As much as I loved the baby showers I had with both of my daughters, and appreciated the effort that went in to them, I have since been introduced to a different way of celebrating the pending arrival, which has touched me and moved me so much, I secretly wish I’d had a blessingway too.
A blessingway is an old Navajo ceremony, which celebrates a woman’s rite of passage into motherhood, or motherhood again. While a babyshower focuses largely on the new baby, a blessingway is all about the mother to be, as evidenced in a number of ceremonial activities that take place.
I’ve attended blessingways in England, and in Australia, and have seen and heard them done in the United States, and there are many variations, but the basics of it remain the same – women come together to celebrate birth.
While at a traditional babyshower everyone brings a gift for the baby, at a blessingway, (while you can still bring a gift for the baby) the ‘gifts’ you bring can include a bead, a poem,a flower, a candle, and red string.
During the party, the host – normally a best friend or family member – will give the mother to be a strong piece of string, tied at one end. Then each guest will give her a bead, with a reason as to why they’ve chosen that specific bead for her. She will then string it into a necklace which she can wear, look at, or hold during labour, as she chooses.
Everyone can also bring a flower from their garden, or from somewhere special to them, which is threaded into a crown for the expectant mother to wear during the day, and to save as a memory of the day, should she wish.
People can take it in turns reading their poems and birth wishes – affirmations – or they can be put together somewhere for the mum to read leading up to and during her labour. My Australian friend had flags to put up in the room during her c-section. My British friends had them stuck on the wall by their birthpools during their home births.
The candle is lit during the ceremony, to guide the baby, and welcome him or her earthside, before being blown out again. If the mother is going to let people know when she’s in labour, they can take them home with them and light a candle for her when labour starts, or if she is unlikely to announce it, she can keep it at home and light the candles herself, as a reminder of the women standing with her in thought.
Finally, the culminating element of the ceremony, is when the host ties a red string around her wrist or ankle, and the mother then walks around the room, wrapping the string twice around each guest’s arm and leg, creating a tie between them all. The mother then walks around cutting the string, and everyone ties it off. There are two traditions here: some people leave it on until it falls off on it’s own – I had one stay on for almost six months! – or they can break it off once the baby is born. Often times, people will send them back to the mother, so that she can thread them into a pillow or similar for the little person.
And once the ceremony is completed, there’s cake!
A blessingway is a great alternative for anyone not overly fond of party games or being the center of attention for too long, and provides a more meaningful, and still fun afternoon with friends, celebrating the new life to come, but also celebrating mum!
I’ve been asked a number of times by various people whether it is possible to nurse both babies at the same time, and the simple answer is yes! I know the concept is foreign to many people, so here are nine reasons why tandem breastfeeding is worth considering.
Reasons To Consider Tandem Breastfeeding For The Toddler:
1. Bonding and reduced jealousy This was one of the most beautiful and surprising parts of tandem breastfeeding, for me. The first time I lay my nursling on top of my toddler to allow them to feed together, and my beautiful big girl put her arm around her sister to keep her from ‘falling off’. I think my heart melted in that moment. We’ve had absolutely no jealousy since the birth of our second little girl twelve weeks ago and I am convinced that breastfeeding both children has something to do with it. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any studies on this subject yet, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence, and I’m happy to be adding to that.
Regardless of what you do to prepare a toddler for a new baby, the reality of the new addition is beyond anything they’d have expected, and having something that bonds them together from the beginning is very helpful. It’s also something they can do together. The first question Ameli asked, while Aviya was still in the birthpool, was, “can it walk?” She is very aware of the fact that Aviya can’t talk to us and can’t play with her. In fact, as Ameli’s book says, “it’s basically a lump of clay.” Having something they can do together definitely creates a bond from early on.
2. Valuable lesson in sharing and consideration Sharing breastfeeding is an incredible lesson in sharing in general. This is another area my Ameli has surprised me: she understands that the baby, who cannot eat food yet, needs to have milk more than she does. It’s not always easy for her to have to stop feeding when it’s Aviya’s turn (tandem nursing can mean two simultaneously, or one after the other. We do both.) but she usually does. You can see sometimes that she doesn’t really want to, but she does. I think it’s a great lesson for life.
3. All the benefits of newborn milk Newborn breastmilk is full of so many good things, and the mother’s body adjusts the milk to meet the newborn’s needs. That means the toddler is getting all the benefits of baby milk, all over again.
Reasons To Consider Tandem Breastfeeding For The Newborn:
1. Milk on tap Now, this is purely anecdotal, from my own experience, but in our case, my milk came in pretty much immediately after Aviya was born. There was still colostrum, as I could tell from Ameli’s nappies, but she had milk available on tap from the start. This meant that she didn’t have to work very hard to fill her tummy, which meant she fed for shorter periods of time than newborns normally do. It also meant that she slept for longer than newborns normally do. In fact, she fed so little and slept so much that she lost 11% of her body weight in the first week, but more than made up for it subsequently (she’s currently in 4-6 month clothes, and is only 2.5 months!) The fact is that she didn’t have to burn much energy in an attempt to consume.
3. Familiarity with the older sibling It’s easy to very quickly fall into the habit of saying ‘don’t touch the baby’, ‘leave the baby’, ‘be gentle with the baby’ and any one of a million variations on that theme. We’ve tried very consciously not to plant the idea that ‘sister’ isn’t to be engaged with in Ameli, and have instead decided to accept that babies aren’t actually as fragile as we tend to think they are when you have your first born. Tandem nursing is a way of introducing an older sibling into a baby’s space, so that the younger can become accustomed to the sound and smell of his or her older sibling too.
4. Gag-free drinking Sometimes the flow of milk can be so strong and forceful that the new baby can gag and choke. Getting big sister or brother to take the edge off, can be really helpful. It’s worth remembering the difference between foremilk and hindmilk and making sure baby is getting enough of both, especially in hot weather.
Reasons To Consider Tandem Breastfeeding For the Mother:
Believe it or not, tandem breastfeeding has a number of benefits for mama too.
1. Put your feet up If you’ve had a toddler let loose on your house for any length of time, you’ll know what devastation can be wrought in the shortest of times. Nursing both together means you actually get to have a break without having to directively engage, occupy or entertain a toddler. This is where a hands free water bottle with a straw comes in though, because it can be hard to hold a cup while nursing two children!
2. Health benefits of extended breastfeeding All those things that hit the headlines from time to time? Those. Reduced risk of breast cancer being the biggest one. And some people put weight loss in this category. Breastfeeding gives me a sweet tooth, so no, I don’t lose any weight!
3. Relieves engorgement Despite popular belief, when your milk comes in proper, you can still get really engorged, even if you’ve been breastfeeding through pregnancy. I haven’ t had to express once this time round, nor have I had any problems, such as mastitis or clogged ducts, because when I’ve needed to, I’ve been able to call on Ameli – even in the middle of the night, since Aviya sleeps through – to quickly and effortlessly drain an engorged, painful, leaking breast.
So there you have nine reasons to at least consider tandem nursing. It’s not always easy, and there are days where I wish more than anything that Ameli would wean, but looking at the list above, the benefits are fantastic, and this is a phase in our mother and daughter(s) journey that I will always look back on with a distinct sense of pride in all of us.