For this Women Ask Wednesday, I want to share about a sweet tradition called the Blessing of the Hands ceremony. I first found out about this tradition in my midwifery program. In my prior years of nursing I had no idea this existed! My midwifery cohort consisted of 8 women and we gathered together for a brunch put on by our faculty right before we started the last semester of our program.
First, I think it’s important to tell you that midwifery school doesn’t let you come up for a breath of fresh air often; and my midwifery cohort rarely gathered outside of our classroom time in the school of nursing. Your cohort is your core in midwifery school. They are the ones you cheer on when they catch their first babies…or encourage when they think they repaired a laceration terribly. Midwifery is a hard, tedious craft to learn and having a group to walk through during the long journey of learning is necessary and welcomed.
So what is a blessing of the hands? The idea behind a blessing of the hands is this: each midwife or midwife student involved takes a moment individually and together as a group, to reflect on the great responsibility each pair of hands burdens for every mama and baby cared for, and for all future generations to come. That’s me with the super blonde hair!
For the actual blessing, each person stands in a circle; your hands are “blessed” with small amount of water over a bowl by a seasoned midwife (in this case, our faculty); after each person’s hands are blessed, we all come together to share in a poem or reading. I remember a feeling of excitement intertwined with the recognition of the responsibility we were accepting as “baby catchers.”
For the poems, I’ve seen a number of poems used over the years…this one has been my favorite and is most commonly cited among the birthing community.
These are my hands
Through these hands I have come to see the world
These hands have measured the growth of life and documented the stalling of time
They guide my ears to places where I hear the watch-like beats of tiny hearts
My hands have felt the hard bony framework of passages and the softness of muscles
Which will bulge like petals of a rose
My hands have opened windows to the energy of the souls of those I have touched
They have held frigid rigidity of steel instruments and the softness of a friend
There are stories in these hands, read from the pages of the work of women
With my hands I felt the power of the strength it takes to grow and release new spirit
My hands were born with the knowing of touch
The journey has added how and when and the time to ask for help
Teaching hands engulfed mine until they were ready to fly
My hands are joined in a circle which is unbroken through time
Sometimes my hands do nothing
Their most important work will be still with fingers laced and witness
The art of doing nothing has been passed from generation to generation
Mine have been taught by some of the most powerful hands to watch and wait
This is perhaps the hardest for hands born to touch
If I have nothing else to give you, let me teach you how to see with your hands
How to open the windows of life, and close the door softly when it is time
In the darkness It is you hands that will light the way
These are my hands
These are the hands of a midwife
By Jan Weingrad
At my old practice in Virginia, we did a ceremony with our entire clinic team of OBGYNs and nurse midwives. The OBGYNs hadn’t ever participated in a blessings of the hands before and loved it!
Interested in more? Read about Midwives for Haiti and how they bless hands before sending their program graduates into the work field here. Also, this article about the Wyoming Medical Center – the hospital offers a Blessing of the Hands to every employee in their hospital! I love this idea…even the housekeeper and the janitor make a hospital a better place for healing.
Did you have a blessing of the hands in midwifery training or in another health care setting you worked? Have another tradition or rite of passage that you’d like to share? Let me know! Happy hump day everyone!