Pre-natal henna, in the way of Belly Henna is a growing global trend in recent years, often as part of a Mother/Belly Blessing party – based on and inspired by the religious, spiritual and very sacred Navajo Blessingway ritual. Out of respect for the requests of the Navajo people, I refer to this newer trend as Belly/Mother Blessing celebrations:
“1. In 2004, Native feminists wrote us to request that the term ‘Blessingway’ no longer be used to describe non-Navajo prenatal ceremonies such as the one described in this article. They explained that the term ‘Blessingway’ refers to a sacred spiritual ceremony performed by the Navajo people to celebrate rites of passage that occur throughout the entire life cycle, and not only the passage into motherhood. They suggested the term ‘Mother Blessing’ was a more appropriate term for a ceremony that was influenced, and respectful, of this tradition, but not practiced in accordance with the Navajo faith and culture. We completely agree.
Out of respect for the great history and importance of the Blessingway to Navajo people, many doulas, midwives and mothers now use the term ‘Mother Blessing’ to denote the celebration outlined in this article — a practice we have also adopted.”
Intended as a more spiritual alternative to the usual Baby Shower, a Belly Blessing is a celebration of the Mother-to-be and her transition into motherhood. Inviting only the most implicitly trusted friends of the momma-to-be, a circle is formed to support her in the new role as a mother. Often, the rituals and activities practiced in the gathering centre around the mother-to-be and will serve as reassuring, empowering memories after baby has arrived.
As the focus of the Belly Blessing is on the mother-to-be and not the baby, any gifts or intentions formed at these celebrations is less about new baby clothes, nappies and toys for the baby, and more about celebrating the miracle of pregnancy, embracing the changes in the body (through decorating the belly bump), the journey of becoming a mother, forming a physical and spiritual bond of friendship plus other support systems such as a food network (to ensure the new parents will have food each night but setting up a food delivery rota) or other practical friendly visits to help with regular family and household living.
The concept is very moving, and one that captivates me, frequently making me wish I had known of such a celebration before I had my two children.
As a henna artist, my role within such celebrations is to decorate ‘the bump’ with meaningful, intentional and safe natural henna body art. I consult with the mother-to-be about any previous skins conditions or reactions to henna, and also any pregnancy related sensitivities (smell, for example) to ensure that the henna recipe I use will be suitable for use on her skin. I take the time to ensure that any concerns over the safety of henna during pregnancy are answered with accurate information. If there are any noted sensitivities to my usual lavender oil or even to the stickiness of sugar on the skin, then I will mix up a custom batch of henna paste, specific to the mother’s needs and adapt my advised aftercare routine. It is also important to note any sensitivities of existing children within the family, as they will also be close to momma while her henna dries or when she is using her aftercare oils. Every care must be taken to ensure the suitability of the henna and aftercare to mother and child.
I met my model, Christine, roughly 8 years ago shortly after I had my first child. At that time she had one son with ideas about having more children (!) When I caught up with her for this photo shoot, she had added two beautiful daughters to her brood in the interim and was expecting her fourth baby. Absolutely amazing!
She came forward when I made requests for a belly model for a pre-natal henna photo shoot. When asked about the thought process behind it, her answer was that she wanted to do something during this her last pregnancy, for herself. “Something just for me” were her words. And why not?
We discussed a design direction that she would be comfortable with, choosing a more symmetrical mandala over something floral with a more spontaneous flow. This was extremely exciting for myself and Louise (of Louise Rayner Photography) as there are so, so many beautiful examples of Belly Henna that we had pinned on Pinterest for inspiration in the run up to the photo shoot.
Traditionally, Belly Blessing henna can be applied any time up to the few days just before the due date. This means that the henna can still be present at the time of birth and can serve as an empowering reminder of the Belly Blessing circle of support. Some mommas choose to have their belly henna a few days before their Belly Blessing so that the stain will be ready for the gathering and any photos taken on the day.
As it takes 2 days for the henna stain to fully mature, we returned to re-shoot Christine’s Belly Henna on Wednesday. Blighted by torrential rain that day, our options were limited, but Louise’s quality work came through as can be seen in the following gallery of photos. I was so pleased with the stain result!
You will often hear me declaring that belly henna is my absolute favourite canvas. There are particular nuances to pre-natal belly henna – as well as being round, the canvas very often moves as baby senses the movement while the henna is being applied. Also, as momma-to-be is usually busy and moving her movements usually rock the baby to sleep. Once she takes some time to sit and chill for a relaxing session of henna, baby will often wake and move around a little. Another unique quality about belly henna is that the shape of the design can vary from when momma is seated or standing. So, it can take practice and preparation to ensure the design is laid out in anticipation of that. Each belly is unique in its beauty and shape. What I love is having the honour of being part of such a special and miraculous journey in the circle of life. To have the privilege of spending some valuable downtime with a woman during a period of significant transition, connecting over henna is just about the most wonderful way to express my art.
And, as a truly perfect finale for this beautiful and my most favourite photo shoot yet, two weeks later Christine gave birth to a beautiful baby boy on the 8th of February, Chinese New Year. His name is Jack.
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If you, or someone you know ,would like to book a session of pre-natal belly henna to celebrate yourself and the journey into motherhood, you can do so via the bookings page. Or you can drop me an email to discuss any questions or ideas you may have on: firstname.lastname@example.org
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