Welcoming ceremony – babyhood / toddlerhood

IMG_1631This week has seen my little lad’s second birthday which, naturally, has sparked reminiscence about his first birthday and his actual birth – day. We combined our celebration of his turning one with a kind of welcoming ceremony. We welcomed his earth-side arrival when he was born, of course, as well as in an intimate, informal ceremony on our return home from the hospital. (A ceremony held at 1a.m in the “welcoming nest” of cushions and blankets we had made before we had left the house. It was just the three of us after a crazy, traumatic birth journey and we were exhausted. But it was here that we named Dylan and said our real “hello” and “welcome” to him). On his first birthday, we wanted to share a celebration of Dylan’s coming into our lives with special people who we loved and respected, and who we hoped would hold strong roles in Dylan’s life. Apart from church Christenings, or equivalents in other religions, there are seemingly few options for this kind of rite of passage. So we made up our own.

CNV00103Fortunately, his the day fell on a weekend which made it easier to gather the friends and family that we wanted there – especially because we invited them with a lot of advance notice. We were also blessed with beautiful weather: perfect for the garden ceremony that we had planned. My husband, Rob, and I stood in front of these twenty-something people holding Dylan, and thanked them all for coming. At that age, Dylan was a big fan of clapping. We told our guests that, throughout the ceremony, we would sometimes say “yay for us!” or “yay for Dylan!” and that we would like them to repeat that back, with much clapping. (One of the things I love most about creating DIY ceremonies is that you can personalise them by throwing in little phrases like this that you wouldn’t get in, say, most church services. Your guests will remember them!).

We then sang “happy birthday” to the star of the show before Rob explained how we were celebrating a whole earth-turn since Dylan’s birth and a year of us living as a family. And that we were also celebrating our transition from maiden to mother, youth to father and couple to parents. We acknowledged that it had been a year of magic, exhaustion, intense fun. sacrifice, abundant love, surprises and the blessing of daily challenges – with the learning an fulfillment that they bring. (Yay for us, clap clap!)

Rob and I then turned to each other and, in turn, thanked each other for their daily love, support and acceptance. “Wowzers, we created a whole new person! And he’s ace!” is another phrase probably not found in the standard Christening service of most churches. We welcomed each other to the next bit of our path, promising to keep each other in sight as we grow our Dylan. We hugged.

We then lit a candle to remind us of the light and sparkle that family life brings, saying that we would remember that candle on the days when we feel in need of strength and smiles.

We then turned to Dylan, who by then was probably toddling around the garden. We thanked him for coming into our lives and bringing us so much joy. We acknowledged how he had grown and developed in so many ways during that year and welcomed him towards the end of babyhood and start of toddlerhood – and beyond. “Yay for Dylan! Clap, clap!”.

We had bought Dylan a dwarf apple tree, which we then presented to him, promising to nurture him and the tree through times of blossom, fruiting, being bare and being in bud. We then made some vows to him, representing each vow with a blackberry (his very favourite fruit). As we spoke each vow, we handed him a blackberry, picked that morning on the estate we lived on. After all the vows were made, and his chin was as purple as could be, we shared the remaining berries with the guests with another “yay for Dylan!” and more clapping.

We then assembled everyone in a line, standing with their legs apart. The idea was that all of these people had already reached toddlerhood and that Dylan would, if comfortable doing so, crawl through their legs to resemble being welcomed to post-babyhood by us all. He more or less did so and was enthusiastic about it (we wouldn’t have pushed it at all if he was reluctant). At the end of the “tunnel”, our younger guests had assembled a tower of Dylan’s stacking cups for him to knock over; cue more clapping and “yay for Dylan!”s!

CNV00101We then thanked everyone for coming, stating our belief that it takes a village to raise a child and that we wanted them to be the heart of that village. Before the birthday feast commenced, we asked everyone to contribute the blessing or motto that we had asked them to prepare beforehand to the bookcase that we had bought for Dylan and painted leaves on; one for every guest to write in.

This year, his birthday was more relaxed and low key. We planned a day of things he loved; us, his grandparents and best friend (and his parents); a farm trip; a picnic of foods he loves; a boat-shaped cake; a walk in the woods and a trip to a noodle restaurant. As a bonus, we were blessed with beautiful weather again, and a hot air balloon display across the Bristol sky. Yay for Dylan. ♥

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Weaning ceremony

It’s a year since we welcomed our little lad into the world of solid food. Tasty, nutritious, ethically-sourced wholesome food is very important in our household so we wanted to really celebrate this welcoming. Furthermore, we saw the start of weaning as being another step to Dylan becoming an independent little being, the first step having been birth. As his birth had been a pretty traumatic ordeal for us all, we were keen to make this rite far more positive and spiritual. Here’s what we did….

  • We had kept Dylan’s placenta. This was the only thing in our birth plan that had stayed intact! His placenta was what had nourished him before his birth- after which, my breasts took over and the placenta sat wrapped in a few plastic bags in our freezer for 6 months. You could still have a weaning ceremony if you didn’t keep the placenta or didn’t breastfeed; this is just what we did.
  • We’d dug a deeeeeep hole in the ground so that it could now nourish the soil, its inhabitants, the plants above it and the creatures who feed off those plants. In the UK, human tissue being buried legally has to be 6 feet underground. My husband and I placed in the hole some broccoli – this and sweet potato were Dylan’s very first foods – and some rosemary for remembrance and to mask any smells from foxes.
  • We covered the placenta with chicken-wire (more fox-proofing!) and then filled the hole, reaffirming the pledges of support, love, respect and mentoring we made to Dylan at his home-welcoming ceremony when we arrived back from hospital- another little ritual of just the three of us. We decorated the space with some more rosemary and petals, giving thanks again to the placenta for having nourished Dylan to be healthy and beautiful.
  • We acknowledged our journey in becoming parents and the learning, sacrifice, magic and fun that this had necessitated. We acknowledged our healing process from the birth and stated our hopes for our continued journey in parenting.
  • We thanked each of the four elements for the part they play in making Dylan and in his life. We remembered all those who had been parents before us, asked for their wisdom and gave them thanks.
  • We hugged and went to make a cup of tea. By appropriate coincidence, Dylan needed some mama-milk and my mum rang unexpectedly. I was feeling quite emotional and it felt really special to feel that mother-daughter bond at the end of a ceremony related to my own becoming of a mother.

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Reasons to have a weaning ceremony

  • My personal belief is that we’ve lost a lot of “rites of passage” in our culture. The ones that remain, like weddings, we tend to inflate – perhaps to compensate. Your baby is moving onto a new stage and it’s always lovely to have a celebration!
  • Our ceremony was very intimate (just us 3) and informal – partly because at this stage Dylan was still breastfeeding A LOT and wanting to be held most of the rest of the time. We just didn’t have the energy to include much else, bake cake, do decorations or poems, have guests etc. But you certainly could! You could incorporate it into a naming/welcoming ceremony if you didn’t have one close after birth.
  • If like us you had a traumatic birth experience, marking the passage to the next stage positively could provide the space to acknowledge your feelings around the birth, take stock of what you’ve achieved since and celebrate that. Sure, your pain from the way the birth went may be hanging around but you can bring to this ceremony all the positive energy, affirmations, whatever that you planned to be present at your little one’s entrance to the world.
  • If you had a beautiful birth experience,it could provide a nice space to remember and draw on that.

Other things  to consider

  • If you’d like to keep your placenta but don’t want to bury it, consider the post-partum benefits of its nutrients: http://placentanetwork.com/. Or consider placenta art: http://birthspool.blogspot.co.uk/2008/02/how-to-make-placenta-print.html.
  • Again, legally (in the UK) your buried placenta should be 6 feet under. If you’re not that fussed about adhering strictly to the law, do consider that foxes may dig it up!
  • If you didn’t/don’t want to keep your baba’s placenta, you can still celebrate when they move onto solids! You could put a drop of breast milk/formula milk in the hole instead, or something symbolic of the pregnancy/birth/your young baby that will biodegrade easily.
  • If you didn’t breastfeed, welcoming your baby to the world of solid food from a purely formula diet is still worth celebrating! As are the other changes that have happened since birth; by now, your child is likely to be smiling and rolling over and may well be crawling, waving and have teeth.
  • If you do invite people to/tell them about your ceremony, consider how they may react (and if you care about how they do!) Some of our friends and family thought it was totally cool, others were quite wierded out….and it wasn’t always the ones we expected.

I’d love to hear what you do/did!  ♥