Blessing Of The Mother
Amid the relentlessly crumbling social norms and support systems, the unscrupulous mendacity and irrational fears, many of us are struggling to persevere in our roles as nurturers, in being the anchoring presence that beams confidently into the future. The pragmatic forces all around us have for so long ridiculed and pathologized motherly instincts. We are groomed to be the obedient patients who merely survive under the pressure of socioeconomic expectations. In the world where the feminine is constantly manipulated and distracted from its eternal mission, tapping into the divine source essential for mothering is both hard and rewarding. In the times of hardship, it is also imperative.
At times of deep crises, humanity has intuitively reached out for the collective wisdom of prior civilizations. The wisdom of many traditions—the core of the oral history of the most successful and persistent civilizations—evolved through intimate conversations of humanity with the creator and the deep observations of the divine order and creativity all around. Those observations had sustained life for billions of years. Ever since the invention of the written word, and subsequently printed and digital word—that richest legacy of the humanity had been increasingly and methodically obscured by the bastard history, an endless epos of human clashes and cruelty. In stark contrast to other subjects, contrary to the soundest pedagogy of teaching children examples of how to do things right, many generations had the often-manipulated history of “how not to” forced down their throats. How do we resist those internalized images of an utter destruction? As a symbol of and vehicle for sustainable life, women and mothers have an important role to play in the revival and practicing of the wise traditions that sublime the world.
“Only mothers can think of the future— because they give birth to it in their children.” —Maxim Gorky
“The power of creation that organizes and sustains the Universe is the same power that works through a human mother.” As a missionary of the eternal life, and as an inalienable link in the ancestral conversations on the future here on Earth, nourished and energized through the natural rhythms of the planet and the universe and through a circle of strong and wise sisters, the mother engages in the daily acts of creativity. Throughout that earthly journey, her most intimate and sacred experiences help her to continuously re-envision her creativity and spirituality, and to reconnect with the eternal. It has been too long since we so recklessly have relegated the responsibility for these experiences medical and governmental authorities.
The wise traditions celebrating the mileposts during each stage of a woman’s life promise clarity and empowerment in personal roles and in the roles of those around us. Celebration of the conception of a child and birthing, daughter’s first period, children coming of age, their engagement or marriage—these are transformative rites of passage for each participant, serving a unique purpose for the unique point of life of that human being. The celebratory rituals are hardly ever endemic. They are traceable to the universal common roots and beliefs uniting cultures, religions, upbringing, and even generations through timeless and abiding human challenges. Today’s conversation is about one of these special celebrations (with a huge potential to breathe completeness and a sense of connectedness and community in the world that is muzzled—silenced—and disconnected): the tradition of honoring a new mother. As one ceremony put it:
“For things to happen, they first need to be envisioned.” The Mother Blessing ceremony has many wonderful names—Blessingway, Birth Blessing, Mother Rising, A Mother’s Hands—with many new creative ideas to come, and many to rediscover. The ceremony may take place before or after the birth; one example is the beautiful swaddling ceremony still practiced in Mexico and currently very popular in Russia. The tradition of honoring the mother is most vividly known to us through the living practices of the Navajo nation. These rich and beautiful rituals are worthy of being revived and practiced by every pregnant or postpartum woman. Unlike a baby shower, which is often commercialized and centered on the baby, the ceremony celebrating the passage into motherhood bestows affection on both the mother and the baby. Interestingly, through honoring motherhood, all involved into celebration are likely to experience their own rite of passage on their own personal journeys. The loving effect of this ceremony reminds me of the infinite ripples of a warm sea; it extends into the future for the many generations to come. I strongly believe that cultivating reverence of motherhood is the way of promoting peaceful and mindful societies. I feel truly fortunate to have been honored through this ceremony twice.
My three beautiful pregnancies and home births experienced on two different continents—Europe and North America—are the greatest blessings of my life. I did not have a true Mother Blessing while pregnant with my first child in Moscow, though I must say, this childbearing experience was so incredibly unique that I would never trade it for anything else. I fondly remember the biweekly teachings at the pregnancy school, “Medunitsa,” where a group of dedicated mothers and midwives worked toward home birth through exercise, nutrition, breathing, and various support. I am also highly indebted to my sister, who water-birthed two daughters at her home before me, paving my birthing path with her courage and enthusiasm. In hindsight, I certainly miss an aspect of spirituality that Mother Blessing invited in my life thereafter.
During my second pregnancy, my oldest son was a student at a Waldorf school in Michigan. One of the mothers offered to organize a simple Mother Blessing get-together. I remember that lush late spring day, bursting with sunshine and the serene energy of those gathered on the riverbank to celebrate. My friend brought a string, and all others attending—and even those who could not make it to the gathering—chose a bead and a blessing to be strung on it. I was truly humbled, encouraged, and empowered by the words I heard, and you can be sure that a few weeks later, while laboring with my second son, I was clutching the necklace as if it was my birthing talisman. I was praying for all the women laboring with me around the globe, and those who were before us and those who would come after us. We all were one in our strength and perseverance with the mission.
Away from my culture, ethnic home, and extended family, this ritual created and surrounded me by the stereo effect of my own “tribe.” It grounded and reassured me, cherished and held in love by others who have gone through the sacred gate of motherhood. I knew I could do it with all this support.
During my third pregnancy, now in Georgia, I faced a situation where I had to fire my midwife just a few weeks prior to my projected due time. I needed to quickly scramble up for another midwife. One midwife I found routinely offered to all her clients a Mother Blessing ceremony, and that made my decision easy. This, despite quite a few discouraging obstacles: Beth lived more than two hours from my home and was working with two other women with similar due times, all in their second or third pregnancies— meaning potentially fast deliveries. Luckily, she had the support of two trusted apprentices, and was brave and experienced enough to take the challenge. The three of them made the remainder of my pregnancy, birth, and postpartum nothing but exceptional. (Of course, all three of her pregnant clients chose to start their labor the same night, back-to-back, with me leading the way.)
My second Mother Blessing had so many beautiful practices incorporated in it that everyone will be able to find an inspiring idea to organize such ceremony for a friend, relative, or a client. First, Beth asked me for a contact list of the women who I would like to see as my support circle. I was new to Georgia and came up with only two friends, one of whom, in her 50s, had never had children. Beth offered to invite her midwife apprentices, and they graciously agreed to come. I can only imagine how intrigued my friends were by the invitations they received. Everyone was supposed to bring a nutritious dish to share and a handmade gift or a service to offer to the mother.
Traditionally, the blessing ceremony includes a poem, a prayer, or a song. We all sat in a comfortable circle on the carpet; Beth explained the reason for our gathering and read a beautiful poem prepared for the occasion. Through the open windows, I felt the cicadas powerfully shaking the still air. It was a bright, hot August morning, so we did not light candles; instead, Beth used the sage burning ritual to purify the home. We then proceeded with the gift sharing. One by one, the guests spoke about the special meaning of their offering. I received an embroidered linen kerchief “to wipe my tears and make them lighter,” a bottle of herbal hand-made cramp tincture, a four-leaf clover, and a set of small vessels holding various symbolic liquids. My favorite present was a foot massage. While I was enjoying the massage, several ladies braided my hair with colored ribbons, to be unraveled at the beginning of my labor.
The participants also chose colored ribbons for themselves and tied them around their wrists or ankles as a reminder to hold me in their thoughts and prayers. The midwives promised to initiate a phone tree at the beginning and end of my labor. Untying the knots with the onset of labor is an old, seemingly universal tradition symbolizing an easy and unencumbered birth for the mother and the child.
Additionally, all the women made a pledge to help either during or after the birth. One of the friends volunteered to pick up and watch my 3-year-old son during labor, and another offered to cook us a meal after the birth so that I could rest and enjoy my new baby. The mood of the gathering deserves a special note. Each woman that came to that ceremony seemed deeply honored to participate. We found ourselves in awe with the revealed longing for the deep meaning and connections in our lives.
Other Mother Blessing traditions include decorating the expectant woman with flowers, each one placed with a blessing, similar to the bead ceremony, or decorating a mother with henna designs. Some parties have a belly castmaking activity as a centerpiece; others will play drums, create bath salts that the mother can use later during a ceremonial bath, or put together a collective blessing quilt. Also, imagine each guest walking to the mother and telling her one thing they love or admire about her. Who would not like to hear that?
All the blessings pronounced during the ceremony can be recorded in a special journal as a memory for a mother and her baby. She may use those blessing expressions as a tool for emotional healing and release, both essential for a trauma-free birth. Perhaps each guest can bring home a candle and promise to light the candle when they hear that a mother-to-be has started her labor. Belly dancing is also a fun idea for the ceremony—all spiral movements may be very beneficial for a mother at any time after 38 weeks of pregnancy. The ceremony should not be complicated; it is all about creating a web of love around the pregnant woman, to carry her through the hard work during the birth and a lifelong motherhood.
Those who experienced pregnancy and birth at least once know how emotional the last weeks before the delivery can be. Many women experience nagging and mortifying fears for their own health or the health of their child; they might feel exhausted and restless by the end of their pregnancy. Additionally, a woman who gained weight or experienced a change to her facial features might perceive herself as unattractive. First-time mothers can be particularly apprehensive of the unknown—the pain, new responsibilities, and the lack of confidence. Add to it financial stress and responsibilities, the need to care for others, and the things going on in the world at large.
Despite all of these concerns, a new mother grows increasingly impatient to meet and hold in her arms the one she’s carrying under her heart. Pregnant women across the world traditionally sought the company of other women who are wise mothers, a calm and grounding presence. The mothers-to-be were soothed and empowered by hearing their birth and mothering stories, by receiving their motherly care and reassurance, and by weaving in ceremonies the symbols of natural forces. This special sharing of energy allowed the expectant mothers to reset their minds positively for the impending physical and spiritual challenges. Positive emotions serve as a powerful medicine for both mother and her child.
In a life of a woman there are three deeply lonely journeys requiring the utmost of human and feminine strength: being born, giving birth, and dying. Mother Blessing is an ageless tradition of supporting a woman in her middle rite of passage, honoring the unique and universal in the one who perpetuates life. It is up to us to revive and give the modern meaning to this celebration, and to make it personable and powerful. I encourage you— mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends—to seize the wonderful opportunity to connect and celebrate mothers and women around you, in this and many other special ways. It will refuel our desire to nurture. A world where mothers are honored is a better place to live.