welcome to three

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Due dates are elusive…and that goes not just for babies, but for births of all kinds, projects included.  Well over a year and a half ago — late January 2011, to be exact — we found ourselves twiddling our thumbs in what seemed like endless anticipation of having an official moving date for our big venture out West.  With all the bureaucracy associated with both buying and selling, we were at what seemed like an interminable standstill.  Not knowing the timing of big things (like a cross-country move) can make some personalities (ahem) go a little crazy.  What does one do when one can’t control (or speed up) the timing of major life changes? Well, one makes a quilt, of course.  I remember vividly, during that excruciatingly endless period of waiting, some thoughtful friends of mine encouraged me to engage in big projects to take my mind off of what I couldn’t control.  So, I got out my brightest scraps of fabric and started cutting.

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Now, I’m a big believer in preparation — getting ready, psychologically and physically — for not only what is going to happen, but also what you want to happen.  Around the same time that we were anxiously awaiting a green light for our move to Portland, some very good friends were deep in the process of trying to get pregnant.  Trying, that is, and not succeeding.  As I anxiously twiddled my thumbs, obsessing over my own problems, I thought of them, of how long it had already been that they had been hoping for a pregnancy, and how badly I wished I could do something to help.  And thus, my mindless fabric cutting became something else entirely.  I remember thinking, there’s not much I can do besides hope hope hope for these lovely people, but in the act of hoping, I can prepare a welcome gift…perhaps even summons a baby with some handmade love.

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Usually I do things the other way around — I receive pregnancy news from someone special and I happily trot into my sewing space and commence the process of creating a welcome quilt.  This ritual has become one of my most treasured.  For this child — the very spark of whom was already so wanted, so beloved in the hearts of these lovely friends and a whole community of people surrounding them — well, we needed to pull out the big dogs and work every angle we could.  I put as much love into that quilt as I could muster, hoping someone out there would get the message and work some conceiving magic into the Brooklyn air.

The project at hand worked wonders for my restless spirit.  I worked away on it, loving the simple design, feeling cheered by the bright colors during a very grey January, and enjoying how meaningful it already felt.  Someday, I knew it, this quilt would have a baby sitting on it.

Of course, a week or so after I started the quilt we received our green light to move, so I packed it up, in its unfinished state, and hauled it cross-country with the rest of our belongings, unearthing it months later, still unfinished…still no pregnancy.

Months passed, I worried.  I finished the quilt back, sent the whole thing out for quilting, got it back, and tacked on the binding.  All it needed was a label…and a recipient.

And then, pregnancy news broke.

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No one moved during those early months, and then 2 months turned to 5 to 7 and then to 8 and a half and with bated breath, the insular world of these fine friends quietly waited as he made his appearance about a week ago, in perfect health, a sweet little being.

The best things in life truly are worth waiting for.  And hoping for, and praying for, and summonsing in every which way we can possibly imagine.

Oh, welcome, welcome to three, my dear dear friends.

porch

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tying the [ultra-creative!] knot

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In 90 degree heat, late in the afternoon on a Wednesday, there are few things I’d rather do than marry two wonderful women who love each other.  And so it was, Wednesday last, that we — these two loveliest of ladies, their families and friends, and I — gathered around  just outside the barn at Cornelius Pass Roadhouse, outside of Portland, and had ourselves a wedding.

A few weeks before the nuptials, I met with these two and discussed the particulars: bow-ties for the groomsmaids, vintage tea dresses for the bridesmaids, handmade bouquets, original poems, symbolic candles, sacred rings to pass around the audience, and one lifelong commitment.  Sounded good to me.  We moved through the important topics– intention, tone, spirituality, self-expression, and the uniqueness of their choice in partner.  I learned a little something (as I always do when I meet with couples) — this time about the importance of feeling okay to be wrong with your partner.   I was reminded, by their wise words, that “when you put out light, light comes back around.  Light finds you.”  And I got to see, in live motion, the beauty that happens when you take the time to hear and know the whole story.

Love and freedom was at the center of this union, and the happy duo gazed into each other’s eyes for the entire ceremony — with a depth and intensity I’d almost never witnessed before.  Their sweet, simple love permeated the thick air and by the end of the ceremony, we were all drenched in it. .

Afterwards, the whole, thirsty lot of us made our way to the barn to guzzle lemonade while the newlyweds went off for a short while to sit in the wooded area together, letting the realness of their lives set in.  As I watched them walk off arm in arm, I thought to myself, there are some days, like this one, where everything just feels right.

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tree of memory, tree of life

rob

One of the things I love about ceremonies and rituals is that they can look so many different ways.  I had the idea, several months ago, to do something different this time around with my placenta after baby #2 (who we now know as Lenox) was born.  Placentas are so amazing — so unbelievably nutrient-rich.  In many cultures, they are regarded as quite useful and valuable, and in some places, very sacred.  Most placentas in the U.S. are regarded as garbage waste.  But not in this family.  I encapsulated my placenta and took it as pills after Orlis was born.  While I got a lot out of the experience of placenta-encapsulation (I made a little more milk, enjoyed an absence of the baby blues, healed quick, and felt good), I wanted to do something different this time, and taking one look at my front yard garden, I knew what it was.

Many world cultures have a tradition of planting the placenta with the young roots of a fresh baby tree — that tree becomes the child’s tree, symbolizing life.  Trees planted this way tend to do well — benefitting from the living nutrients of this mother organ.  I love this concept, but wanted to do a variation.  About nine months ago, we held a tree-planting ceremony right here in honor of the passing of Rob’s mother.  I think of her, Rob’s mom Carol, each time I look out at my front lawn and see that baby tree and I like knowing that some essence of her is there — a part of our home, and perhaps now, bearing some kind of witness to this new grandchild of hers who she didn’t get to meet in person.  I liked the idea of symbolically joining these two souls — baby Lenox and grandma Carol — by way of something that blooms.

In my imagination, I wanted to host a little ceremony to honor burying the placenta among the tree roots — I envisioned a song or two, perhaps some poems, and maybe each of us saying something meaningful. That’s what I envisioned.  But then life happens.  My mom (domestic goddess) was only in town for one more day, I was under strict orders to sit and lie down and do nothing else for 2 weeks, the placenta was occupying way too much space in our freezer, and it was raining, raining, raining.  I realized, we needed to get this thing into the ground while we had the chance.

And so, we held ceremony in a way probably not recognizable as ceremony.  Rob dug.  Orlis played in the mud.  My mom decorated with other plants.  And the placenta was offered by way of a simple hole in the ground.  And I — during all of this — sat inside and held that babe and thanked my lucky stars that these people were out there doing something sacred and lovely.  I paused, and offered a word or two to Carol, introducing her to her grandson.  I thanked the tree.  I snapped a few photos and thanked my family.  And I closed my eyes and held, for a moment, the newness of my life, and the flexibility of all things worth doing.

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birth

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feet

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Sometimes things happen a little differently than we plan and other times things happen just the opposite in every which way.  One of my coaching mentors from years ago used to say, “if you want to make god laugh, tell her your plans.”  Oh, the infuriating truth in that statement.

And so it was, with the birth of this tiny treasure who now makes us a family of four — he arrived in a fashion absolutely nothing like what I had prepared myself for or what I had hoped for.  I’ve noticed, some folks are quick to say, “all that matters in the end is a healthy baby and a healthy mama.”  And while I get what these folks mean and I am, of course, enormously grateful to have a healthy babe and to be a healthy mama, I hold a different view.  Birth matters too.  How we birth our babies and the unprecedented rite of passage for women that birth is matters too.   To me, it matters a whole lot.  It would be easier, for certain, to tell you here today, “the babe is here!  nothing else matters!”  But, I believe that you, dear readers, deserve a fuller story.  This blog is about process and transition and rites of passage, so as difficult as it is to share vulnerable details I will likely be processing for a good long while, I would be remiss in sharing only the joy that I now feel with this babe in my arms.  I feel much joy, but I don’t only feel joy — I feel many things.  It is with this in mind that I share this story.

For the four weeks before Lenox Bear’s birth I did little more than hope and yearn for things to get rolling.  Three weeks out, contractions constituting pre-labor began and happened sometimes all day every day and sometimes just in the evenings.  I tried, but didn’t sleep much.  And as I bypassed his due date by days and then a week and then two weeks plus, in deep and almost constant discomfort, I began to lose my sense of humor about all of it.  I dodged neighbors and phone calls.  It became so that I couldn’t stand another well-intentioned person saying, “are you STILL pregnant?!”

And then, as somewhere deep in my gut I knew it would, it began, late on a Sunday night.  At first, it was the same contractions I had felt for weeks, but they fell into a rhythm and I found, after 45 minutes or so, that I could no longer be alone.  Fast and furious they came — we tucked Orlis securely in bed with his grandma and called the midwives.  They took one listen over the phone and arrived within minutes of each other, just a half hour later.  Now I knew we were in business.  Feeling what seemed like an unmistakeable (and early!) urge to push, I was reminded by these amazing women baby-catchers to listen to my body.  Upon checking, they confirmed, “just a bit of a push past the pubic bone and we’ll go upstairs so you can have your baby on your bed.”  This sounded like a simple, easy task.  I remember thinking to myself, “after the longest drum-roll ever, this might be the easiest, fastest birth.”

Five long, extremely difficult hours later, I was still, in every position imaginable, trying to do just that — push that baby past my pubic bone  We had gotten exactly no where — not one millimeter closer.

While the baby was doing just fine, I wasn’t.  It was then that I knew I needed to get some medical help, and as much as it was the last thing I wanted to admit to myself, my exhaustion had overcome me, and my belief that this passage could happen in the comfort of my home by the sole efforts of my own muscles and the encouragement and expertise of the midwives and Rob deflated.  We drove to the hospital.

And there, with the delayed but most welcome relief of an epidural, I entered into another matrix entirely.  It was, just as I had read about so many times, a domino effect of interventions — first an epidural, then the worried looks on the nurses’ faces as they saw the effect take the baby’s heart-rate down, then an oxygen mask, then pitocin, some more pushing (and no budging) and finally, the dreaded moment when the doctor said, “I hate to skip to the end of the story here, but we are looking at a c-section.”  How could this be? I wondered.

And then, we decided to make one final attempt using forceps — a tool whose use is accompanied by laundry list of possible scary side effects for me and for baby that left me trembling.  But it was my last chance at a vaginal birth.  With a crowd of 12 people (3 nurses, 2 doctors, 2 extra medical personnel in case of emergency, 3 midwives, 1 grandmother, and 1 loving partner) all around me chanting and smiling and coaxing me along, I closed my eyes and gave all I had and then…a baby boy.  ”Thank you,” I said to the doctor over and over again.  Thank you.

 

That’s the story.  And the week that has passed by since then has been a beautiful, challenging, tearful, painful, joyful, busy, sore, and heartwarming one.  Neighbors and friends have come by with watermelons and flower bouquets from their gardens and whole, delicious, colorful meals.  There have been visits from midwives, and calls from the doctors and a whole lot of advil coursing through my veins.  There has been daily diaper laundry and other laundry and cookies and muffins to eat, and the amazing help of one wonderful grandma.  And there’s been baby feet to hold, and the ups and downs of new nursing, and one bright sweet and appropriately confused and cuddly big brother just getting a handle on things in the ways a 2-year-old knows how, with challenging and tears, and moments of utter, heart-wrenching kindness.  ”Are you okay, mama?”  ”Why is baby Lenox sad?”  And there’s been the tender and tricky navigation of new roles and new chores for both mama and papa as we navigate a shifting center of gravity with as much tired grace as we can muster.  And there’s been, of course, a sweet little babe to love and hold and to remind us, that loving and holding is about all there is to do right now.

 

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and then there were four

orlis.smelling

Lenox Bear

daddy, lenox, orlis

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Introducing Lenox Bear Mulliken, born Monday, May 13th at 4:00 p.m., stretching 21 inches and weighing 8.3 lbs.  We are slowly catching our breath and easing into these tender days with droopy eyelids, sore muscles, and grateful hearts.  Thank you for holding the space during this precious time.  A fuller birth story to emerge in this space soon, and for now, some rest.

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things to do on one’s due date besides have a baby

ice

A few years ago, I got into the practice of keeping a gratitude journal.  Have you heard of such a thing?  I think there’s no real “right” way to keep a gratitude journal.  Here’s how I did it:  I decided it should be the last thing I do before I go to sleep, so as to flood my consciousness with positive images and memories and to allow my brain to purge whatever was lingering before I shut off for the night.  I did this gratitude journaling just listy style for a good while, and I have to say, it was a wonderful ritual.  It served me in thousands of ways.

As much as I loved (and reaped enormous benefits from) gratitude journaling, it fell by the wayside, as things tend to, when I had a baby.  I think nursing or trying-to-keep-my-wits-about-me replaced journaling as my final to-do before bed.

Over this past weekend, as I faced my still-pregnant body in the mirror and thought to myself, “what should I do?” — gratitude journaling came to mind.  Perhaps some gratitude for this 40+ week state I’m in could do this gal some good.  I won’t lie to you — this waiting game is torturing me in some ways. But, when I really look at it, I must admit, there are some sweet things arising in these un-planned-for-still-pregnant-days.

So, I pulled out a notebook, and got some ideas down in my gratitude journal yesterday. I was not surprised to see that a few things were obvious (1. more time with just Orlis,  2. the opportunity to teach myself how to crochet a granny square,  3. getting a head start on May’s book club book,  and 4. indulging in a few more episodes of Breaking Bad after Orlis goes to bed than I thought I’d have time for).  Those rolled right off the pen as I perused my week in review.

But then, I noticed a few more ideas flowing onto the journal pages that sunk a little deeper in my heart, as yet another reminder that things happen in their own good time.

1. I do love the feeling of being “held” so closely in the thoughts of so many people I love and who love me.  I’m reminded of this via text, voicemail, email, and phone call by many good people each day.  There’s a lift I feel in this, like being suspended in the air on a big balloon.  This feeling is so so very rich.  I wish I could bottle it.

2. I am grateful for the opportunity to feel more empathy for the way this end-of-pregnancy period affects, I would guess, most women both physically and mentally.  Having had Orlis at 38 weeks, I didn’t go through this last time, and I am appreciative of the experience this time around — specifically being with the not knowing; being so physically uncomfortable and also being with the gradual nature of birth; feeling pressure of all kinds.  It’s its own special psychology, and knowing how universal it is makes me feel bonded, in some small way, to women everywhere, and from the beginning of time.

3. I’m glad to be learning, by happenstance, the way I think the other half lives.  Which is to say — without so many simultaneous projects and lists and to-dos going all of the time.  A week with not much planned at all and few goals — this is foreign to me.  I wouldn’t want it all the time, but I’ll admit, I like it right now.

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these days (waiting)

These days…oh, these days.  I am waking early and noticing, “hmmm…still pregnant.”  These days are those strange and sacred ones during which I inch so humbly close to an elusive “due date” knowing, at any moment we’ll begin.  It’s these days that are, I think universally, a challenge for many of us going through this rite of passage.  The psychology is odd — yearning for something that we know is likely to be a bigger challenge and also a bigger joy than any we’ve known and not knowing how or when it will start, but knowing it will…it will…at just the time it should.  It’s a peculiar place to sit for days on end.

Dearest friends and family are checking in, daily some of them, wondering if I feel anything.  (ha!  ”yes.”  I tell them.  ”I’m feeling every move my body makes with the most acute awareness.  Who needs meditation practice when I have this waiting game on which to feast my every sense?”)  Other dearest are, I think, deliberately not checking in, but I know the pins and needles on which they sit.  There is just nothing quite like this anticipation.

Well, what are we doing with ourselves while we wait, you might be wondering?

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*Playing with the neighbors.  The youngest among us donning our bicycle helmets and going belly-forth on the skateboard.  (The maternal among us holding her heart and breath with every such endeavor.)

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*Checking and double checking the birth supplies we’ve organized.  Appreciating how many of the things that are gathered in these baskets are homemade and handed-down and otherwise used and loved so well already.  What better to wrap up a new baby in than an already beloved blanket that holds some legacy and embedded warmth?

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*Making birth art.  Toddler-style and mama-style.  Loving the way watercolors work and move together.

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*Fixing, fixing, fixing.  Using our tools as much as we can.

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*Ah!  Enjoying bringing in the bits of spring that so abundantly grace our out-of-doors.  And loving the streaming sunlight too.

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*Just…waiting.

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*Beginning, at friends’ insistence, some sewing projects that I know won’t get finished for awhile.  Being okay with the idea of a long, unfinished project.  Loving the challenge of sewing projects that are well beyond my skill level (and the knowledge, too, that my mama is coming soon and will know how to help me).

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*Appreciating the thoughtful things I was mandated to include in the Mama Birth Supply Basket by the midwives.  Oh, those midwives have mamas in mind all the time.  I am so grateful for that.

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*Staring dumbfounded by the amazing versatility of sticks.  All day long we pick up sticks.  I had no idea they were so very much fun.

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*Applying bandaids where we have no ouchies and wearing them like costumes.  Because what is more fun than bandaids to a 2.5 year old?  (And what is a better lesson for this mama than embracing and loving our scratches, bruises, and scars?)

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*Employing every natural induction method I can think of ….acupuncture, pineapple, wild dance parties.  And doing as I’m told and making my way to Portland’s Mount Tabor Park (affectionately nicknamed Mount Labor Park to those in my situation) to walk the stairs.

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*Bringing my sidekick with me.statues

*Imitating statues together and having a good giggle.

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*And doing my very best to cherish this precious table for three — with hearty meals and silly moments and a bushel of lilac from our generous yard out back.  We are in the business of falling in love here, I remind myself.  And we don’t ever really get to know the precise moment that will happen.

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my blessingway

henna.closeup

Oh, my heart is full.  I’ve been musing much these days about the most amazing weekend 2 and 1/2 years ago when many of the most important women of my life gathered in my honor for my Mother Blessing weekend.  I was 36 weeks pregnant then, and at 37 weeks now, I am looking back at these photos and remembering (and still feeling) the strength of all we did that weekend to help prepare me for the end of pregnancy, birth, early post-partum, breastfeeding, and the unbelievable transition to motherhood.

That weekend — when women of multiple generations and from many corners of my history came in to be with me — reigns among (or even at the very top of) my favorite weekends ever.  All weekend we picnicked and play games and gathered in different combinations.  In particular though, what stands out still, are those handful of sacred hours when we gathered in my home for the Blessingway Ceremony, so thoughtfully curated by a few close friends and family members.

*we sang together; they sang to me

*we introduced ourselves by our matrilineal lineage, bringing in the presence and power of our mothers and grandmothers

*we revealed fears during a fear ceremony

*we honored, with ritual, the complexities of breastfeeding for the first time

*they pampered me, massaged me, honored me with significant gifts

*I offered a soliloquy ritual of my own, bringing in the aspects of these amazing women and declaring who I hoped to be as a mother

*we ate and ate and ate — beautiful, delicious, symbolic foods

*we wore white

*we wore crowns

*we cried a lot

*we made red and blue birth leaves for the tree on my wall — in the room where I planned to give birth

*we collaborated on a pregnancy silhouette quilt

*we were present for each other

*we made a phone tree and handed out candles to light for when I went into labor

*we were, unabashedly, women together — women supporting the biggest rite of passage for women: birth and motherhood

 

I still feel so intrinsically held by this circle — 2 and 1/2 years later and at the same juncture again (hours or days or weeks from birth).  I feel strengthened by our collective creativity, by our vulnerability in sharing, and by our womanness, one and all.  By this Blessingway, I still feel so very, very  blessed.

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Preparing a Welcome Baby Blessing

This morning my mind and heart are aflutter as I plan for another exciting workshop I’ll be leading next weekend, here in Portland.    The workshop is called “Preparing a Welcome Baby Blessing” and it’s geared towards new families — families who are about to have a baby or who have just had a baby.  I am so looking forward to connecting with these families, and particularly around this topic — one so very close to my heart.

My interest in performing welcome Baby Blessings began when I started to see a real need for it.  I had been officiating weddings for awhile, and some funerals and memorials too, and it started to become quite clear to me, how much we need to start at the beginning.  What I started to see clearly was that babies deserve to be welcomed officially and as a culture, we have a need to officially welcome babies.  Nearly every culture and every religion, since the beginning of time, has held a ceremony to welcome new members of the tribe and while many people today still have Baptisms or a Jewish Bris’, for a lot of people (for a multitude of reasons) those ceremonies aren’t the right fit.  Either they don’t ascribe to a particular religion OR what is offered and available within a particular religion doesn’t feel personal enough…or worth the effort.  What I started to see was this trend: Baptism, Bris, or …..nothing at all.  Oh no, this just won’t do.  Marking the huge enormous milestone of being born with ceremony, for both parents and baby, is not only deeply meaningful and fun, it also goes a long way in strengthening community around growing families.  As a culture, I really see that we need it — in the same way witnessing the weddings of friends and family feels so satisfying and in the same way we find meaningful ways to celebrate a birthday or anniversary.  It honors those moments and decisions and rites of passage that are so important to us and gives them their due respect and attention.

I have led many Welcome Baby Blessings, and each of them stick out in my memory as being totally unique, really meaningful, and a whole lot of fun. I often think back — not too far — to the Blessing we had for Orlis and how special that was, and also how much preparing for it packed a punch for us in terms of clarifying our parenting values, welcoming our community into our process, and honoring his existence in the world.  It felt official.

I am so excited to be with these families next weekend to begin the beautiful process of creating a Welcome Ceremony for the new precious life that has graced theirs’.  I can hardly think of a higher honor.   Here’s the details:

Preparing a Welcome Baby Blessing    

Saturday February 9th, 10:00 – Noon  

@ Alma Education and Movement Space  1233 SE Stark Street

$25 same day, or pre-register with me at mary@treelifecoaching or 503-841-5949 for a $5 discount.

Oh, do join us.  And tell your pregnant friends or friends who have recently had a baby.   We are going to have a great time, I know it.

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preparing your Blessingway

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Pomona

Hi Blogreaders!

I’m back from my vacation and feeling refreshed and energized.  I hope you had a nice week.

Upon my return, my mind has turned full-focus towards a special event happening this weekend, right in SE Portland, OR.  I will be leading a 2-hour workshop entitled “Preparing Your Blessingway”  at Alma Education Space, 1233 SE Stark Street on Saturday January 26th from 10-noon.  The event is for pregnant mamas and their closest friends to attend together.  Here’s the official description:

Being pregnant, giving birth, and early motherhood are the Mothers of all rites of passage. As women, we come together in support of ourselves and each other to prepare as much as we can, and pave the way for the most gentle and meaningful transition possible. True preparation for this incredible rite of passage has little to do with receiving a stack of onesies or sharing hospital horror stories — rather, expectant mothers deserve to gather with their closest women in a gathering that honors and celebrates the mother-to-be during this enormous transition, and creates structure to give the support in early motherhood that women truly need. A Blessingway (also often called a Mother Blessing) is a mother-centered alternative (or sometimes complement) to the contemporary baby shower.

In this workshop, you will learn how to cultivate a caring community for mothers-to-be by planning a meaningful pre-birth ritual gathering. You will learn simple rituals, as well as how to create safe sharing circles. Well also share ideas about who and how to invite, fun birth art projects to incorporate, and how to create and reinforce support structures for the postpartum period. In most Mother Blessings, all women come away feeling both personally transformed as well as more deeply connected to the circle of women present.

A Blessingway often includes:

 *ritualistic pampering, honoring, preparing, and adorning the mom-to-be

*space for acknowledging and releasing fears

*sharing stories, blessings, letters, wishes, and symbolic and nurturing gifts

*co-creating birth art

*opening to the divine presence and the inherent birth-giving capabilities in every woman

*an opportunity to learn about and bolster the specific choices in childbirth and hopes for parenting of the mom-to-be

*establishing creative and practical structures for birth and post-partum support

*a potluck feast

 

We will be meeting in the new space (adjacent to the regular Alma Education space) that is all-too-aptly titled, “The Gathering Place.”  There are still spots available for pre-registration, and if you register by Friday night (1/25) you get $5 off the $25 fee.  If you bring a friend, it’s only $10 extra (no limit).  You can register by commenting on this blog post or by contacting me here.

I very much appreciate you helping me spread the word to pregnant ladies in Portland.  I am so excited to be with all these pregnant women and their loving friends on Saturday, in preparation for one of the biggest transitions and transformations we know as women, and in creation of a ritual and celebration that will support them.

And, just a reminder to you local Portland folks, I’m also leading a one-hour workshop tonight(!) at Alma Education Space, 1233 SE Stark.  It’s entitled Elimination Communication: Potty Training from Day 1.  There’s more info here (at the Treelife site) and here (if you search Alma Midwifery’s calendar.)  It’s only $15 per family and walk-ins are welcome!   (If you happen to be an Alma client, it’s free).  Come learn about the freedom of doing Elimination Communication with your little one — I’d love to see you there.

 

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