When it’s their child’s birthday, of course I wish parents “Happy Birthday!” Then I always add, “And Happy Birth Day, too.” Why?
Many parents are not women or mothers, and many families don’t begin with birth. But every parent has a story, and every child arrives in a way their parents never forget.
There is the foster parent who met their child in the NICU at 22 days old. Parenthood began for them with another family’s loss, they said.
There is the mother blessing/healing ritual held four weeks postpartum, after preeclampsia necessitated a frighteningly premature birth.
There are the grandmothers, almost 78 and 80 years old, who, when asked, can still recall their births of many decades ago, each with searing clarity and emotion.
From long journeys though fertility treatments, recurrent losses or adoptions to quick conceptions and unexpected arrivals, each mother, parent and family has a beginning or birth story to tell (it includes the children they did not have, too).
Their stories are about being shaped, stretched, surprised, humbled, scared, proud, sad, delighted, and everything in between.
In short, they are stories of being profoundly changed.
Jessi Cross is an artist and art therapist in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Our paths aligned in 2014 when we were both new mothers. Jessi had just created a series of paintings called “
Processing Birth,” about her unplanned Cesarean delivery.
Jessi shared how her highly medical birth had initially left her feeling disconnected from the experience. Revisiting the birth through painting, she was able to reclaim it as her own. “I made meaning of it for myself,” she told me.
Jessi’s training in narrative and art therapy no doubt helped her to understand how looking back on her emotions and experiences from the birth could support her in making sense of and finding meaning in what had happened.
Jessi shared that she was also in a mother’s group where the majority of their meetings were devoted to sharing birth stories, and said that while painting had allowed her to process her son’s delivery, she knew many others for whom journaling had been a helpful tool.
In my work I often witness how powerful ritual and ceremony can be in healing, integrating and finding meaning and value in our life’s journey.
Sadly, our culture’s prevailing rituals and ceremonies around birth — baby showers and birthday parties — offer none of that. They aren’t planned for that purpose.
Baby showers and birthday parties aren’t designed to make meaning.
I’ve written in the past about my own mother blessing, or Blessingway, including the rituals, birth affirmations and readings and poems we incorporated in the ceremony. I’ve officiated mother blessings and served as a Ceremony Guide to other mothers and families.
What I know from my own personal experience, as well as over a decade of professional experience, is that whether you create a birthing ritual, share your birth story or paint, journal or find other means of creative expression, the most important thing is to claim meaning for ourselves.