How to organize a Blessingway

blue_by_the_waterIf you have a pregnant mama in your life that needs love and support of other women, Blessingway (or Mother’s Blessing) is a wonderful ceremony to honour her and celebrate her pregnancy. The key to a good Blessingway is that everyone who comes can only bring positive energy. People who are unable to be warm, loving, supportive and understanding of a pregnant mama are better to stay away.

The Blessingway is usually hosted in the last few weeks of pregnancy, when the belly is big and round, the mama is getting into a mindset for labour and is ripe to receive some nurture and support. You would need a place that can fit all the women who wish to participate – Blessingways usually take place at someone’s home. The number of people attending is flexible, yet, if you can, have ten or more women gather, that way you can string together a necklace, have a variety of dishes for the potluck, and much wisdom to share. If you can only find a few people, don’t worry:  everyone can always bring more than one bead and cook more than one dish, to make up for the lack in numbers.

If you are a mama who is alone in a new city without friends or family, reach out to birth or breastfeeding groups to find a community of supportive women: look on social networks, in a birthing centre, through prenatal classes, midwives, doulas, or prenatal yoga instructors. Often women will gather to honour a mama they have only just met, to make her feel welcome in a new city. Some of us met their best mama friends through the Blessingway.

Once you have the women and the place, think of the children. Nursing mamas usually come with their babies. Ideally you would ask people to try finding childcare for older children (often partners can look after them as Blessingway is a women-only event), so that the women can relax and share instead of addressing children’s needs. However, we have all been in a situation where no childcare is available, or there are children living in the house where the Blessingway is held, or there is an activity for children to do in a different room that would not interfere, so be flexible.

As for any potluck, ask if anyone has any food allergies and see that the offending ingredients are either not involved or clearly marked in all the dishes. Also I would suggest coordinating dishes that everyone brings (or at least designating only one or two dessert people), otherwise you might end up with seven sets of cupcakes and no real food to eat. Make sure there are at least two or three healthy options, as there are pregnant and lactating women often present at a Blessingway, including the mama being celebrated. Plenty of water (and perhaps tea) are good to have as well, to keep everyone hydrated. In my experience, cheese, grapes, vegetables with hummus dip, and a fruit platter are some things that go over really well. Beyond that, get as creative as you would in any potluck.

It is good to plan the event for early afternoon (around 3-4pm), as pregnant mamas grow tired towards the evening. The best week day would be Saturday or Sunday, so that people who work regular hours can attend. If a Blessingway spans the dinner hour, women would not have to rush to a dinner at home after the gathering. An evening Blessingway is possible, but then you might have to start around 7pm, which means the pregnant mama might want to get a nap beforehand.

Set the expectation of positive energy and relaxation. Turn off the cell phones and put away the clock. Encourage everyone to be fully present and to enjoy the meal, the ceremony, the words and the ideas. Suggest that the women set the expectation with their families to be absent for 4-6 hours: that way no one has to rush home, and if the Blessingway ends earlier, they can make their way back without haste, still basking in the quiet energy of the ceremony.

Depending on what you would like to do, you might need the following:

For the Blessingway necklace, you would need:

A string with enough length to add a closure if required. Thread is ok, but string is stronger and holds larger beads and stones more reliably. If you have a thread, double-thread it.

Blessingway bead - Emerald silver tree of lifeEach woman would need to bring a Blessingway bead, which could be anything with a hole through it that resonates with her, whether it is the colour, or the texture, or the meaning of the stone, or the design. Make sure there is a hole to string the bead through (some stones are not drilled-through). The beads are generally on a bigger side, about 1.5cm in diameter or more, so that all together they can make a necklace that is long enough.

It is good if each woman also brings a saying, a wish, or a few lines of wisdom to share as she adds the bead to the necklace. It is good to note the meaning of the bead, if any. For instance, Birth Goddess is a self-explanatory symbol, and so is the Tree of Life (which mimics a placenta), yet certain stones have specific meanings that might not be widely known.

Have some tissues handy, as emotions often surface during this sharing of love, support, and wisdom.

If you wish to wash mama’s feet, I suggest a basin (which the house hosting the Blessingway might already have), access to water, and if you wish a couple of drops of essential oil or some flower petals, to make the ceremony more festive. A towel to dry off and gentle cream or shea butter to put on mama’s feet are also good.

If you wish to give mama a massage, some massage oil would be good. A sarong might be good, if the shoulders of her top need to be lowered, to protect the rest of the clothing from the oil. Really, any sheet would do, but sarong designs are beautiful and often bring more peaceful feel to the occasion.

If you wish to brush mama’s hair, you might want to ask her to bring her brush, or you can get a new one and give it to her as a gift. Another idea is a gift of a dry body brush, and gently brushing the pregnant mama’s feet, legs, arms, and back. Body brushing feels wonderful, really wakes up one’s senses and feels one with energy.

If the mama wishes to give other women candles to light when she is in labour, she can bring a box of candles with her, or you could provide one as part of the Blessingway organization – whatever feels right.

If you wish to draw a henna belly design, you would need to prepare henna beforehand. Some kits require you to soak henna overnight. Others come in frozen cones that need to be defrosted a couple of hours before use. I suggest talking to someone who works with henna – perhaps with someone in a nearby health store, an aromatherapy supply store, or with an artist.

Some ceremonies involve gentle circle dancing or singing. If you are planning to do that, make sure you have the music ready and, if needed, enough copies of the lyrics printed out for everyone to participate.

These suggestions might seem daunting, but remember – you can incorporate as few or as many ideas as you like, and have the ceremony be as elaborate or as simple as feels right for the mama and the women involved. At its core, the Blessingway ceremony is about sharing love, food, and wisdom.

All of these ideas are just suggestions based on what I have seen work best. If you cannot find a time during the weekend and can only find, say, five women, and the place to gather is small, and the kids are present, it is still better to hold a Blessingway than not to. The energy, the love, the support are what counts, and the rough edges in the logistics tend to fade out of memory while the thought and love are remembered.

What is a Blessingway?

purpleBlessingway stems from a Navajo tradition that marks rites of passage in a woman’s life: her first moon time, her wedding, birth of her children. In the Western society, Mother’s Blessing (or Blessingway, or Blessing Way) refers to honouring a pregnant mama. Whereas a baby shower focuses on the baby and on giving gifts to the baby, the Blessingway is held to shower the mother with love and understanding from other women.

Blessingway celebrations can incorporate many different elements and traditions. Usually only women are present (exceptions are made for babies and sometimes small children of both sexes). It is often a potluck, where everyone brings a dish to share with others. Blessingway is a time when women take care of other women – something that is often lacking in our age of nuclear families, as we live too far from our relatives.

One of the most well-known Blessingway traditions is making a necklace for the mama. As part of the ceremony, each woman brings with her a bead and strings it on a cord, while sharing words of wisdom and love with the mama-to-be. Together the Blessingway beads make a necklace from which the pregnant mama can draw strength throughout the last weeks of her pregnancy and in labour.

Blessingway bead - Love Petals Tree of Life, smI was moved so much by the idea of this necklace that connects all of the positive energy and wisdom of the women who string it together, that I have designed a few Blessingway beads myself, by dressing up a Birth Goddess or a Tree of Life charm with a flower lampwork bead, and adding accents with crystals, beads, and intricate bead caps. Women around me loved them, and so I have put them up on Etsy and have since created many more different designs.

There are many other elements that can be incorporated into the Blessingway:

  • drawing a henna design on mama’s belly
  • washing mama’s tired feet (that feels absolutely divine in third trimester!)
  • brushing her hair
  • giving her a shoulder massage
  • or anything else to make the mama feel loved and supported through the last weeks of pregnancy.

Blessingway Bead - Golden Rose Petals GoddessAnother beautiful tradition is where the mama-to-be gives each woman at the Blessingway a candle. Once they get the news that the mama is in labour, they each light a candle and let the flame burn until the baby is born, sending their positive energy and thoughts to the labouring woman.

Several lovely women have put on a Blessingway for me as I was pregnant with my second baby. It was wonderful to be surrounded by so much support, love, and understanding. I have since participated in Blessingway ceremonies for other mamas, and they make me feel a part of the great sisterhood of birthing, nursing, nurturing, laughing, loving women. If you have a woman in your life who is pregnant, I would highly recommend hosting a Blessingway for her: it is a wonderfully warm and supportive tradition. I have put together a few tips on organizing a Blessingway, based on the ones I have attended.

Inspirations for birth and fertility jewelry

Christmas in July blog has published an interview with me, discussing what inspires my work. Below are a few excerpts from the interview:

How did you get started on Etsy?

Silver-tone bookmark #18, blue, green, and purple, with blue and green drop, etsy, blue saucer, mediumI have always liked making things with my hands, and after I’ve gifted beaded bookmarks, earrings, and necklaces to friends for various holidays, someone suggested I create some for sale. A painter I know pointed me to Etsy as an alternative marketplace for artists and crafters. Once I had some time during a maternity leave, I decided to try opening an Etsy shop and have listed a few pieces. My first sale came 3 months later when someone bought five bookmarks to gift to members of their book club for the club’s anniversary. That made me decide to keep going.

What got you interested in making fertility and menstrual cycle jewelry? How does it work?

We grow up so disconnected from our own rhythms, in a culture that teaches to suppress your own instincts in favour of external priorities. I have had issues with my cycle my entire life. We lose touch with what our bodies tell us, we push ourselves too hard, and end up with menstrual cycle irregularities that often lead to fertility issues. There are groups of women all over the world organizing Red Tents once a month, where women gather in circles and share their triumphs and their worries. They talk about getting in tune with your cycle, understanding how your body works, and harnessing the strengths of each stage of the cycle to seize control of your fertility, creativity, productivity, and to know thyself.

TTC Cathedral Necklace - Sky and Forest - 28 day cycle, closeup wb, mdOne of the ways to get in touch with your cycle, is to keep track of where you are in it. Certain times of the month call for rest, others for undertaking complex projects, yet others for socializing. There are various charts and calendars a woman can use to follow her cycle. I wanted to create something that could be beautiful, deeply personal, yet not necessarily known to an external eye, – a piece of jewelry to wear with a movable charm to indicate where you are in your cycle. It can be used in a privacy of a bedroom, worn openly as an accessory, or used as a subtle reminder to our family members whether we are in need of more rest. These gemstone and crystal jewelled calendars can, of course, be used for fertility-awareness purposes. To know when your ovulation is lets you know when it is best to try conceiving or abstaining, whatever your reproductive goals are.

Pregnancy Tracking Necklace - Sunlit Meadow - red carnelian, labradorite, unakite, garnet, piled, mdFollowing my creation of menstrual cycle tracking bracelets and necklaces, I have come up with pregnancy-tracking necklaces as well. Who can ever remember which week they are in? Computer-based trackers are so impersonal and cold. I found, I wanted something more palpable, like Tibetan mala beads, to finger each week, to think on the baby growing inside me, and to acknowledge another week that passed, by moving a charm.

Blessingway bead - Summer blooms golden tree of life, peach, mdMy first pregnancy and the following few years brought more awareness of birth, life, and beauty to me. I have discovered the Blessingway ceremony and was moved to create a variety of Blessingway beads to honour expectant mamas’ rite of passage. Blessingway is a Navajo ceremony that has been adopted by women of many cultures to bring the awe, support, and attention to the budding mothers. Baby showers focus on the baby and on the material things for the baby. Blessingway (or Mother’s Blessing) showers the mother with love and understanding from other women. As part of the ceremony, each woman brings with her a bead and strings it on a cord, while sharing words of wisdom and love with the mama-to-be. Together the Blessingway beads make a necklace from which the pregnant mama can draw strength throughout the last weeks of her pregnancy and in labour.

I participate in several birth-related initiatives in Ottawa: there is a Positive Birth Movement, the CHOICE! Birth and Baby film festival, Mothers of Change, and Consumers Supporting Midwifery Care, and I talk to many mothers. There is not much support for pregnant women in our society. There is lots of advice, horror birth stories (why is it we never hear the good ones?), fears, pressures, medical tests, and obligations. Yet a key piece is missing: women need support of other women who have been there, they need to draw upon this well of strength and knowledge, to embrace pregnancy, birth, and the wonders of babymoon. I have had a Blessingway for my second baby, and it was wonderful. Now I wish to inspire women to surround the pregnant mama with love. That love will blossom in her and in her child, and that is the best birth gift anyone can give.

Are there any other crafts that interest you or you wish you could master?

I am fascinated by work of silversmiths. I like goth aesthetic and fantasy, and enjoy working with gemstones in beading, so I would love to explore the blending of stones and silver designs in those styles. However, my youngest baby is only seven months, and my hands are full these days. Perhaps I shall venture down that path at a later time.

What is your favorite color and why?

This is a very tough question. If I absolutely had to pick one, it would be blue – the sky blue, the almost-blue lilac, the bluish purple, and a myriad of other shades of blue. But I love the blackest black of the starry sky, the green of the young shoots in the spring, the deep blood red, and so many more colours. Colour is a medium for me, and I play it like an instrument.

On the importance of ceremony

This past Friday, the CHOICE! Film Festival hosted the screening of Birth Rites – a film about the issues aboriginal women in Canada and Australia face with the government removing them from their communities to give birth elsewhere. The film itself is worth watching: it illustrates the social fallout of such birth management practices and the need for aboriginal midwives working within the communities. After all, women in Canada are not flown to Denmark to give birth just because birth outcomes there are better. Yet aboriginal women within Canada and Australia are removed from their home for several weeks before birth, and are deposited alone, into an unknown city, a completely foreign culture, without any support systems, and often without anyone around who speaks their language. This is not good for birth, not good for the family and the community at large, and does not make sense financially as the costs for the government are high.

I found the pre-show even more enlightening. It was guided by Francine Payer, Aki Songideye Ikwe, Métis Algonquin of the Turtle Clan, grandmother of 13 and great-grandmother of 2, drum carrier, traditional dancer, seed keeper, spokesperson for the water and the forest, and carrier of the People’s Sacred Pipe. Respected grandmother at the Sundance and the Sundance community, she is the keeper of traditional wisdom. She spoke to the circle of us – women, men, and children – on the importance of ceremony and how the rights of passage are celebrated among her people.

She spoke of different roles of men and women: as women, we carry the water, while men tend the fire. Women have Rites of Passage, while men go on Vision Quests. She talked about separate circles for girls and women, and as girls have their first menstruation, they are welcomed, with ceremony, into the women’s circle. For a year after their first Moon Time, young women do not stay alone with a man, are not allowed to be around a baby, and would pick berries for the tribe without being able to eat a single one – to teach them control and how to say “no”. Women are present when their female descendants give birth. Grandmother Francine’s mother is alive, and so at the birth of her great-granddaughter, five generations of women were there, from the great-great-grandmother, to the baby being born. Even writing this gives me shivers: giving birth at home with supportive women myself, I can imagine how profound it would be to have all the living generations of your family be by your side in birth.

There are many more traditions, and it would have not been possible to cover them all within the short time we had. Yet Grandmother Francine brought up something very important. We have many, many rights of passage: birth is the first one, and then follow the milestones: first word, first crawl, first step, first fall, first period, first love, and on, and on. We can choose to celebrate any of these rights of passage, or pick specific ones. Each day is full of ceremony: opening a tap to get water is a water ceremony, stepping outside into nature is a ceremony, sitting down to a meal is a ceremony. Being mindful and fully present throughout our day, we can honour the water, the air, the meal. The ceremony is a mindset. Any ceremony can be as simple or as complicated as one wishes: whatever feels right and comes from the heart will make a fulfilling ceremony.

In the Western culture of constant focus on action and goal achievement, we create stress and hurt, yet have very few ways to deal with it, most of which are unhealthy. Focusing on the ceremony, on the other hand, can help us breathe deeply, process the stress and heal from trauma. Quiet meditation, self-knowledge, and social support are well-known for being the necessary facets of emotional health. Fulfilling ceremonies combine these three facets, by focusing on the importance of the rite of passage, letting one process it through a quiet contemplation, a trance, a dance, a song, a chant, or  through simply listening to the guide, often within a circle of supportive people with a similar mindset. We could learn a lot about the healing effects of ceremony from the traditional cultures.

Grandmother Francine has lead us in a water sharing ceremony, a strawberry sharing ceremony, and in honouring all four directions with a song. It was a wonderfully inspiring circle, and even my three-year old enjoyed following along.

After that evening, I have been more mindful of things I do throughout the day, and how many of them are a ceremony of their own. For instance, before breastfeeding, I kiss my baby, and tell her words of love as she gazes into my eyes. That is most definitely a meaningful ceremony: each time I feed her, I feed with love. When watering plants, I tell her their names. That is a ceremony, too. When sorting laundry, I sing to her. Beyond that, it becomes almost a game to spot every ceremonial instance we do not usually notice. If there is special clothing (or lack thereof), the action can be a ceremony if you are mindful: taking a shower is a cleansing ceremony that starts with undressing, entering a dwelling is a ceremony that involves saying words of greeting and removing your footwear, brushing your hair is a ceremony that involves a brush or a comb, as long as you are present during it. Putting down a yoga mat and stepping onto it is a ceremony, and the more mindful you are during your yoga or exercise session, the more attentive you are to your body’s signals, and the better results you are likely to achieve.

Coming back to the “greater” ceremonies in our lives, it seems we only acknowledge a few in Western society. Most of them center around birthdays (not so much around birth itself), anniversaries, weddings, religious and civic holidays. Yet we rarely celebrate coming into adulthood (I do not count getting drunk out of your mind when you reach legal age), starting and stopping menstruation, being pregnant (not counting baby showers, as they are more about the baby, not the mother’s rite of passage, and are usually driven by consumerist ideals), giving birth, becoming a parent, losing a parent… And as these personal milestones are lacking societal acknowledgement, so we, as individuals, are unable to effectively process the changes and stop treating them as meaningful.

The effects are far-reaching. So many women treat menstruation as nuisance or as torture and do not learn how to listen to their body, that they end up fighting their cycle and suffering through it, instead of learning to live in harmony with it. Many families lack support in pregnancy, and this most miraculous time often ends up being full of doubts, regrets, and stress. The majority of Western women grow up fearing birth, and often end up having traumatic experiences from lack of knowledge and trust in their body. Breastfeeding has been hidden by Western society for so long that many women end up having difficulties nourishing their babies, and people around them know little on how to support them. Grief and tears are endured in loneliness, as socially awkward and unacceptable, and we shove our strong emotions into far corners of our mind, so they stay with us and we do not heal. All of these trends take us further and further from knowing our body and our mind, and from being able to master our emotions when we are faced with milestones and new stages in life.

There are people who understand this and are bringing back ceremony. Women host Red Tents and Womb Blessings to share their experiences with the milestones of womanhood, to gain understanding of their cycle, to learn to harness the different stages of it, and to take charge of their fertility. There are Maiden’s Blessing ceremonies to celebrate a girl becoming a woman, with her first menstruation. There are Mother’s Blessing ceremonies to honour a pregnant mama and surround her with support. There are Crone’s Blessing ceremonies to honour a woman’s transition into menopausal stage of her life. There are Healing Circles to help heal emotional trauma experienced in birth, or when dealing with a sickness, or with a death of a loved one. All of these circles and ceremonies help us overcome what seems like insurmountable obstacles and show us that we are not going through the times of change alone.

Let us be mindful and present in the now. Let us pause and listen to our body and the world around us. Let us create meaningful ceremonies to mark the milestones we treasure, not just those the society acknowledges as important.

Inspiration hits after confinement

After being confined for a week in a children’s hospital isolation room, I came home with a raging desire to create something – anything! It seems, I cannot sit on my hands even for a week without designing something new. The baby needed quite a bit of sleep to recover in the couple of days that followed which gave me a chance to work on the new Blessingway bead collection.

Oh my, how I missed making beautiful things with my hands! They say, once you start working with beads and gems, you want to keep handling them, arranging them in designs, getting more of them, – and I have come to realize and accept that. It is addictive! Yet it does calm me so, to be feeling the texture of the lampwork beads and the weight of the gemstones, and to see the play of colour when sunlight touches them.

Blessingway bead - Love Petals Tree of Life, smI have acquired some new lampwork beads, and this new Blessingway bead collection incorporates them as well as a few old favourites in new settings. There are the fire-opal-red petal beads that I find absolutely stunning: they feel of depth and intensity of blood and fire; and the amber coloured beads that seem to capture sunlight. There are new purple flower beads, tender spring green beads, and more of the bright green, orange, and red flowers that remind me of Ireland. There are over 20 new Blessingway beads in this collection, each one made with love and thought.

Keychain - Green Spring Morning Goddess, smPlaying with the components, I have discovered that I had some key rings, and so I set out to make a collection of keychain charms as well. I have been asked in the past to modify goddess earrings I made into a charm, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore the idea. My inspiration resulted in a set of five keychain charms: blooming red, spring green, river blue, yellow tulips, and meadow flowers.

Fallen leaves necklace, peach, closeup, smI have also made a new version of my Snow Lace pregnancy tracking necklace, since someone had purchased the original. Even stringing gemstones into an already existing design was extremely relaxing. So much so, that I have decided to bring another favourite back – my Fallen Leaves necklace.

All in all, the week following the isolation has felt very rewarding, as I drifted away to a different reality with The Lord of Chaos audiobook and my hands moved to create beautiful items.

Blessingway and a weekly cooking session

This past weekend, I have participated in a beautiful Blessingway ceremony for an expectant mama. We had put together a Blessingway bead necklace from stones and two of the beads made by me (Summer blooms tree of life and Red rose white lily key), painted a sunny design with henna on the mama’s beautiful belly, shared in delicious potluck snacks, love, laughter, and baby cuddles. We also each took home a candle, to be lit when the labour starts. Such an inspiring ceremony and such loving energy – it has stayed with me throughout this entire week.

Sunday was spent in a weekly cooking session interspersed with caring for my little ones. And even with all the interruptions for breastfeeding, playing, cuddling, serving meals, and getting them to sleep, I was able to complete everything I had planned before midnight (mind you, I started around 2pm). I have been exploring recipes from the Well Fed and Well Fed 2 books by Melissa Joulwan, and am quite impressed. The results of my cooking session consisted of a paleo cottage pie (a shepherd’s pie variation with beef instead of lamb and mashed cauliflower instead of potato), a large portion of Blue Ribbon country captain chicken, cauliflower rice, some tuna salad with homemade mayo, a paleo version of pad thai (with spaghetti squash replacing the noodles), a portion of coconut-almond green beans, Velvety butternut squash, and a few vegetables cut up for snacks or steamed and ready to be used in a stir-fry later in the week.

It is Thursday, and I have not had to cook since Sunday (and will not for a couple more days), since all I have to do is warm up the already-made food. This means it takes me about 5 minutes to get dinner on the table in the evening, with less than that time in clean-up since there are no pots or pans to clean. So I’ve got more time to spend with my partner, play with the kids, read a book or indulge in a puzzle.

What are your tips to save time making dinner?