Creating a Blessing Circle (Blessingway)

A Blessing Circle is based on the traditional Navajo ceremony to celebrate important life passages, known as a Blessingway.  Out of respect for the Navajo people I draw from this beautiful ceremony to create a Blessing Circle (or Mother Blessing). It’s a great alternative to the typical baby shower. Blessing Circle ceremonies can be tailored to each individual’s beliefs and ideology. The central theme remains the same, shower the birthing mother and baby with love and deep connection to other women and the earth.

Over the years I’ve been blessed to facilitate many ceremonies. When I first started, my ceremonies were very “hippie.” After attending one of my ceremonies, a Christian friend asked me if I would facilitate a Christian Blessing Ceremony for her.  It was so easy to change the ceremony and it was one of the most beautiful circles I’ve ever led. We sang her favorite hymns, and each woman brought a bible verse and prayer for mother and baby which we later put into a book. Since then, I’ve facilitated ceremonies for women of many different faiths. My philosophy on the blessing circle is the same as my birth philosophy–listen to the mother.

Usually, when women contact me about organizing a Blessing Circle they are intimidated by the importance of such a momentous event. Truth is, it’s all about the love. The details of the ceremony aren’t nearly as important as the love shared between members of the circle. If you simply sat a bunch of close friends in a circle with no decorations or prepared speeches or supplies and props, there would still be tears and love and power. That’s just how it works.

So here’s what I do. Remember, this is very general and you should do what feels right.

Typically we begin the Blessing Circle by forming a circle, and welcoming mother and guests to the ceremony. We open the ceremony by burning sage (optional, of course) to clear the room and participants of negative energy or ideas about birth. Next, the mother receives a flowered crown for her head and an herbal foot bath and massage. We go around the circle and each woman strings a bead onto a necklace and offers a prayer/affirmation for the birth. This necklace can later be used as a source of strength and focus during labor. Last, we pass a roll of string around and each woman wraps it around her wrist. To close the ceremony we cut the string between each woman and they tie it into a bracelet. The women wear these bracelets until after the baby is born. After the ceremony we eat chat and have a good time!

Blessing Circles can be performed for the birthing mother alone or for her partner as well. I like to add songs to the ceremony to create positive energy, build community, and help smooth transitions between the pieces of the ceremony.

For me, the most important aspect of the Blessing Circle is that it is not outcome-focused. The focus is on giving the mother the support and love she needs to draw on her own strength to travel her birth journey, whatever it may be. We aren’t wishing for her to have a home birth or an easy birth or a natural birth or even a vaginal birth. We are helping her find her own inner strength to trust that her journey will unfold just as it should, and that she will walk the journey with grace. We remind her that we will hold her in our love during that journey.

Tips for creating a Blessing Circle:

Ask the mother what she wants.

Keep it small if you can. It’s nice for it to be intimate.

Describe the ceremony in the invitation so people know what to expect.

Bring tissues, there will be crying.


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VBAC and the Art of Letting Go: Note to Midwives, Doulas, and Mamas

The first VBAC I ever attended completely blew my mind. I watched a woman move from excited and hopeful to the darkest, scariest place of fear, to surrender, to extraordinary power and then to the softest, most tender human presence as she greeted her baby into the world. It was the most humbling experience of my life, and I am continually humbled by the experience of holding women through birth.

Here’s a few things I’ve picked up from my amazing clients along the way:

1. I am not that important. I am just someone who cares, holding the space as women find their own way.

2. There are no books and no experts that can teach a woman how to birth her baby.

3. VBAC, like all birth, is a spiritual journey. I cannot determine that path. It would be so arrogant to think I could.

I used to think knowledge was power, but many births later, I think getting stuck in our heads takes away our power. Our bodies were designed to birth babies. We are programmed with everything we need to know.   For those of us who are strong, controlling women (yeah, I admit it), it’s so hard to let go and just be still. It’s in this moment of still, that we find the knowledge we were born with.

Knowing can be a really scary place. Realizing that no one else can give you the answers, solve the problem, make it easier, tell you how it will end. On the way to finding our inherent knowledge and strength, we usually meet our demons. Self-doubt, fear, uncertainty, sometimes even self-loathing. Those are hard demons to face. I remember an exercise I once did with another midwife where she had us blow them away with our exhales. It’s was surprisingly liberating.

What I’m learning now, is that the VBAC journey is often about much more than the end of a vaginal birth. It’s about finding your power. It’s about being open to the journey. It’s about taking responsibility and taking charge and learning to let go all at the same time. And that goes for the midwife or doula too.



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VBAC and the Art of Letting Go, Part 3

We’ve been talking about how to get into the right frame of mind for having a VBAC.  Here are a few more tips:

Get determined. Believe you will have a VBAC. Stay away from naysayers or negative birth stories. When the well-meaning friend of relative starts to spew the negative story say “Thank you so much for your concern, but we are only listening to positive stories.” or “Thank you so much for your concern, we know you love us. I promise we have done our research and are making the best choice for our baby.”  Watch all the beautiful HBAC videos on YouTube.

Be open to the possibilities and stay flexible. You might have a super long labor or a fast and furious labor, it could be an orgasmic birth or you might scream the whole time. You could have back labor or you might smile and laugh the whole time. You might have the water birth you’ve dreamed of or you might need to get out of the tub. You might have a home birth or you might need to go to the hospital. Labor is a mystery and if you can surrender, you just might love the adventure of diving into the unknown.

Get exercise every day. Nothing crazy. Weight-lifting and jogging won’t get you a VBAC. A daily walk, yoga practice, or swimming are great ways to keep your body and mind in shape and relaxed.  Belly dancing and hula hooping are becoming more popular among pregnant women as well. Exercise is about more than physical health, it’s also about prioritizing yourself, getting in touch with your body, and reducing stress.

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VBAC and the Art of Letting Go: Part 2

In the last post, we discussed ways to process the trauma of a c-section in preparation for VBAC. As you do that, begin to incorporate these habits into your life:

Practice letting go. When your child or partner tests your patience, take a deep breath and feel your body relax. Find your happy place and go there often. Do it now, deep breath, feel your shoulders drop, ah, feels good, doesn’t it?

Get still with yourself. Recently, after hearing another ICAN leader give this advice, I realized how often I say this.  It’s so, so important. Spend time with yourself each day. Breathe and feel your body relax. If the thoughts swirl, let them, but don’t get stuck on them.  Let your brain get out of the picture and connect with your baby. Rub your belly. If your fears rise up, let them be there for a minute and then let them go. It’s in this quiet place that you can hear your heart, your gut, your innate knowledge, your intuition. Let it guide you.

Meditate, pray or practice deep breathing. Whatever feels right for you. Develop positive affirmations and use them during this time. For example, “my body knows how to birth my baby” or “I am growing a healthy baby, just the right size for my body.” You can even tape them up around the house to remind yourself throughout the day.


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Idaho Medicaid to Cover Licensed Midwives? How ’bout Texas?

In February, Texans for Midwifery, powered by over 100 midwives and consumers went to the Capitol to tell legislators how the state could save money and improve outcomes by covering the services of Licensed Midwives under the State’s Medicaid plan. The overwhelming response, “uh, why aren’t we doing this already?”

This week, the State of Idaho passed legislation to do just this. Lawmakers saw the $ signs and the potential to improve outcomes and voted almost unanimously in favor of the bill, joining 11 other states that already cover these services.

Kind of a no brainer, right? Lower costs, improve outcomes? Makes sense? The state of Texas is currently in a budget crisis. One of the proposed solutions is to cut the Medicaid reimbursement rates paid to physicians. When this happens, doctors drop out of the plan and low-income women have fewer options or cannot find maternity care. What happens then? They show up at expensive emergency rooms and we see declining outcomes.

So how about this? The state covers Licensed Midwives > women on Medicaid have the option to choose a midwife and out-of-hospital birth > more women get quality care > the state potentially saves enough money to prevent reimbursement cuts to physicians, preventing a shortage. That seems like a win-win. Is it just me?

Nope, not just me. Over 350 people have signed TfM’s petition to the TX Health and Human Services Commission. And you can too!

Still not convinced? Here’s a few facts:

  • In Texas, Licensed Midwives (over 200) and Certified Nurse Midwives provide care for women in 216 counties, including 115 counties without an obstetrician
  • In Texas, Medicaid pays over over half of all births in the state
  • Midwife-attended births have significantly reduced rates of preterm birth and low birth weight. These major contributing factors to infant mortality also escalate long term care costs. The medical costs for one premature baby cover a dozen healthy births, according to the March of Dimes.
  • Midwife-attended births involve far fewer costly and preventable interventions. This includes a five-fold decrease in cesarean surgeries.
  • The State of Washington reported $3.1 million in Medicaid savings over two years after it gave low-risk women the option to birth with a midwife outside the hospital. Texas’ population is four times larger, promising much greater savings.

Did you want a midwife, but were unable to afford one because you were on Medicaid?  Tell me about it, and sign the petition.

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VBAC and the Art of Letting Go, Part 1

As an ICAN chapter leader, and as a midwife, I give out lots of information on VBAC.  I tell women that the research shows us that VBAC is safer than Elective Repeat Cesarean (ERCS).  I recommend things like chiropractic care, Mayan Abdominal Massage, Optimal Fetal Positioning, and hiring a doula.  These things truly can be helpful in achieving a VBAC, but they are not the most important things. A VBAC mama can have a vaginal birth without any of these things.  Most of the time, all she really needs is to believe it.

Disclaimer: There is no one way that is right for every woman.  Over the next few days I will discuss strategies worth exploring that have been important for other women.

To get into a frame of mind where you believe in your body and it’s ability to birth, spend time processing your cesarean birth. If it was traumatic, why? Could that be different?  Think about doing some birth art, journaling, attending ICAN meetings, reading Birthing from Within, seeing a professional therapist, practicing Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or EMDR, and anything else you need to do to get it out.  Try some visualization exercises, reframing the birth in a positive way.

In Austin, we not only have a local ICAN chapter, but we also have other great resources such as Carrie Contey, Phd and Conscious Birthing Austin.

Don’t get pregnant so you can have a healing birth. It just doesn’t work this way.  You need to get okay with the idea that you could have another cesarean. Get pregnant when you are ready, because you love being a mom.

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Back to blogging…

After a long hiatus from blogging, I’ve finally decided to get it going again. I think my friends will be grateful for me to have a wider audience for my soapbox soliloquies. So if you’d like in on the fun, make sure to bookmark this page and check back often or go ahead and subscribe.

I’ve got a long list of topics brewing: choosing a care provider, midwives and Medicaid, homebirth safety, beautiful transports, loving early labor, pregnancy and sexuality, pelvic floor health, and plenty of juicy birth stories. But I’d like to start with one of my favorites: VBAC. The first birth I ever attended as a doula was a VBAC and it changed my life in so many ways. In fact, it guides me in my practice still. So stay tuned for my next post: VBAC and the Art of Letting Go.

What are your questions? What topics would you like to hear about on this blog?

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