We had all had rough days.
Some of us had had rough weeks, some of us were ill or in pain, or had emotional issues troubling us.
When I first realized this, getting ready in our bedroom in the early evening, I — of course — worried. Worried that we would all be too tired to enjoy ourselves. Worried that my dear ones had stressed themselves out, trying to pull together this Blessingway in my honor. Worried that our hearts would be in the right place but our bodies might not cooperate.
I dried my hair, and after I finished, I heard car doors slam shut outside. My girls were here. I didn’t bother with mascara — I knew there would be some sort of tears at some point in the evening; tears of emotion or joy or laughter or overwhelmed gratitude. I threw on the dress I’d worn for maternity pictures, earlier in the week, figuring I might as well get some more use out of it than just that one single occasion, and then I headed out the front door to the front porch.
Already, my ladies had hung a bright tie-dyed sheet of Lauren’s, blocking most of the party space from view. They would allow me behind it, but they wouldn’t let me help with anything, so I decided to park it in a chair outside the curtain and let myself be surprised when they’d finished setting up completely.
I didn’t feel great, I’ll admit it. I’d had an emotional day, more stress than I’d expected, and my hormones ready and rarring to escalate every emotion to its highest level, even when it wasn’t called for. Physically, I had pushed myself a bit farther than I should have. My back was killing me, my carpal tunnel was causing both my hands to ache, and my poor pregnant feet were certainly reacting to doing chores all day and the summer heat. Worst — my Braxton Hicks contractions were really amped up that evening — I was trying to catch up on my hydration, and sit still to let my body rest — but they were intense, and frequent. Not regular, or painful — never quite enough to make me actually worry about actual labor — but close enough that one or two times throughout the evening, I had an inward moment of, if this keeps up, we might turn this Blessingway into a Birthingway. (Luckily, that didn’t end up happening, and at the end of the night, with plenty of water and my feet propped up, everything returned to normal.)
So I sat, and listened as my friends called to each other, working together to transform the porch into a little wonderland for a few hours. Lauren turned on some music and it spilled out into the evening air.
Suddenly, I felt a sense of peace wash over me. Whatever I had been upset about all day, whatever I apprehension I had for the evening’s festivities — it all faded away. The sun was not yet quite beginning to set, but the hour drew nearer. Beyond the porch and the trees of the neighborhood, the sky flared from blue to rose and amber, and the last of the afternoon sunlight cut angles across the porch, shining through that tie-dye sheet. Suddenly, everything felt exactly as it should. I was happy to be there, happy to have my girls there to celebrate with me. Happy to have my husband inside enjoying some dude time, happiest of all to have my daughter kicking and wiggling in my belly as I waited.
When they allowed me back behind the curtain, I walked into a little fairy land. The railings and the table had all been draped with more tie-dyed cloths. Laureny’s beautiful fabric hanging dominated one side, and at our feet, vases of flowers punctuated every few feet, surrounded by tealight candles. Twinkle lights had been draped from the hanging hooks of the porch, and our chairs had been arranged in a circle just off of the food table, brimming with more flowers alongside homemade cupcakes and other goodies.
They ushered me into a chair, brought me a plate and lemonade, and each got settled with a plate and a seat themselves. Jeannie, my sister. Becky, one of my oldest friends, and her sweet daughter, Lucy. Kristin, my soon to be labor and delivery nurse and advocate. Emi, my best friend and my doula all rolled into one. Laureny, my heart.
We talked, and ate, and at first, it was enough just to decompress. To watch Lucy doze in her carrier, to listen to the music, and compliment the snacks.
Then Emi started on the craft projects. First up — making flower crowns. A very Emmy thing to do, and wear at a party thrown for me. Emi explained and demonstrated how to pick our flowers, make little bouquets, and floral tape them together before wiring them to grapevine headbands. For a long while, we trimmed and taped, held up our work and asked for advice, helping each other pick where to place and how to combine the colors. After a while, we each wore a flower crown of our own making — each unique, and somehow reflecting the personality of the wearer.
We paused for a group picture — I’ll admit here and now, this night was not my best picture taking venture. As I said, my hands were hurting and the BH were intense — I tried to snap some here and there as I could, and the girls took over from time to time, but my heart wasn’t into framing and finding the light like it usually is. And well, in the group picture, you can tell it was a hot, humid, summer Kentucky night, and that most of us were tired, sick, and/or in pain. But I’m always glad to have a group photo, always glad to look back and see that moment in time, that group of people brought together to celebrate.
Emi’s next project was made possible with a big help from Becky — BB had sewn a flag banner for the girls to decorate as a Birth Affirmations flag. We will get to hang it in the delivery room when I’m in labor, and each of the girls spent some time decorating a square with a word for me to focus on — courage, trust, strength, love, bliss, surrender — and in the center of it all, my daughter’s name, a reminder of why I will be working so hard and enduring so much — for my great reward at the end of all of it.
Night had really fallen, by this point, and we flicked on the porch light to add to the twinkle lights. The trees surrounded the house made us seem so isolated, even though we could hear cars on the road, the occasional voice of neighbors down the road. Over all of it, the crickets and frogs drowning out every other sound. Truly a Kentucky summer.
We moved on from crafts to some truly spiritual, emotional moments that touched and humbled me so much.
I remained in my chair as the girls gathered around me, laying their hands on my shoulder or belly, or held my hand. Lauren led this slow, thoughtful prayer. Trying to recreate or restate it here would just fall flat — it was beautiful, and simple, and heartfelt. The baby shifted under their hands as Lauren prayed, and we all breathed slow and deep together. I love these moments of spiritual humbleness among friends. They’re not always common — it takes vulnerability, and also a sense of gravitas — a seriousness not common in our day to day lives. To me, it’s always so comforting — to really let go of expectation or learned behaviors and be truly present with other people. There’s no pretending, there’s no room for embarrasment. To have so many friends willing to go there and experience that and give their time and their spirit to that effort — it touched me. Quieted something in my soul, gentled it.
From there, we moved onto the burning of sage. Jeannie had led this at Emi’s Blessingway last year, and the sage bundle I had was leftover from that same ceremony. Again, burning sage as a ceremony is often used to clear negative energy or bad feelings, cleansing a space or a person’s spirit. It’s a good way to clear fear or negativity, to release blockages whether physical or emotional. My sister gently burned sage around me, letting just the tiniest bit of cleansing smoke settle near me before drifting away, and then shared the cleansing with the other girls.
And then — oh my goodness. This next gift.
As Jeannie finished with the last of the sage, I watched as Emi started moving some of the tea candles to the steps, and got me settled in a chair at the head of them. I had no idea what to expect next. Lauren handed a speaker and her phone to Becky, murmured some instructions. Emi and Lauren looked at each other, kind of gauging each other, if they were ready.
Oh, I realized suddenly, you are going to sing, or dance.
Emi smiled. We’re going to dance for you.
There could be no more perfect gift. Especially from these two in particular.
The music was simple, with no words, but built and built with intensity. Almost as soon as they started, I felt tears prick in my eyes and had to cover my mouth with my hand. Jeannie put her hand on my shoulder, I could hear Lucy cooing in Becky’s arms next to me.
It was well dark by then, but with the candles and the porchlights, I could see just fine. The crickets continued to hum, and out on the open grass, my two best friends danced together for me. What I didn’t know at the time was that their dance was completely contact improv — meaning they had really nothing prepared. They agreed on how to start, the music began playing, and they danced — reacting to each other’s touch and movement, playing off each other’s spacing. They twirled and leaned on each other, lifted each other, shifted weight back and forth. At the time — I had no clue it was improv’d. I thought they’d choregraphed and rehearsed, it was that seamless and smooth. Certain motifs kept arising — one of them would hold the other, cradle her, lower the other to the ground, or lift her back up. There was so much symbolism in it — I thought of sisters helping each other, a doula helping a laboring mother, or a mother holding and loving her child. Layer upon layer of meaning, and the entire time — my baby kicked more then I had felt her all day. She knew some how, what was going on, and kicked and kicked as I felt overwhelmed with love and gratitude at this gift.
It was hands down my favourite part of the night — I have a taping of it, but it is dark and dim and hard to see. And more — it’s an intimate sort of performance, one built on trust and openness. I’m glad I have the recording to rewatch, because I am immediately taken back to that feeling when I do watch it — but it seems too much to share, I couldn’t quite do it justice.
And then, as if everything they had already done, the girls showered me with gifts — gifts for myself, like oils and balms, candles and protection bracelets from the Rock Shop that I love so much, and gifts for baby, a beautiful swaddle, a fairy toy, books, and burp cloths. Generosity on top of generosity, and afterwards, I didn’t feel like I had the right words to express the depth of my gratitude. I tried to say thank you, and look each of them in the eye as I did so, as I told them I loved them, and my words felt flat and hollow against the great gift they had given me with their time and their effort and their very clear and palpable love.
The hour was late, when we finally wrapped up. Everyone, as I’ve said, was tired or sick or hurting. But I, at least, know the ending ended on such a high note, such a happy one. The girls worked together again to clean up the area, taking down the hangings and throwing away trash and letting Shaun help them load up their cars. Within 20 minutes, it was as if nothing had ever happened there. The porch was just a porch again, and one by one, I hugged them all goodbye with another round of thanks and I love you, and they all drove away.
This morning, though, I feel the remnants. It’s hard not to get irritable or frustrated when you’re nine months pregnant. There is the waiting, and the attempts not to worry. There is the discomfort, and the no sleeping, the clumsiness and the desire to function like a regular person. Yesterday, I was the epitome of cranky pregnant woman — keyed up, emotional, bogged down in my physical discomfort. Today — I’m not magically better, I still have aches and pains, and yes, the (more occasional) Braxton Hicks. But my soul feels lighter, cleaner. My Fierce Ladies wove a spell of magic and love over me and over my baby last night, and I’m hoping that feeling will stick around for weeks to come, until she’s finally here and in our arms, and able to meet all of her loving aunties in person.