Soulful Alternatives to Traditional Baby Showers and Childbirth Education | Lunamar Birth Well
While traditional baby showers are undeniably joyous occasions-- bringing family and friends together in a celebration of new life!-- the focus is usually on equipping parents with the many (arguably) essential material items they will need as they embark on their parenting journey. In this way, traditional baby showers fall short in fully honoring how truly profound the transition into parenthood can be.
A threshold ceremony offers a unique and soulful alternative for those seeking an experience that goes far deeper than--- receiving more 0-3 month onesies than your child will ever be able to wear, paper plate bonnets adorned with gift ribbons and bows, or entertaining, but trivial, games like "blindfolded baby doll diapering". These ceremonies go beyond the surface-level festivities and gifts of a traditional baby shower, by incorporating meaningful ritual, intention, heartfelt blessings, symbolic acts, art making, connection, poetry and song, and the celebration of the sacred bond between parent and child.
By embracing ritual, threshold ceremonies become more than just a party; they are a transformative experience that gives pause and holds space for the acknowledgment of the often overlooked emotional and spiritual aspects of new parenthood. A threshold ceremony can provide expectant parents with a profound sense of support, empowerment, heightened awareness, and gratitude-- gifts far greater than a Diaper Genie or bottle warmer.
The next guest in my interview series is a childbirth educator, yoga instructor, and threshold ceremony officiant. Without further ado, I invite you to learn more about the importance of ritual and rite of passage from Molly Leitner of Lunamar Birth Well.
Let’s start with introductions. Could you please share a little about yourself and what you do?
Hello! My name is Molly and I live in Delaware with my husband and two little ones. Through my small business, Lunamar Birth Well, I offer childbirth education classes, prenatal yoga workshops, and prenatal and postpartum threshold ceremonies. These offerings take place online, in client's homes, and in local yoga studios.
I follow the Birthing from Within framework for my childbirth education offerings. These classes are unique because they help to prepare parents for the complete identity shift that happens after a baby is born. In addition to going over birth "basics" (physiology of birth, types of interventions, partner support, etc.) we go deeper by exploring our unconscious feelings about birth through storytelling, art-making, talk processes, and mindfulness practices.
Run-of-the-mill childbirth classes are not designed to get at the heart of every parent's unique, nuanced journey. Being pregnant during the age of the internet is strange because we are constantly bombarded with information. You can Google pretty much anything pregnancy related, but the one thing you can't Google is an exploration of your soul's journey to becoming a parent. In my classes I walk alongside parents as a mentor on their path to find the new versions of themselves that already know how to birth and to parent.
I was inspired to start my business while I was pregnant with my daughter, our second child. Prior to starting this work, I was a K-12 teacher for nearly a decade, so the transition from teaching school-aged kids to teaching parents felt very natural.
For the past several years, prior to becoming a mother, I knew that I wanted to work with people to build community, especially among women, and tried doing this a bit in different spaces (teaching yoga, hosting art events, and moon circles/gatherings) but nothing seemed to speak to this soul-call I was feeling so deeply. It wasn't until I became a mother that I knew where and how this work would live. I like to say that after my son was born, I was born as a mother, and after my daughter was born, this dream work of mine was born: working alongside families, guiding them on the birth path, and building community.
I know that was a long-winded intro, but I'm just so passionate about sharing my new project and the "why" behind it all!
I have always believed that becoming a mother flicks a creative switch in our brains-- my experience childbearing has definitely inspired me to pursue birth photography. Your journey into this soul work, with Lunamar Birth Well, seems to be growing right alongside your motherhood journey as well-- that is beautiful.
I revisited the book 'Birthing from Within' as a resource for its mindfulness and art therapy exercises during each of my pregnancies to prepare for childbirth. I love that you have used it as a framework for your childbirth education offerings-- It is so good! Are your classes just for first time parents?
Absolutely not! Every birth is so incredibly different, as much as we might like to think we will know what to expect if we have done it before. Birth is an incredibly vulnerable, unique, humbling experience, and no matter how many times we do it, there is always something new we can learn not just about birth, but about ourselves. In fact, I offer a class series called "Birthing Again" that is designed specifically for second-time parents and beyond, that addresses the specific challenges and nuances that come with subsequent pregnancies.
In your experience, what are the most common concerns that first time parents have with regards to childbirth? How do you put them at ease?
I think for most first time parents, the "p" word (pain!) is the biggest concern. My doula, Melissa, who attended my daughter's birth, said it best..."You're having a baby, it's not a spa day!"
Something that can be helpful for parents to know is that there is a biological reason behind the pain in childbirth. It's pain with a purpose, because there is a delicate physiological dance that's happening in birth that's different from the pain of, say, stubbing your toe. Pain, however, is different from suffering. Although experiencing pain is often inevitable in childbirth, it is possible to reduce suffering by examining our response to pain and the story we might tell ourselves about it. There are many ways of managing and coping with labor pain, whether through medication, mindfulness practices, relaxation, or visualizations.
In my classes we work to confront the stories we might be telling ourselves about the pain, what it means, and find out ways that work for parents as individuals to mitigate the suffering they might experience. In my work with parents I help guide them to a way to manage pain that feels best for them, and strive to provide them with the information they need to have the best outcomes possible with the choice they hope to make.
Pain is a big one for sure-- I really appreciate that you don't downplay the fact that labor hurts! Knowing your thresholds and learning skills to cope is so important.
Your childbirth education philosophy is centered around empowerment. I agree that through education, pregnant people are empowered with the ability to make informed decisions and to feel confident in those decisions. Could you expand on this?
Our society today is so incredibly polarized on everything, and when it comes to our choices about birth and parenting/motherhood, that polarization multiplies astronomically. I want families to know that every birth is unique, unpredictable, and unknowable. I want families to know that a choice their sister/best friend/colleague/favorite Instagram influencer made during their own birth does NOT have to be the same choice they make for their own birth. Some of us feel safest giving birth in a hospital. Some of us feel safer giving birth at home. Some of us lack resources and infrastructure to be able to choose where or how to give birth. At the same time, many parents (and rightly so!) are so hungry for information that they can tip into overconsumption, and when it's time to make decisions about their birth they can feel overwhelmed or immobile.
My job isn't to tell families what choices I think they should be making regarding their birth preferences. Rather, my goal is to guide parents on their unique path towards birth that feels safe and meaningful for them, giving them resources that can support them, and also asking tough questions about what they will do when something unexpected or unwished-for may arise. And that's where the empowerment piece fits into the puzzle; since birth is inherently unpredictable, I work with parents to help them collect tools and resources that allow them to make the best choices for them from moment to moment in birth, no matter how it unfolds.
When reading through the offerings on your website, the concept that childbirth education could help to “separate feelings of self-worth based on a particular birth outcome” rang true to me. We may have a vision of how we would like our birth to go, but birth often doesn’t always go as planned. How do you address this in your classes? How do you support parents who may have had a previous difficult childbirth experience?
This is a crucial foundation for the training that I've been taking through Birthing from Within. As you prepare for your birth, it is a wonderful practice to envision your birth unfolding in precisely the way you wish for, whether through affirmations or visualizations or a similar practice. And at the same time, it is important to remember that because of the unpredictable nature of birth, if an unplanned or unwished-for event occurs, it's not because we have "failed." In fact, some childbirth education classes go as far as to not broach the topic of possible complications or interventions. The consequence of this is that should someone need a lifesaving intervention in the course of their birth, having no preparation beforehand can be extremely traumatic, leaving parents feeling ashamed or as if they have "failed" somehow. We work together to reframe those feelings by acknowledging that birth is a rite of passage, and rites of passage by definition have us traverse uncharted, and often dangerous, territory. To prepare ourselves it's important to look within to find our unknown, untapped reservoirs of strength to get through the sticky parts when we don't have other recourse other than to keep going.
Many birthing people choose to have an epidural for pain management during labor. For a procedure that is so prevalent, there isn’t much talk about what is actually involved (I think we all get hung up on the length of the needle). It is wonderful that you have created a class specifically to educate expectant parents on everything epidural. Can you do a brief epidural demystification for us? What are the benefits and risks of this procedure?
Yes! Over the winter I researched and wrote a one-of-a-kind live online class called Empowered Epidural. Epidurals are a very effective option for pain relief during childbirth. (If they weren't, the numbers of birthing people who choose to get them wouldn't be so high!) With that said, the idea of getting an epidural has become almost a given for many, and many families are surprised after giving birth by how their birth education on the front end did not prepare them for everything that an epidural entails.
Like any medical procedure, there are benefits and there are risks, for both the birthing person and the baby. For example, someone coming into the hospital with a birth plan that includes wanting to move around might be disappointed when they get an epidural and find they are not permitted to stand or walk once it's placed (you might have heard the term "walking epidural" but you aren't actually able to walk with one placed, despite the name!) When someone is in the middle of a contraction and the nurses hand them the epidural paperwork to sign, they're not going to spend a whole lot of time going through the fine print! I'm not there to tell the parents what is right for them in their birth: I'm there to present the information for them to help them to come to their own decisions about what feels best for them in their body and their birth.
What other topics are covered in your epidural class?
This class is unique because it has specific action items for emotional and physical labor support for partners. Many times, when someone in labor gets an epidural, their partner "checks out" and can often forget there is a baby coming soon! This class gives partners concrete ways to stay active and connected to the birth process to support their partner at every turn.
We also cover alternative and complementary pain coping techniques, which can be employed while the epidural is being administered, or in the case that the pain relief from the epidural medication is not as complete as expected.
The most unique piece in this class is an epidural "rehearsal." Embodied exploration is so important in birth preparation; you can study and read to train your mind for what to expect, but this class takes the extra step to prepare your body for what to expect as well.
What are some different things a birthing person can do while in labor to promote physiological birth if they choose an epidural for pain management?
Definitely try to stay as relaxed as possible. Keep your focus on your breath, repeating an affirmation or a mantra or prayer, whatever works for the person in the moment. Partners can also be a big help by advocating for the birthing person's wishes while in labor. Often, epidurals can lead to other interventions, so a partner who is staying active and asking important questions of the care providers like why the intervention is being suggested, can be an advocate which enables the birthing person to stay as relaxed and focused as possible. There are other birthing positions other than lying on your back that are safe for epidural that can open the pelvis to allow baby to pass through more easily. We go over more tips like this in the class.
Should only the parents with EPIDURAL written in bold letters at the top of their birth plan take this class? Who would you encourage to attend?
Great question! As much as we'd like to think we have control over most things, birth remains mysterious and unique in many ways. I'd recommend this class for anyone who is pregnant- aside from the epidural information a lot of the steps and plans for partner support and pain coping are actionable no matter where or how you plan to give birth. Before giving birth we might be certain we will make one choice, but in the big, tough moments we might have to respond in ways we might not have originally thought we would want to or need to. I think that anyone could benefit from taking this class, whether you're certain you are giving birth in a hospital or you're planning a home birth or birth center birth. Bodies, babies, and birth are all unpredictable!
I noticed that you have BIPOC scholarships available. What other ways do you support BIPOC parents?
Offering my courses on a scholarship is one small way that I can acknowledge broad systemic issues that make it difficult for BIPOC people to access the information and care they desire and deserve. We know that birth outcomes are improved when BIPOC families feel seen and understood by doctors, nurses, midwives, and any other birth work professional from a similar cultural background. I work to point BIPOC families seeking culturally competent perinatal care to local care providers and resources who can help them to get the safe and thorough care they deserve.
I am also a Spanish-speaker, and a goal for next year will be offering my classes and translating materials in Spanish for bilingual families in our area.
As a white cis woman in the birth work field, it's important that I actively acknowledge and interrupt the systems that have benefitted me at the expense of others, so that I may know how to best advocate, support, and work alongside BIPOC families and care providers in our community.
What are some unique challenges that people of colour may face during pregnancy and childbirth? How do you help them navigate these challenges through your childbirth education classes?
The health of a society can be measured by how it treats its mothers, and our society is in acute crisis. It's a fact that BIPOC families, especially Black birthing families, have far worse outcomes from pregnancy and birth than their white counterparts. It's important to recognize that many contributions in standards of pregnancy and postpartum care in the United States were brought forth by Black caregivers, especially grand midwives in the south, as well as through the forced participation by enslaved women. The histories and contributions of Black women have largely been erased from modern western models of care, to the great detriment of the health of Black mothers and families.
As a mentor, when I work with families from marginalized communities, I first just listen to their experiences they are bringing with them and their questions and concerns because the lived experience of systemic racism has real repercussions on pregnancy and birth outcomes. From there we discuss ways the birthing person can advocate for themselves with a care provider so their concerns are heard, and make sure they are connected to local and community support resources for birth AND postpartum (when many maternal and fetal deaths can occur.)
You also offer Threshold Ceremonies-- I am so excited to learn more about them! Can you explain to us what a Threshold Ceremony is and how it differs from a traditional Baby Shower (or Sprinkle)?
A threshold is an in-between space, the space you occupy before crossing into a rite of passage, and once that barrier is crossed you are irrevocably changed. A threshold ceremony is designed to honor this in-between time, and the pause before a life-changing journey. Each threshold ceremony is unique and totally customized to honor the mother or birthing parent. Rather than a traditional baby shower, which focuses on preparing materially for baby's arrival, a threshold ceremony sees, holds, and supports the soon-to-be-mother or parent in the in-between space to guide them through their transformation.
These ceremonies are tailor made for the individual with a wide range of possible activities to honor the liminal space of pregnancy and of what was and what will be. Can you describe a recent threshold ceremony you officiated and what made it unique?
Recently I held space for a mother-to-be who was coming back to her hometown after some time away. We met beforehand to discuss the people she would like to surround and support her and the activities she wanted to include. We created a beautiful "hybrid" ceremony (with most attendees in person plus a relative attending over Zoom.) There was a beautiful collaborative altar creation, some embodied movement practice, and birth art activity that segued into writing birth affirmations. It was small, intimate, and beautiful. It flowed so seamlessly. And really, the best ceremonies write themselves. I am only there to hold the space and keep the boundaries, and from there the magic happens all on its own through the spirit and generosity of the participants. Because each person and each pregnancy is different, really every ceremony is unique in its own way and it's a privilege to witness.
You are a mother of two, have you had threshold ceremonies yourself?
Yes! When I was pregnant with my first child I was participating in a monthly online moon circle (this was right at the height of pre-vaccine pandemic times, when Zoom gatherings were such a lifeline.) One of my friends suggested the next full moon ceremony be dedicated to my transition into motherhood, and the gesture touched me in such a profound way that it really defies explanation. I had never heard of such a thing before and had no idea what to expect! Each woman in the circle led a beautiful activity and I felt so grounded and held in love as I gave birth just a few weeks later. For my second pregnancy my doula facilitated another ceremony the day before Mothers Day, the week before my daughter was born, and again it felt so special and safe to go into her birth feeling held in support and love by women in my life that I care for and who care for me. I want every person who gives birth to feel this support and this love, and so facilitating these ceremonies will always be such a special way for me to give that gift forward.
I love the idea of resetting for baby #2 (or #3, or #4) with a threshold ceremony and for the potential of finding healing through ritual for a past traumatic birth. What special offerings do you suggest for these types of ceremonies?
Absolutely! The beautiful thing about a threshold ceremony is that it honors any important moment in the cycle of the birth space, whether it's resetting for a new child, finding healing after pregnancy loss, or to process a past difficult birth experience. By no means is a ceremony a panacea or a substitute for mental health care that is often needed in certain instances. However, something as simple as taking a walk in nature, finding a beautiful pebble, and placing it by the bank of a creek can be meaningful and healing if it's done with intention by the participant.
Do you also offer “sealing” ceremonies for when people are done childbearing, know that their family is complete, and wish to honor this time in their life?
I absolutely love this idea, and have been seeing traditional "bone closing" ceremonies from other cultures getting more and more popular. At the moment I don't have a specific "sealing" offering, but I'll say again that the beauty of the threshold ceremonies is that they really are so unique and nuanced, and when done with intention, can honor any point in the cycle of birth, parenting, mothering, and loss/ending/closing.
Some simple yet meaningful rituals that can be imbued with meaning to honor the end of childbearing time could be planting a tree or shrub, or painting a rock or pebble and putting it somewhere where they can see it every day.
Why is taking a moment of pause to reflect on where we have been and to look ahead to where we are going so important before the transformative process of childbirth?
You're not only birthing a baby. You're birthing an entirely new and different version of yourself into the world. That is why taking this pause is so crucial. Our culture is so speed-driven that we don't honor the space and time it takes to complete the metamorphosis of becoming a new parent. This can feel so disorienting and disheartening. Although many obvious changes of pregnancy occur externally (as evidenced by countless Instagram posts of bellies growing week-by-week) pregnancy and birth are even more so a time of total soul transformation, which is invisible. It's crucial that we recognize this by honoring and thanking the pre-parent version of ourselves, and going into birth knowing that all or some of those parts of us might be left behind on the journey of birth. The pause allows us to acknowledge the loss and create space for new growth to take root.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
For anyone who would like a preview of what my offerings are like, I host four annual gatherings (for free!) for pregnant people and postpartum people. They usually coincide with the equinox and solstice seasons (March, June, September, and December), and I will post all relevant details a few weeks before each event on my Instagram and website. The next one will be happening on Sunday June 25 at the Copeland Sculpture Garden at the Delaware Art Museum.
If you are pregnant and interested in learning more about Birthing from Within, please get in touch with me! I have space this summer to work with 2-3 couples one-on-one. Beginning in fall 2023 I will have two options for regular circle gatherings for postpartum people. More details are coming soon that I'm not quite ready to share yet but I'm so excited to give mothers (however you identify with the word) the opportunity to gather, connect, celebrate, and support one another in a deeply meaningful ways through these distinct, unique offerings, so please check back in this fall for more!
How can people connect with you?
I'm on Instagram @lunamarbirthwell.
My website lunamarbirthwell.com has descriptions of all of my offerings and events, registration forms, and a general contact form to get in touch.
If you enjoyed this interview, check out these other articles featuring birth and baby workers and creative momprenuers!