I was surprised to receive a text recently from the sister of one of my good friends, expressing her dismay that Tarsha, due to have her first child in March, did not want a baby shower.
Apparently “hell-bent” on avoiding that tradition, she wished instead to hold a welcoming gathering of some kind after the baby was born. Her sister, a mother herself who’d enjoyed the fuss and festivity of her own baby shower years before, felt she was being thwarted in her attempts to create something special to celebrate Tarsha’s impending motherhood.
At first, I found her stream of texts expressing all of this a bit comical, considering the vehemence with which both were insisting on what they wanted. Yet I could also appreciate the desire to usher Tarsha into this new phase of her life with enough fanfare to signal how excited we all were for her. A shower would also likely be our last chance to see her before the baby’s arrival.
But I had to admit I liked the idea of a welcoming celebration. We would all want to see the baby after she was born anyway and rather than try to fit in individual visits in those crazy first months of adjustment, why not have all of her close friends over at once for a grand introduction? Besides, there was no rule requiring a baby shower (predecessors to the modern-day celebration were actually tea parties that Victorian women held for new mothers, after the baby was born).
And though we have come to rely on a time-honored canon of rituals to mark life’s many rites of passage, there is nothing that precludes us from creating our own. If the purpose of ritual is to honor and mark the significance of certain occasions — often while satisfying some spiritual or emotional need — then I wanted to support Tarsha in embracing motherhood in a way that would be most meaningful to her.
Last summer, just weeks before she would give birth to her first child, I gathered with a group of women at my friend Chana’s house for a belly blessing ceremony. When I received the invitation from Sarah, the organizer, I had no idea what to expect, though I knew that whatever the ceremony entailed, it would be a rich and beautiful experience because of Chana’s own gift for creating such moments.
Never did I imagine how moved I would be by the entire gathering, which buoyed me for days afterward as I reflected on its primal intimacy and the space of communal nurturing we created to assure Chana of our love and support in the last days of her pregnancy.
While the afternoon included time for noshing and casual conversation, most of it was spent in a circle in her living room where we, literally and figuratively, blessed the mother-to-be and the developing life inside of her. We sang, swapped memories and shared stories about the ways Chana had impacted our lives. Some recited poems on motherhood and child-rearing while others told of traditions from far-flung cultures. And Chana, crowned with a wreath, soaked it all in from her seat of honor, where our friend Dana gently washed her feet — a symbol of her willingness to accept the service of others, not only then, but in the months to come when navigating her exhilarating and exhausting new world.
And while we spoke our blessings aloud — wishing Chana all the things that would help ease her into the next leg of her journey and sustain her and her new family — we also wove them into ribbons and pressed them into beads, holding those items as we reflected on all that we desired for our dear friend. The ribbons were wound around a stick that she could carry with her into labor, the beads fashioned into an anklet. Just as she could keep close those symbols of support, we each tied blue ribbons around our wrists, vowing to wear them until the baby was born so that both would always be in our thoughts.
As the afternoon wore on, I wondered several times what it would be like if all new mothers-to-be allowed themselves such a sweet enfolding of love instead of celebrating such an amazing period in their life with a hasty parade of gifts and routine banter. How much more meaningful it was to me, and to all of us, to be with Chana in what felt like some ancient ritual, a gathering of tribeswomen holding sacred the passage to gentle her transition. We even made a cast of her belly, smoothing wet plaster strips across her stomach and chest to form a keepsake from her pregnancy.
Our mere presence that afternoon bound us to Chana and to each other in a way that truly suggested a village, or, at the very least, a family who would always be there for her and little Isadore, born almost four weeks later. I like to think we forged as much of a connection with Izzy, as he is called, that day as we did with each other, and when I met and held him for the first time, I felt an even greater sense of wonder knowing I’d contributed to that positive, loving energy that had enveloped him during his birth.
I do not know what my friend Tarsha will do for her welcoming celebration, but I do believe there is power and magic in creating our own rituals.
They do not have to be elaborate (in my boyfriend Zane’s family, his dad and his siblings all light a bayberry candle on Christmas Eve to remind them of their connectedness, no matter the miles between them), or even involve many people (my friend Shira and I have made it a ritual to speak a blessing to each other on our respective birthdays instead of exchanging the usual well wishes).
But if done with intention and heart, they can bring deeper meaning to our lives, while enriching our relationships.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times