Updated: Feb 2
We have reached the midpoint of the dark half of the year. Though we are still nestled in the heart of winter here in the northeast, the angle of the light and the strength of the sun filling a bright room is perceptibly different than it was at Solstice. Suddenly the seed catalogs beckon and it is at least conceivable that there will be spring yet again. Imbolc- 'ewe's milk' is a celebration of the transformative process of birth, and the sacred milk of life that flows from the teats of sheep who have just begun lambing in Ireland and Scotland where much of the lore around Imbolc originates.
Imbolc is also the celebration of the celtic Goddess Brighid. Midwife, healer, herbalist, blacksmith, wordsmith, keeper of the sacred flame and the holy well. Brighid is known for her tireless generosity, as she spreads her blue cloak over the fields, fiercely protective of the land, and the mothers and children. Celebrations continue in honor of Brighid throughout Ireland, and include Biddy dancers who gather outside and dance to honor Brighid and ask for her protection and care as she breaks the grip of winter and welcomes in the new growing season with the birth of the lambs. The weaving of Brighids crosses is a yearly tradition, to hang on the door or near the fire place, to protect the home in the coming year. It is also customary to lay a cloth outside on the eve of Imbolc to be blessed by Brighid as she passes by. This cloth is kept throughout the year and laid upon those who are sick or in need of healing.
We are in the belly of winter, held in the womb, but closer to the bursting open of spring. Here in the cold stillness of the end of Janury, birth is on my mind. As I am writing, I am aware that exactly a year ago I was in labor, walking up and down our road in the bitter sub-zero cold, and resting on the couch near the woodstove. I was writhing in the greatest pain and power my body has ever experienced, trying to remain open as each contraction gripped my whole being. I was lovingly supported through a very long labor, and after a couple of nights and finally spending hours in several different uncomfortable positions with the expertise of my midwives, without progress, we went to the hospital.
I so wanted a home birth, and I had imagined exactly what it would look and feel like. And yet there I was, being driven down the bumpiest road in Vermont, gratefully getting into a hospital bed, lovingly clutching the hand of the anaesthesiologist who gave me an epidural, and finally surrendering. All these things I swore I would never, ever do. And finally, by the grace of Brighid I pushed my son into the world, surrounded by loving family and amazing nurses, complete with bagpipe music! In the end it was a beautiful and perfect birth in it's own right. Throughout this past year bouts of grief and shame have surfaced around the fact that my birth didn't go as planned. I have questioned myself and my own strength. Surrendering to what needed to happen and letting go of my expectations was the first huge lesson as a new mother. We can set our intentions, and visualize exactly how we want everything to unfold, (which is still helpful to do), but ultimately we are at the mercy of so much more than our own will or plans. Learning to gracefully accept the unexpected, and treat myself kindly in the process, has been one of the greatest challenges of parenthood so far.
With Jamie's birth so full in my heart, I thought I would share some of the herbal things that I found really nourishing and helpful during pregnancy, labor and postpartum.
Maybe this is relevant to you directly, or will give you an idea for a way to support someone in your life who is bringing new life into this waiting world!
(none of this is medical advice and any pregnant or nursing person should seek the advice of a professional before taking something new).
Tea for morning sickness:
ginger or peppermint
Nourishing tea blend
For the second and third trimester: full of vitamins and minerals, supportive of the adrenals and toning for the uterus.
Red Raspberry leaf
Raspberry Leaf and Nettle ice cubes
(I made raspberry leaf tea and froze it in ice cubes ahead of time. Then it was easy to put them into water to make a diluted tea, but I actually liked just sucking on the ice cubes).
Motherwort and crampbark tincture during labor. (I pretty much forgot about this once in labor, but these tinctures are considered safe during labor and supposedly helpful!!)
Bone broth- This was a nice warm nourishing thing to keep sipping when I no longer wanted to eat but still needed energy.
(I made a tea out of the below sitz bath herbs, and soaked my cloth pads in it ahead of time, and then put them in the freezer. It sounded terrible to me to apply a frozen pad to that sensitive area, but after giving birth it was a wonderful relief! You could also use disposable pads)
(I tore, and required a few stitches, so focusing on healing my tissue was really important to me and I was adamant about having this tea on hand for at least the first two weeks. I found actually doing a sitz bath to be uncomfortable and even painful, and so instead I just kept my peri bottle filled with the tea, and would rinse with it every time I went to the bathroom or took a shower. I made big batches of the tea (actually I didn't, my amazing husband and mom did!!) and kept the extra in the fridge) .
Blood building tea-
(This was simmered in big batches again by my husband and mom and then could be re-heated by the cupful. The whole house filled up with the aroma and I still drink this tea occasionally and the smell is very comforting).
Nourishing Tea blend... Still!
Motherwort, Milky Oats, Skullcap tincture
(this was my go-to sometimes many times a day, when I was sooo weepy and happy and lonely and tired).
These were made for me by a friend, and I don't know what she put in them, but, having a nourishing herbal snack to eat a few times a day was so wonderful!! I would do something like:
Your choice of nut butter, molasses and honey, and here you can be creative- add dried coconut shreds, cranberries, chopped dates, dipped in chocolate! Etc.
(it's similar to making peanut butter balls- you would do approximately a teaspoon of each of the first 3 herb powders per day, and then the ginger, cardamom and cinnamon to taste.
So if you're making two weeks worth you would measure out that much powder, and then combine your nut butter and sweeteners and other ingredients until it's wetter than you want, (but not too wet! You can always add more liquid at the end) and add in the powders, then you would make 15 evenly sized balls, or 30 and the person could take two a day!)
May you feel the strength of the returning light, and the growing potential in the dormant winter world, and in yourself. What are you preparing to give birth to in this coming spring season? What do you hold most precious and want to tend and nourish? In these turbulent and sometimes terrifying times may Brighid find and bless you with her strength and abundance. May we be blessed with the clarity of her eternal flame, the transformative power of her forge, The abundance of her magical blue cloak, and the healing balm of her holy waters. May we honor her with our prayers, dedication and action. Light a candle, clean your hearth and kindle a new fire, leave a bit of bread and milk for the Goddess, remember, and recommit.