Monday, May 23, 2011

Celebrating New Life

I went to a baby shower on Saturday afternoon, expecting the usual, food, chat, presents, and that a good time would be had by all. I expected a lot of plastic things, Diaper Genies, etc. chosen from the registry at Target. I knew that she and her husband had chosen not to learn this baby's sex beforehand, so the quilt I made is mostly yellow. They think it will be a boy, but in spite of the blue, it should also be fine for a girl - I'm getting awfully tired of the sea of nothing but pink that little girls seem to swim in these days!
The invitation said there would be a "blessing way," though neither of the parents and none of the participants are Navajo, and I wondered what that was all about, hoping it wasn't going to be some half-baked New Age rip-off of indigenous tradition, but I didn't need to worry. What actually occurred was lovely, and although it contained echoes of various traditions from around the world, it did not feel exploitive or appropriative at all, but rather filled with respect for the traditions we borrowed from, for women, and for the wonder and mystery and beauty of birth. The hostess gave the mother-to-be a copy of the book that inspired the ritual and the overall mood of the celebration:
I love the cover image with the beautiful henna tattoos!

One thing I know was borrowed was the Navajo custom of introducing oneself to the group in terms of ancestry, in this case, each woman's matrilineage: "I'm Victoria, daughter of Patricia, granddaughter of Nettie and Iva, mother of Deirdre. . . ." It's a beautiful way of reminding ourselves to celebrate the people we come from. Each of us lit a candle as we introduced ourselves, and then we each shared a wish, a quotation, or a blessing for our friend, her baby, her family. I hadn't read the invitation carefully enough, because I wasn't prepared for that, but as the sharing moved around the circle I had time to think, and what came to me were these lines from The Prophet
          Your children are not your children. 
          They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
          They come through you but not from you,
          And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
So often, in this over-complicated, over-scheduled, over-controlling world, we forget that, but I don't think this mother will. 
      The midwife attended the shower and guided the ritual beautifully. The mother's other friends are, like her, graduate students in the same department at the university, smart, focused academics, but we are also all women, and it was marvelous to see the professional shell that we construct and wear in that academic context melt away so we could just be women, sharing, learning (the midwife taught us much) and enjoying our time together. 

      This birth will take place at home (it's their second child) and it should be peaceful and wonderful. The midwife said, "Your body knows how to give birth. Your baby knows how to be born." I believe that, but we've so complicated and compartmentalized all aspects of our life that it's hard for us to relax and "do what comes naturally." How could the human race have survived so long, if these weren't things our bodies instinctively know how to do? Certainly situations can arise that require more medical assistance, and it's good that it's available at those times. But the perpetuation of our species is not rocket science, though too many of us have been persuaded that it is, and babies don't need a whole lot of expensive gadgets and potions and lotions, though our consumerist society wants us to think they do.

I feel privileged to have been part of our friend's blessing way, to have  shared the joy of welcoming this new little person into the world in the best possible manner, not just with a lot of "stuff" but with genuine love and support.  It was an experience that enriched each of us who shared in it.

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