Guest Post: Two Baby Blessings
I have two daughters. At the time of my first daughter’s birth I am a mostly-orthodox Mormon. We do her baby blessing at my mom’s house. We live out of state, and it makes the most sense for our small family to travel to them than to have both our families come to us.
It’s a beautiful spring day. Family and friends fill my mom’s living and dining rooms. There are hugs and smiles all around. I’m holding my baby niece, just 6 weeks older than my own daughter. I check the clock, make eye contact with my husband, and a nod communicates that it’s time to start. He gets our new baby daughter–wearing the white dress and bonnet I was blessed in as an infant–and starts gathering those who will participate. The crowd shuffles around to make room for the circle near the fireplace. I look around for the parents of the baby I’m holding, see they’re busy with their two other children, and decide to keep the baby. There’s an odd sense of confusion and amusement as I realize there is no reason for me to pass this baby to someone else. I could hold her during the blessing. As my first child is blessed, I stand in the back of the room, bouncing another baby, like any other observer. There’s a special kind of sting in my heart.
Three and a half years later I’ve gone through a feminist awakening and resulting faith transition. I birth another daughter. As her birth approaches, I know I want her blessing to be different. I know trying to take a standard Mormon baby blessing and make it inclusive will result in disappointment, dissatisfaction, and potentially in conflict with church leaders and family members. I don’t need that. I don’t want to be in a position where I have to ask to be included in my own daughter’s blessing and maybe be told “no.” So, I claim power and authority in my own life and design my own blessing ritual. It is everything I want it to be.
This time the blessing is at my in-law’s home. After a few days of snow, we are blessed with a clear day making travel easy and safe. Family and friends fill the living and dining rooms. There are hugs and smiles all around. My new baby is wearing the same white blessing dress and bonnet. My husband and I stand together near the fireplace and welcome our guests. We invite my mom and his dad to talk about their grandmothers, whose names our new daughter bears.
My husband performs the traditional Mormon baby blessing. He asks our daughter and I to hold the baby during the ordinance. Then I introduce my ritual:
“We use ritual to mark important events in our life cycles, times when our world changes. At births, deaths, marriages, and graduations, for example, something fundamental changes and we are not the same as we were before. Rituals mark the change. Communities come together around ritual to share the experience and/or show support. With the birth of this child, our world changed forever. Our family will never be the same. We have invited you all here to recognize and celebrate this important shift in our world. We thank you for your support. You all are the village that will help raise this child, and we love you, value you, and welcome all of you to participate with us in welcoming our new child into our community. We will now allow time for any who would like to share your hopes, wishes, or blessings for our new baby.”
I ask my husband’s mother to start. She shares beautiful advice about turning life’s challenges and difficulties into goodness the way the grandma our baby is named for turned inedible chokecherries into chokecherry jam. I designed the format to include all important people in our lives regardless of their gender or status with the Mormon church. We hear from my best friends, my brother, my uncle, the baby’s grandpa. They each come forward and hug us. I reserve my words for last. As I didn’t get to participate in my first daughter’s blessing, I prepared my words for both my daughters. My husband holds our daughter, and I hold our baby. We stand together as I share my blessing for my daughters:
“My dear daughters,
May you never doubt that you are loved.
May you find a place you belong in the world.
May you know you will always have a place you belong in our family.
May you benefit from the support of your community. I hope you will recognize what your loved ones have to give to you and will take advantage of their support without regret or guilt.
May you find your voice and let it be heard. Finding your voice is a process of finding your passion. I hope you will use your voice for good, for when one woman doesn’t speak, other women get hurt. I hope you won’t let me or anyone else silence your voice.
Like a bird in the wind, may you use your challenges to rise higher. May you find a way around the gusts that would push you down. May you know that against the strongest winds merely holding steady is an accomplishment, and may you be content in that knowledge. May you have the wisdom to know when to land and wait out the storm.
I warn you that there will be people who want to clip your wings or cage you under the guise of protection or admiring your beauty. May you resist the temptation of this flattery.
May you find joy.
May you feel passion.
I’m borrowing my closing words from a woman I admire. ‘Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.’”
We invite our guests to stay for brunch. We serve bakery breads with chokecherry jam and fresh oranges we’ve brought with us from California to celebrate orange feasts my mother had with her grandmother. I love that as we celebrate and welcome a new daughter to our family, the memories, influence, and strength of her foremothers are present, connecting our daughters to the generations of faithful, beautiful, and independent women who came before them.