingway Ceremony is a template for childbirth. The beginning rituals are like nesting and early labor. The grooming and washing like active labor. The gift giving like giving birth and the closing songs/prayers, delivery of the placenta and postpartum. A shamanic midwife learns how to read a Blessingway diagnostically and mythically, sharing what she saw with the pregnant woman in order to clear the road better for birth.

Baker goes on to describe the potent meaning of birth and its affirmation through and by ritual acknowledgement:

Birth is a woman’s spiritual vision quest. When this idea is ritualized beforehand, the deeper meanings of childbirth can more readily be accessed. Birth is also beyond any one woman’s personal desires and will, binding her in the community of all women. Like the birthing beads, her experiences is one more bead on a very long strand connecting all mothers. Rituals for birth hone these birthing beads, bringing to light each facet of the journey of birth…

As my friends spoke to me at my own mother blessing ceremony, I felt seen and heard. They spoke to me of my own capacities, my Mollyblessingway 190strengths as a leader, teacher, and organizer. And, while I believe they were also actually trying to remind me of the opposite message, to take it easy and relax sometimes, one of the things I woke up the next day realizing is that yes, I do feel overwhelmed and overbooked and stretched thin at times. And, yes, I do whine and complain about it on Facebook sometimes, but in the end, I am always enough for whatever it is. I get it done anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever felt overwhelmed and then not done it (assuming “it” wasn’t a self-imposed expectation that I mercifully realized could be let go of). That is one my strengths: feeling the fear or the strain or the pressure or, yes, the excitement and thrill, and NOT getting paralyzed by it or letting myself off the hook. I work my way through and come out the other side, usually with my smile intact, my energy full, my head bubbling with ideas, and my eyes casting around for the next project. Occasionally, I do drop a ball, but pretty rarely, and when I do, I either find it or explain where it went and why I’m going to let it keep rolling away.

I discovered in this post-ritual reflection that it is just part of my personal process to be able to say, and be vulnerable enough to have people hear, see, or read, that I think maybe I can’t do something or that I’ve said yes to too much. The answer for me is not, “then don’t” or “stop” or “quit” or “take it easy,” it is to move forward and to see, again, that I was actually enough for what scared me or felt too big or too exhausting. I woke up the morning following the ritual in appreciation of my own capacities and how they continue to expand, even when I feel as if I’ve reached my own edges. I actually feel “too much,” “too intense,” “too big,” or “too fast” for people a lot, but what I don’t ever need is to be told to make myself smaller. I usually need to be able to say, “Yikes! What am I thinking?!” have that held for me for a minute, and then do it anyway. Just as those of us deeply invested in birthwork would never tell a laboring woman, “you’re right. You probably can’t do this. You should probably quit now,” my mother blessing ceremony reminded me that I am stretched thin precisely because I have it in me.

Mollyblessingway 258

I wish for you a life full of ritual and community.” –Flaming Rainbow Woman, Spiritual Warrior 

(in The Thundering Years: Rituals and Sacred Wisdom for Teens)

Molly is a priestess, writer, teacher, artist, and activist who lives with her husband and children in central Missouri. She is a doctoral student in women’s spirituality at Ocean Seminary College and the author of Womanrunes: A guide to their use and interpretation. Molly and her husband co-create at Brigid’s Grove: http://brigidsgrove.etsy.com.

Portions of this post are excerpted from our Ritual Recipe Kit booklet.

Adapted from a post at Feminism and Religion.

Other posts about mother blessings can be found here.

All photos by my talented friend Karen Orozco of Portraits and Paws Photography.

Mollyblessingway 372

Sacred Postpartum, Week 2: Ceremonial Bathing

October 2014 128

My Sacred Postpartum class began last week, though this is my first post about it. One of the assignments this week was to prepare a ceremonial bath.

Despite the deceptively simple sound of the assignment, this bath was an incredibly surprising and illuminating experience. I originally put off doing it because I had “too much to do” and then when I started getting it ready and setting up a little altar and doing the smudging, I felt both nervous and kind of apprehensive. I told my husband, “I think this is the first real bath I’ve ever really taken.” I’m not really a bath person. I took baths as a little kid and then moved on to showers and never took baths again except while postpartum with each of my kids. And, that is when I had my “breakthrough” moment. My eyes were prickling with tears and I said: “I associate taking baths with being weak and wounded.” I associate baths with cleaning blood away from myself and gingerly poking around for tears in my most vulnerable tissues. I associate baths with crying and holding my empty belly after the death-birth of my third baby in my second trimester. In fact, the last bath I remember ever taking in my current home was the one following his birth in which I sobbed my sorrow into the water and bled away the last traces of my baby’s life. (I think I probably did take a postpartum bath after the birth of my rainbow daughter the following year, but I don’t have a memory of it. The only bath I remember ever taking in this house was my post-loss, grief bath.) I associate baths with strings of blood and mucous floating away from me through the water and feeling injured, hurt, damaged and invalid. Deconstructed, taken apart. Lost. Shaking. Barely being able to lift my legs to get myself back out. Having to call for help and be dried off. Hollow. Changed forever.

For this bath, I set up an altar space, turned on my Sacred Pregnancy playlist, smudged the room and the tub. My husband brought me my October 2014 004mother’s tea (a blend I made last week with friends using the recipe intended for later in this class). I added salts from the salt bowl ceremony at my Mother Blessing. I added a little bit of my sitz bath mix. I added almond milk and honey. My husband went and picked a rose and scattered the petals in on top of me after I was in the tub. As I settled into my milk and honey bath, I felt restless at first, but then I calmed and my mind became more still. I went through my previous bath memories and I cried a little bit. I completely relaxed and sank lower into the water. I touched my body gently and honored what she has given and where she has been wounded. I rubbed my wiggling belly and talked to my baby about having a gentle, easy, smooth birth with a gradual emergence. My thoughts turned to my possible plans for water birth for this baby. I realized that my own “weak and wounded” bath memories are probably, in part, related to why I don’t feel particularly attracted to water birth (though I wasn’t really attracted before I ever had any kids either, so it isn’t all related to those past bath experiences). Can I be strong and powerful in the water, or is that just where I bleed and cry? I’ve been planning to try water during this upcoming birth because I’ve never done it before and because it might help prevent the issues with tearing that I’ve had in the past. However, I have had trouble actually picturing myself doing it. As I stilled into this peaceful, non-wounded, ceremonial bath, I could picture a safe, secure water birth better than ever before.

And, later that night we set this up in the living room…

October 2014 135

(glowing pumpkin head courtesy of the kids decorating for Halloween, not for Sacred Atmosphere!)

And, to finish the assignments for this week’s class, we made and enjoyed Thai sweet tea for dessert after dinner!

Sacred Pregnancy Week 4: Honoring, Sealing, & Postpartum Care

“I am the strength of all women who have ever birthed a baby and I am ready to join that tribe.”

–Anni Daulter (Sacred Pregnancy)

August 2014 055Me to my husband last night: “so, I know I might look like I’m just dancing around with flowers in my hair, but I’m really getting certified.”

<Mark wisely refrains from wide-open joke opportunity>

Yesterday, I finished the last assignments for my Sacred Pregnancy class. While I primarily took this class for personal reasons and am glad I did because I truly think it was the absolute BEST thing I could have done for myself to get ready for Tanner, to spend some time focused on my pregnancy, and to get ready for another mindful birth and postpartum experience. I have also completed all the work needed to be a Certified Sacred Pregnancy Mini-Retreat Instructor. On October 1st, I start the Sacred Postpartum training program—again with a dual purpose of personal enrichment and professional development.

I completed some of the activities out-of-order and finished the silk painting and honoring crown from week 3 in conjunction with the postpartum and “sealing” work of week 4.

I chose to use my drumstick as my stick around which to wrap my silk, since the drum is one way I express myself. Bringing the words painted on the silk into my drumming seemed like a logical companion. My silk power was bold fearlessness! Zander and Alaina also worked on small pieces of silk with me.

I’d delayed making the flower crown I thought because I’d told myself that I’ve already had several flower crowns at different ceremonies and so making another one for “no reason” felt kind of redundant. However, after I finished my second silk painting, I looked behind me and saw some wildflowers and I realized I did want to make a crown and I wanted to be with real flowers and not artificial. I’d been going to do artificial since I have some and thought then I could at least check it off the list. I don’t like fake flowers though, I like real ones. As soon as I realized that there were enough wildflowers scattered around the yard that I could make a real one, I got excited about the idea. My daughter helped me find and cut the flowers and then we put it together. And, then took some picture with my new silk and the crown together.

“The first few months after a baby comes can be a lot like floating in a jar of honey—very sweet and golden, but very sticky too.” –American College of Nurse-Midwives

I love the idea of a post-birth sealing ceremony SO much. This is similar to a mother blessing, but it is held postpartum to help “seal” the birth experience and welcome the baby and the mother into motherhood (or mother of however-many-children-hood). Absolutely wonderful. I also love the song Standing on the Edge from the Sacred Pregnancy CD. I identify with it so much as I prepare for my next birth as well as to welcome a new baby who I wasn’t expecting to have. As I’ve noted often in recent blog posts, I’m working very hard to wrap up a variety of projects so that I can cocoon with my new baby and give him and me the time and space I know we will need after birth. I have gotten better and better at taking care of myself postpartum, in asking for what I need, and getting very, very clear with my support people about what is most important to me.

We actually made the flax pillows for the sealing ceremony at the beginning of the week and then used them on Sunday (Alaina and I made the PPD tincture together the same day as the pillows). My husband tucked me in with the flax pillows and scarf and draped the silk painting across me as well. I lit my pregnancy candles and listened to Standing at the Edge. I spoke aloud the things I celebrate myself for–all the projects and children I have given birth to.

As I was setting up my wrap and pillows, my almost-11-year-old son had said he’d like to do it too. So, after my own sealing experience, each of my kids in turn got sealed in the scarf with the flax pillows. And, then they went and got my husband and we sealed him too! For each, I offered a blessing: “I’m glad you were born. I’m glad you are my son/daughter/husband. I love you. Thank you.” I placed my hands on different parts of their bodies as I spoke and then ended with kiss on the forehead. They all loved it and were very calm and contemplative. I think it was good for all of us and was, in its way, a “sealing” of their births and our relationship.

While I always have had a mother blessing ceremony before the baby’s birth, this time I’m going to make sure to do a postpartum sealing ceremony as well. The birth I actually sealed most consciously was the second trimester birth-death of my third son. On my due date with him, which also happened to be my birthday, I did a ceremony outside by our little labyrinth and the tree where we buried him. I spoke aloud, “I am not pregnant anymore,” and took time to hold and honor the powerful, honorable, birth and release I’d given him.

I’ve written a lot about my own postpartum thoughts, experiences, and feelings and they are grouped under the appropriate category on my blog here.

I also want to share a picture of my new mother-of-four goddess pendant! This pendant, too, has been part of my personal emotional preparation to integrate the new baby into my maternal identity. It took a long time for us to get the cast right for this sculpt and I’m so happy to have it to wear now.

August 2014 073

 The Sacred Pregnancy online retreat training experience was a very positive one. Lots of personal benefit as well as professional development! I’m so glad I decided to go for it!
August 2014 070Past posts in this series:

Sacred Pregnancy Week 1, Part 1: Sacred Space

Sacred Pregnancy, Week 1, Part 2: Connecting

Sacred Pregnancy Week 3, Part 1: Fears & Forgiveness

Sacred Pregnancy Week 3, Part 2: Empowerment and Self-Care

 

 

Sacred Pregnancy Week 3, Part 2: Empowerment and Self-Care

I told you I had a Sacred Pregnancy weekend! On Saturday of last week, after my fears and forgiveness work, I moved on to some empowerment and self-care exercises.

I had been trying to find time to do the silk painting since Wednesday and kept feeling disappointed to not be able to make room for it. On Saturday it became Priority 1! I decided to modify the exercise for my whole family to do as a collaborative “welcome” wrap for baby Tanner, rather than tearing it up to wrap onto sticks as we were supposed to do. I’m going to do the tearing and sacred stick making on my own another day using a different piece of silk.

We listened to the Sacred Pregnancy CD and all worked together outside on a hot, hot August Saturday. It was a lovely, sacred, shared, collaborative project (with a touch of a chaos and a sprinkle of yelled, “don’t spill it!”). Very fulfilling and much fun.

Later in the day I also did my sacred bath and self-care day. My 3-year-old daughter and I made a special salt scrub for me to use using sunflower oil, sea salt, and gentle baby essential oil blend (made by my mom). After the empowerment silk painting (which was part of my self-care too), I set up a special altar in my bathroom, turned on Nina Lee, drew a Mother’s Wisdom card and meditated on it, and then did my salt scrub on my entire body, followed by a refreshing shower. I really took my time with the scrub and thought about how often I rush through or “don’t have time” for lotion or other personal care treatments after showering. I felt nice and “buffed off” afterward! (I tend to very dry skin.) I also had two cups of Caramel Bedtime Yogi tea that I’d made in a jar in the sun that morning. I “run out of time” for iced tea often too. So, this time I didn’t!

These next photos aren’t related to the class work, but they are very related to my own Sacred Pregnancy creative process! In addition to the Womanrunes book, we‘ve been working overtime lately to develop an improved production process for my birth goddess sculptures so that we can actually have them available on a regular basis. While still not perfect, we’ve gotten much closer during the last week and hope have four different designs ready to list in our Etsy shop over the next two weeks.

Sacred Pregnancy Week 3, Part 1: Fears & Forgiveness

On Friday and Saturday this past week, I took the time for a Sacred Pregnancy weekend. I did many projects from the class and it was a fulfilling, fun time. Reflection, art, and self-care, for the win! These types of projects are exactly why I wanted to take this class during my current pregnancy (I also went ahead and signed up for the Sacred Postpartum training, which begins on October 1st, and is therefore perfect for the month I am due).

The fears exercise for this week of training took me a while to finish. I wrote my list on Monday morning, but didn’t burn them until Friday afternoon. Interestingly, I continued to add to the list during the week, so I guess I wasn’t finished after the initial song portion (Grandmother by Nina Lee on the Sacred Pregnancy CD). I actually found myself waking up each morning over the whole week with the Grandmother song in my head. Anyway, after writing the list I tore it into individual strips. I waited until I had some time alone in the afternoon while my kids were visiting my parents and then I used the little bean pot I use as a burn pot/Kali pot to burn them each after reading them aloud. I had to play the song twice to finish them all! Most of them were connected to the development of my business this year, but some to my pregnancy/birth as well.

Anyway, when I got to my fear of being “too much” the paper flared up hugely and I dropped both it and my phone on the floor! Luckily, I hit the picture button as I was dropping it! (flare picture below) I found this significant and when I then moved into the forgiveness work the theme of being “too much” was actually what my Mother’s Wisdom card related to.

Mother’s Wisdom deck meditation

This was a powerful exercise also. I picked Oshun and got a much different message from my own interpretation of the card than the book interpretation I later read. I listened to the Standing at the Edge song on the CD while I journaled about empowerment immediately following the fear release and before looking at the book. You can see what I got from the card in my journal entries below. The actual card meaning was about balance and harmony in one’s family and life which is actually a timely message for me too, as was my own intuited message from the card.

As I explained in the class work online:

My husband and I have a creative business sculpting and pewter-casting and making jewelry together. We’ve really grown this year and have been pushing ourselves hard on our co-creative endeavors (hoping to wrap up development of some important stuff before our new baby is born in October). Our most recent was the completion of our first joint book project. I did all the writing, which was an 18 month intuitive process, and he did all the illustrations, design, and layout. We couldn’t have done it without each other! It was a perfect collaboration of our strengths and skills. However, we’ve been working and pushing so hard to get it finished and ready that our family had somewhat fallen out of balance and harmony! (So, the work has been in harmony, but the rest of our family needs have been getting kind of pushed aside!)

And, I know it is an overused analogy but working on a big creative project is similar to giving birth. My current pregnancy is very entwined with my current work and I was really interested to see how both my fears and forgiveness exercise work this week related to both my business and my pregnancy as creative processes and birth endeavors…

After this work and after my kids got home, I worked on my forgiveness tree. I didn’t include a picture of the one with the names filled in–just pre-names and post-colors. It was a good exercise too. I listened to Nina and did the card meditation (above) and then started on my tree and worked on it throughout the course of an afternoon. I’ve done most of the exercises for this class with the company of my little daughter (3), who is entranced by this kind of work. This time she did a painting of a goddess-fairy while I was working on the tree. I’ve never used watercolors before this class, so I’m not very good with them, but having fun anyway! Process, not product, after all…

*You did not miss Week 2. I haven’t made any posts about it yet. Just week 1:

Sacred Pregnancy Week 1, Part 1: Sacred Space

Sacred Pregnancy, Week 1, Part 2: Connecting

Red Tent!

In 2012, when we held our first Mamafest event, my eye was caught by this room within the beautiful setting of Tara Day Spa:

August 2014 013I wanted to have a Red Tent in this room! I could just feel it calling to me. The next year, when the time came to plan the event, I was dealing with a lot of different things and I knew I did not have the energy to also pull off a Red Tent event and so I tabled it again, but still, I saw that room that year and I wanted it.

The following year,  we started planning even earlier for Mamafest and I had been seeing posts and updates from the Red Tent Movie (Things We Don’t Talk About) and I decided I wanted to host a screening and a Red Tent event during our Mamafest this year. While there are things I would do differently in the future, notably that having a screening at the same time as another event was simply too much, I still feel so happy and pleased that I did it. I scheduled the film based on past experience in which the final half of Mamafest slows down in terms of traffic and so it seemed like the film screening would be a good way to keep people involved with the entire duration of the event. However, this year was so busy and vibrant and successful and energetic, it felt like it was actually disruptive to the flow to try to pull people away for the screening and the “calm” and contemplative energy of the film ended up not matching the celebratory, exciting atmosphere of the rest of the event. If I had it to do over again, I would absolutely do the screening separately and then offer the Red Tent space and mini-ritual during Mamafest itself.

Anyway, back to set up. We arrived at Tara Day Spa almost three full hours before the event was scheduled to begin and we needed every single minute of it, plus some. I am so grateful to my husband and my friend Amy who took over most of the actual hanging of the red fabric in the Red Tent space. When I saw the finished entrance, I knew I’d fulfilled my dream!

August 2014 023We set up the inside in an inviting manner with several little stations: a refreshment station with chocolate, tea, and bindis, a henna tattoo area, and a free jewelry making station. Due to size constraints, we actually had to make an “emergency” decision to move the screening of the film itself to the upstairs room at Tara. It was a little stressful to make this transition, but I think it was the right call. We did a mini ritual to open the film (had some technical difficulties getting the film equipment set up and I was extremely flustered to have to make this last minute switch, so that was not ideal for the mood I had wanted to create), we watched the film and then closed by circling up and singing a song together. We ended right on time and then it took more than another hour to dismantle and repack everything. This type of event is not for the faint of heart! Nor is it for pregnant women unless they have husbands and good friends to pack up most of their stuff for them! My midwife was at the event and we did a short prenatal visit in the Tent while we were taking it down. My blood pressure was reasonably normal, but my heart rate was 104 (normal for me is in the 70’s)!

We also had a Brigid’s Grove booth right outside the Red Tent space (plus, I brought the materials for our LLL booth and for the RBN booth itself. My car was so full!) I had mistakenly assumed that I could move between both the Tent itself and our booth and I told Mark that I thought it was unlikely we would sell anything, or maybe just a few dollars worth of charms, so I wasn’t concerned beforehand about adequately staffing the booth itself. My focus was on the Red Tent and on giving this experience as a community service, not on trying to sell stuff. As it turned out, our booth was much busier and more successful that I ever expected (we ended up making almost as much money in just four hours at this event than we did in two 12 hour days at the La Leche League of Missouri conference in Columbia this summer!) I am eternally grateful to my friend Amy who sat at our booth most of the time and did not get to enjoy most of the rest of the event accordingly. It was not her “problem” that I couldn’t divide myself into multiple people (can’t perform that magic trick until my due date in October!) and work at everything that needed me to work at it, but she was very helpful and I appreciated it so much. If I was doing it over again, I would have asked Mark to stay to work at the booth rather than taking advantage of my friend. He assumed it was a woman-only space and it would not be really appropriate for him to stay (plus, someone needed to take care of our kids), but really our purpose is not on an event that is exclusively for women, it is simply an event focused on woman-celebration and men can certainly be involved with that!

IMG_5663Another friend took this picture of me at my free jewelry making station. You can feel the 104 heart rate, perhaps, but also the satisfaction of mission accomplished. I did what I said I wanted to do three years ago when I saw that beautiful temple-like room sitting there waiting for me!

IMG_5659I would like to plan an ongoing Red Tent Circle throughout 2015 and I set up a Facebook group for Rolla area women who are interested in participating in future Red Tent activities.

There were a lot of fun activities as part of Mamafest and one of those was a photo booth from Little Mother Photography. When talking about props prior to the event, I’d suggested a cowboy hat and they brought one! I’ve never worn a cowboy hat before in my life, but when Kandi said she had it there especially for me, I had to give it a try. Unfortunately, they laughed too much at me to capture my lasso pose…

10385401_267689683431682_4380530872449780696_n(1)Other Little Mother photo booth pictures are here.

For additional pictures from Mamafest, check out the photo album available on the Rolla Birth Network Facebook page

When my friend and doula Summer and I conceived of this event three years ago, we said we wanted to plan an event that we also wanted to go to. And, we did it again!

IMG_5687

While Summer was the central organizer and coordinator of this event and I was also responsible for a large portion of it, many other friends and community members came together to make this a true success!

Huge, enthusiastic thanks to Tara Day Spa in Rolla for allowing us to host our event in their space. It is a beautiful and perfect and special setting for Mamafest!

IMG_5691Dream fulfilled!

Sacred Pregnancy, Week 1, Part 2: Connecting

2.3

The focus of the second part of the first week of Sacred Pregnancy training was about connection. This was perfect, because I keep feeling like I have been going through the motions of being pregnant. My head still feels disconnected from my body and the physical experience. The baby is “distant” and still feels more like an “idea” than a reality. I really, really, really had “closed out” that chapter mentally and it is taking a lot of work to open the closed space back up. And, yet, as I worked through this section, I realized that almost everything I’ve done this year has intentionally and consciously been undertaken in order to make room for this baby and in preparation to give him and myself what I know we will need, which is times to ourselves to rest and to just be together. I have been driving myself very hard this year and especially in the last couple of months to finish many big projects and this is because I’m trying to give myself what I know I will need. I’m working hard to allow myself to pause and rest, when I didn’t expect to have to do so.

Also, the whole process of our business evolving and growing this year is directly connected to this process of my pregnancy. They were conceived and have grown alongside each other. My “pregnancy journal” this pregnancy is in the projects I have co-created and birthed with my husband over this year. This baby’s development is inextricably linked to the development of our shared business together. My efforts to pull in and to integrate my projects together under the Brigid’s Grove umbrella, while still an ongoing process, are connected to pulling in my resources and my very soul to welcome this baby.

I listened to Nina Lee’s Child and Mother song with my eyes closed, one hand on my belly and the other on my heart, in the heart-to-heart meditation process described in the course. My eyes were filled with tears. I love you. I want you. You are welcome here.

Speaking of “this baby,” we did name him some time ago, though we haven’t shared it with many people. His name is Tanner. His middle name will probably be Matthias, after an ancestor, though we have also looked at Malachi as a possibility. I was driving to class one day before I knew whether the baby was a boy or a girl and thinking about how I needed a boy name too and not just a girl name. I had told Mark that I knew I wanted a tree or woods-related name for him and as I was looking at the beautiful trees lining my drive, I knew it: Forest. What a great name! I was so excited to have “found it.” Then, on the way home again, “uh. oh. Forrest Gump. Oh no! I can’t use it after all.” We talked it over at home and Mark vetoed it immediately because of the Forrest Gump connection.  After we found out the baby was boy, we talked over names all the way home from St. Louis and I suggested Tanner as a possibility (briefly considered Tannen instead to better blend with our last name, but then thought of Biff Tannen of, “Hello!, McFly!” fame from Back to the Future and decided not to use it). This way we will have Lann, Zan, and Tan–who could resist?! Tanner actually surfaces on every baby name list I’ve created since 2003, when I was pregnant with our first baby, and is one of the few names on those lists that stands without having ever been crossed off (Alaina’s name also appears on said lists since 2003, even though we didn’t get to use it until 2011!). Anyway, I looked it up later and in addition to referring to the actual profession of a tanner, it is also from the German word for pine tree or…forest.

The other core work for this section was on messages about birth that we wish we would have received (or wish we would receive)…

Sacred Pregnancy Week 1, Part 1: Sacred Space

“Pregnancy often flies by before we have a chance to truly reflect on the miracle of it all.”

–Bonnie Goldberg (in The Art of Pregnancy)

Last week I started the online Sacred Pregnancy retreat training. This has been on my wish list of things to do for a long time and it shows up on my 100 Things list for the year as well. I purposely waited until this training though, rather than doing the earlier spring training, because of how it corresponds to my pregnancy. I’m 29 weeks today and in the third trimester! (What happened?!) I really want to experience this class from the perspective of Pregnant Woman as well as facilitator. I need some “time out” to focus on my new baby and to just be together with him and the process of being pregnant instead of caught up in the rest of my schedule. I feel like this online retreat class is a gift to myself. I remember as far back as my second pregnancy feeling like I needed something more. The regular old birth books and charts of fetal development and nutrition facts and birth plan worksheets didn’t cut it anymore (do they ever?). I had the same experience in teaching birth classes–yes, I could cover stages of labor and birth positions, but what about the heart of birth. What about the “mystery”? What about those unknown lessons in excavating one’s own depths? What about that part of birth and life that only she knows?  I find that Birthing from Within speaks to this heart of birth and so does Sacred Pregnancy.

The first part of the class is about creating sacred space and about creating a “pregnancy practice.” and I really wanted to make my candle and altar for and with my new baby and so that’s what I did. It was very valuable to me to center inward, in this way that I’ve been needing for a while now.

I worked on the candle with Alaina’s help, even though I originally envisioned working on it alone. I created a red candle because I already made a tall white intention candle at the beginning of the year and collaged it like my “vision board” for the year, so I wanted to do something different for this experience.

August 2014 061I used amethyst beads around the top because I have felt a strong attraction towards amethysts during this pregnancy. I used beads and charms from Brigid’s Grove, with the tree as a center point because it is an important symbol for us. The is a deep connection between this baby, the progress of my pregnancy, and the development and growth of our shared business. I chose red because it is a “power color” to me and reminds me of the blood, potency, and energy of birth as well as of the placenta.

I’ve gotten much better over the last year or so at intentional altar building and really delighted in the creation of my sacred space while listening to the recorded lessons for the class and also the Sacred Pregnancy CD. The CD is awesome and I wish I would have purchased it a long time ago! It is just what I need to incorporate some sacred pregnancy, centering, and “pregnancy practice” into my day. I like how I can turn on a favorite song while brushing my teeth, for example, and have that ordinary moment be transformed into a body-honoring, self-care, pregnancy “tune in” moment. I bought a very powerful song, Birthright, from her second CD as well.

August 2014 050

On the altar I put items that are special to me from past blessingways, as well as sculptures that I’ve made. I also painted a little wooden sign that says “laugh,” because I feel like in all my big push to finish so many projects before I have the baby, I’m not having very much fun! The paper I painted the wooden sign on show the outline of the letters and that is the part that actually shows up in this picture (the wooden part is behind the candle and at the bottom of the white “laugh” painting).

August 2014 053

“No matter how many pictures of fetuses you look at or how many scientific facts you ingest, pregnancy remains a stunning, not-quite-possible-to-grasp marvel, a naked connection to the enigma of life. You can’t escape the awe—and why would you want to?”

–Jennifer Louden, The Pregnant Woman’s Comfort Book (quoted in Celebrating Motherhood)

Tuesday Tidbits: Birth Blessings, Life, and Community

I wish for you a life full of ritual and community.” –Flaming Rainbow Woman

Last week we created some sweet, simple little birth spirals by request for a Sacred Pregnancy retreat in Illinois.  After doing so, we felt inspired to create some more simple little designs specifically intended for gifting for a birth blessing bracelet or necklace at a mother blessing ceremony. We priced them in order to make them affordable for nearly any budget.

(Charms and Jewelry by BrigidsGrove on Etsy)

My inspiration for these birth blessing charms were two quotes from Jeannine Pavarti Baker that I shared in a past post:

The entire Blessingway Ceremony is a template for childbirth. The beginning rituals are like nesting and early labor. The grooming and washing like active labor. The gift giving like giving birth and the closing songs/prayers, delivery of the placenta and postpartum. A shamanic midwife learns how to read a Blessingway diagnostically and mythically, sharing what she saw with the pregnant woman in order to clear the road better for birth

Blessingways and the role of ritual | Talk Birth.

Baker goes on to describe the potent meaning of birth and its affirmation through and by ritual acknowledgement:

“Birth is a woman’s spiritual vision quest. When this idea is ritualized beforehand, the deeper meanings of childbirth can more readily be accessed. Birth is also beyond any one woman’s personal desires and will, binding her in the community of all women. Like the birthing beads, her experiences is one more bead on a very long strand connecting all mothers. Rituals for birth hone these birthing beads, bringing to light each facet of the journey of birth…”

For almost all mother blessing ceremonies that we hold locally, we incorporate beads in some way—either for a birth bracelet or necklace or some other creation (for mothers who have had prior mother blessings and already have a bracelet or necklace, we’ve done wreaths, mobiles, and even a “gourd of empowerment.”)

After this project, we worked out some example projects for participants at MamaFest 2014 to make for FREE in the Red Tent. They turned out pretty lovely as well!

And, considering the role of ceremony in our life passages, I appreciated this beautiful, pictorial exploration of a birth release ceremony designed for a mother who experienced a traumatic birth:

…if a woman PERCEIVES that she or her baby is threatened with damage; or FEELS horror, fear and helplessness at a procedure…even if this procedure is ROUTINE to medical staff; she can experience that as a traumatic event.This is REGARDLESS of her level of pain relief at the time.It is REGARDLESS of the fact that she and her baby leave the hospital alive and physically healthy.” ©Birthtalk.org, Melissa Bruijn & Debby Gould

via Birth Release Ceremony | – Jerusha Sutton | Doula Sydney- Jerusha Sutton | Doula Sydney.

And, speaking of support from other mothers, I enjoyed and identified with this poignant look at the longing for community experienced by so many women:

“…I miss that village of mothers that I’ve never had. The one we traded for homes that, despite being a stone’s throw, feel miles apart from each other. The one we traded for locked front doors, blinking devices and afternoons alone on the floor playing one-on-one with our little ones.

What gives me hope is that as I look at you from across the park with your own child in tow playing in her own corner of the sandbox, I can tell from your curious glance and shy smile that you miss it, too…”

I Miss the Village | Bunmi Laditan.

On a not-particularly-related note, but just as something I shared via my Facebook page recently, I also appreciated this new bed-sharing flyer from some of my very favorite LLL authors!

safesleepIt is available to download for free as a pdf via: Resources | Pinter & Martin Publishers.

Mark and I hit our sixteenth wedding anniversary at the end of July. We went to a BBQ restaurant and took the kids to the county fair, because that is kind of what life after 16 years of marriage looks like.  We also had a nice life-and-biz-marathon planning session and garden cucumber-and-cream-cheese sandwiches dinner while my dad watched the kids too.

These little drummers, while not sale-ready yet, symbolize the harmony and joy of co-creating our lives, love, and work together...

July 2014 049

“…There, in the unplanned darkness,
was unlooked for wonder,
joy beyond ornament,
song beyond instruments.

At last the bride came and like a white flame
blazed among her maidens,
in brilliance more stern and starlike
and vastly more magnificent
than the ribbons and confections
we had planned for that day…”

Rainy Wedding | Talk Birth.

(This post is from three years ago with a poem from a friend that she wrote in 1998 after our wedding.)

Backing up a little further into July (I’ve been really busy lately and my blog has languished accordingly!). July first was my “priestessaversary.” It is also my husband’s birthday AND his “quitzaversary”—the anniversary of his entrance into self-employment and a home-based life. A couple of weeks later, I got my newly completed M.Div diploma via email (physical copy coming later) and the date on it is….July first!

 

 

Lento Tempo

“Invite the inner woman to speak in her language of poetry, bones, clouds, dreams, red shoes, fairy dust, ravens, and fissures of the heartland. She who dwells in the wild within will help to navigate the cliffs and valleys. She will show you the passage through – give you eyes to see in the dark. And then, when you are able, she will give you wings to fly out from that both nurturing and devastating abyss into divine light.”

–Shiloh Sophia McCloud

July 2014 037I’m taking an elective class called Women Engaged in Sacred Writing and one of our class texts is Women, Writing, and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine by Peggy Tabor Millin. While the book itself is not about birth, I was struck by the author’s use of the descriptor “lento tempo” to describe the “slow time” associated with creative projects. My thoughts turned to our family as we await the birth of my sister-in-law and brother’s baby boy. He is arriving firmly on his own timetable and the waiting for him is a process of discovery in and of itself. I’ve never been overdue myself and so it is interesting to notice the parallels between waiting for labor to begin and the very process of labor itself!

Millin writes about the various creative works that require “slow time” and also writes that women crave this time and need it to survive:

Like the gestation in the womb, change happens in lento tempo, slow time. Women crave lento tempo and need it to survive. Slow is the timing of fertilization and incubation, of creative process. Creative writing often resists being manipulated to meet deadlines. We may need to wait on dreams or synchronicity to inspire and guide our work. In lento tempo, we learn the wisdom of letting things rest—bread dough, marinara sauce, roasted turkey, babies, tulip bulbs, fresh paint, grief, anger, ourselves. Almost every book of advice on writing suggests putting a manuscript away for a while once it feels complete. Then the final edit can be undertaken with a fresh ear and eye. Centered Writing Practice teaches us patience, to do by not doing

…Through focused attention, we engage watchful listening—to our inner voice and to our experience. What we achieve is not a perfect product, but a spinning spiral of synthesis. The movement of this spiral cannot be driven, hurried, or organized. Lento tempo is the natural rhythm of creation—of body, earth, and universe. As such, lento tempo is the rhythm of creativity we hear by practicing awareness…

Women, Writing, and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine

(emphases mine)

While waiting with my mom, sister-in-law, and brother in Kansas, during one day of our visit we suddenly decided to look up any local labyrinths. We found one at a Lutheran church located only five miles from where we were driving at the time and so we swung by and walked the labyrinth together, pausing first to take symbolic pictures crossing the little bridge over to it—just like my sister-in-law prepares to cross the bridge into motherhood and take her own labyrinth journey of birth. We sang “I Am Opening,” one of our mother blessing songs, together when we reached the center. During the course of our visit, we kept discovering new “signs” every day that “today is the day!” and we eventually made a joke of it, since so far none of the signs have borne fruit! However, on this day we decided that our time in the labyrinth was a story and a precious moment in and of itself, independent of whether it eventually ended up having any part of the baby’s birth story.

I also recently re-read a quote from a book I read two years ago that describes the inward and outward swing of women’s lives. Since it is the time of the new moon now, it seemed particularly relevant:

“When we become practiced in the art of moving between the ‘upper’ and ‘under’ worlds of our lives (outwardly focused and engaged with the world; inwardly focused and listening to our soul) not only does the pattern of light moving into dark, into light again become clear, but also the gradations. We often experience this movement in dramatic (and unpleasant) swings from one to the other, but bringing practice and awareness to this journeying allows us to settle more gently into these transitions; just as the moon takes two weeks to darken, or lighten in small gradations. After all, we do not spend half the month in a dark moon, and half with a full moon. Rather, there are just a few days each of full darkness and full moon, and all the rest of the time is in gradual transition.”

Journey to the Dark GoddessJane Meredith

May we honor the call of lento tempo in our own lives, in our pregnancies, in the lives of our children, and in the unique unfolding of our births and creative projects.