Though we are still in lockdown here in Scotland there is a tiny wee light at the end of the tunnel with the publication of the Scottish Governments Route Map. To get to that light, to the other side of the tunnel, it is going to take quite a bit of navigation, risk assessment, good communication, empathy and kindness. Safety is a priority and this will add to worries and anxieties in regard to decision making around wedding days, guest, celebrations, ceremony choices and, even, the rituals a couple may wish to include in a ceremony. Having anxieties and worries is very much part of the normal human condition, totally normal, but they can be repetitive, with the same rhythms, cycles and patterns and this can wear you down. Of course, at the moment, all our regular worries and anxieties are amplified by the current situation, with plenty of new concerns thrown in. The discomfort I spoke of in an earlier blog is still with us all and will remain for a long, long time. It’s something I’m learning to live with and I’m sure you are too.
I was reflecting recently on what I find helpful when I am faced with increased worries or anxieties and I began to remember all the ways I used to, and still, support my daughters when they experienced stress or anxieties. One of the things I did when they were primary school age was give them Worry Dolls. The Guatemalan or Mexican dolls are confidantes of sorts. Thought to be based on a Mayan legend about a princess who received a special gift from a sun god that allowed her to solve any problem a human could worry about. The tiny dolls represent the princess. At the end of the day before bed you share your worry with the doll and then pop it under your pillow. The doll worries about your problem instead of you so you can get a good nights sleep. Perfect! It’s actually a really tender and beautiful tradition or ritual that can be deeply soothing. It’s basically a chance to say your worries out loud – to the dolls – and in turn they, to an extent, give you the wisdom to acknowledge, and the power to eliminate, your worries.
It could be interpreted as a powerful ritual that gives you a choice. You can choose to transfer your worries, hand them over, share them. This ritual can help you realise that you have the power and choice to do that. Externalising the problem makes it seem less intimidating and much more manageable as a result. If you share it with the doll you may then feel you can share it with your loved one, family or friends. A problem shared is a problem halved as the old proverb goes.
I came across a Worry Doll App recently which is so sweet. I also found some wedding worry dolls in Edinburgh recently, perfect for couples preparing and planning to get married, especially in the time of corona. I love this gang of couples. If I’m your celebrant watch out for a wee wedding worry doll couple winging their way to you soon to help voice your anxieties, share your worries and maybe even get a good nights sleep.
We have spent the whole of April in lockdown. In the scheme of our lives it’s a teeny, tiny fraction but the impact on everything in our lives, about our lives, and our future, is huge. While we may feel in limbo, stuck and fed up waiting for life to begin, the Earth keeps turning and the wheel of the year keeps revolving.
So as we say farewell to April and move into May we are half way between the spring equinox and summer solstice. This is a time where we can, instinctively, feel more energetic, outgoing, creative and active. We have more daylight and warmer weather but in reality, at the moment, we probably feel exhausted by the lack of activity, the stress and the emotional labour of getting through every day. This is also normally a time where we get out and about more, enjoy feeling more relaxed due to connections with the natural world and other people but due to the pandemic and restrictions in place we may feel in constant low level survival mode. Life in lockdown does seem to have heightened many peoples awareness of the wonders of spring blossom, sunrises and sunsets at the moment though which is wonderful. Does the sky seem bluer to you? There is a vibrancy and an energy in nature just now that seems in direct contrast with what we are experiencing on the ground. Or are we just seeing everything with fresh eyes due to our situation? In Edinburgh spring, and the weather, in lockdown has been amazing!
This week I’ve been beginning to put ceremonies together for the couples I am working with based on the stories and conversations that we have gathered so far but it’s hard to connect with anything right now in any meaningful way due to anxieties and distractions. For me, when I create ceremony, my head and my heart has got to be in the right space. Just as when a couple gather together to share their story for their ceremony they have to be in the right headspace. Stress can kill the mood, and creativity.
So as we move into May tomorrow we find Beltane, a celebration of the forces of nature. This festival basically celebrates moving into Summer and the growing season but it also celebrates union. It is a time for recognising love and friendship but also for firing up energy while staying grounded. I want to use this wee festival to get me off the corona coaster and try to create some positive energy and fire up some creativity even if it’s just for a few hours or a few minutes. Tonight we are having a garden getaway, the tent is up, we’ll light a fire just after 7pm and at sunrise tomorrow I’ll go for a swim then teach a 7.30am May Day inspired yoga class.
“May, more than any other month of the year, wants us to feel most alive”
The Beltane Fire Society have put together BOnfire – Beltane At Home and it’s a lovely programme of suggestions of activities and ideas inspired by the fire festival and you can do as much or as little as you like, online or offline.
WanderWomenScotland is also inviting people to get up at sunrise (5.28am BST) and welcome May their way.
I realise many of you may have will have questions about your upcoming ceremonies whether they be Wedding Ceremonies, Naming Ceremonies or Vow Renewals especially in the light of the announcement on 23rd March. For some you will find the decisions are out of your hands and for others you’ll feel confused By the inconsistent advice and the decisions that need to be made.
Please try not to worry. It’s important to stay calm so that preparations and decisions can be made that are right, and safe, for you, your family and friends.
A lot of what is going on is out-with our control and this feeling of lack of control can really exacerbate anxiety.
Please note: The National Records of Scotland, at present are not accepting applications for any marriage schedules. Therefore marriage ceremonies cannot be performed. Keep an eye here for marriage schedule updates.
Take a breath, pause and plan.
Try using an acronym like BRAIN to help get things into perspective:
Get together with your partner, consult wider family members, friends and even guests if you like, write these headings down and start listing, brain storming, just get everything out there using:
What are the Benefits of carrying on as planned? To you, to others.
What are the Risks? Think of your guests, ages, travel, numbers of guests, finances etc.
The Alternatives – talk to each other about all the available options. Have you spoken to your service providers about potential alternative dates , if not do so. Making a Plan B (& even C) is probably wise and may put your mind at rest.
What is your Instinct, your gut feeling? Tune in to it, trust it.
If you go through all of the above and just want to pause and change Nothing at the moment that’s fine too.
You can wait and see what unfolds and revisit your list, notes and discussion at anytime. Maybe starting again, adding and subtracting aspects previously considered and newly discovered or advised by Government. Reflect and re-schedule if necessary. If you want to discuss options for a Plan B date let me know.
You have each other, that is the main thing right now. Remember why you are planning all of this in the first place – because of love and trust.
What if you have to, or decide to, postpone your ceremony?
There will be no charge to reschedule the date of your ceremony. I have plenty flexibility this year and next. If I am not available then one of my Agnostic Scotland Life Celebrants colleagues may be. Pencil in a Plan B date as soon as possible.
Would you have to pay anything extra to change your date?
No, no extra charge to hold another date. Your deposit/fee would be transferred to the new date.
What if I, your Marriage Celebrant, become ill or have to cocoon at home at the time of your ceremony?
I have already discussed this with my Agnostic Scotland colleagues and we will endeavour to cover each other’s ceremonies in case of illness. Your back up Celebrant would have access to your final ceremony script and they would make contact with you to say hello and talk through anything with you prior to the ceremony.
We know that currently, with the support of the Registrars, we can obtain emergency discretion for a change of Celebrant, as long as that celebrant is a member of a recognised belief body, if required. We will stay in touch with the National Records of Scotland for further advice in regard to the effect of the pandemic on marriage ceremonies for 2020.
The National Records of Scotland, at present are not accepting applications for any marriage schedules. Therefore marriage ceremonies cannot be performed. Keep an eye here for marriage schedule updates.
For WHO advice re: social distancing and more click here and from NHS Scotland here
Whenever you hold your ceremony what if important guests can’t make it to your ceremony due to restrictions on numbers, travel restrictions or illness?
Have a cry – then get creative.
Film your ceremony
Live stream your ceremony
Use WhatsApp video call
Invite a Tribute/blessing from the guests who can’t make it
Suggest your guests pre-record an audio or film piece to add to your ceremony or speeches
You could represent the person using symbolism – wear something of theirs or something that you feel represents/includes them
Other wedding suppliers
Talk to them. Ask about back up plan and discuss options. Communication is key. This can help get things in perspective, help feelings of helplessness and anxiety and also allow you to feel and connect with the support that is out there.
What you can do to support yourself and keep safeand healthy
Eat well, get plenty sleep, stay at home, wash your hands, access your usual exercise regime, get fresh air, minimise Social Media – wash your hands – and ask for support and help. Talk things through with your nearest and dearest. Use BRAIN. Keep yourself informed with all the latest advice, health and otherwise, from Government. Reach out to others.
Am I keeping myself safe?
Yes, I am. I love hugs, kisses and shaking hands but am saving that for a later date. I’m washing my hands, staying at home, eating well, getting plenty of sleep and fresh air, washing my hands and leaning into my Celebrant community for support. I am keeping myself up to date with all the latest advice too from the Government and the Ceremony sector. It must be acknowledge that keeping myself safe may also mean my advice to you would be to postpone or go ahead but with only you two and immediate family members maintaining suitable distance. This is something I will discuss with each couple.
I am also acutely aware of the need to support other Celebrants and small businesses at this time as well as my local community, neighbours and friends.
Reflect and reschedule if need be – don’t cancel LOVE If you do decide to postpone let’s think of a way you can celebrate or mark your original date. Make an event, a ritual for just the two of you, make it positive and that way it will become part of your story, part of your ceremony and part of your wedding day.
If you’ve been following my blog you will know that I am a midwife and a celebrant. Over the last few years, while weaving the threads of both practices through my life, I have discovered so many parallels. One of the comparable areas, that I couldn’t help noticing quite quickly, is language and specifically the use of the word my.
In early 2018 the British Medical Journal published a blog which explored language used in maternity care. The authors put together an alternative language guide for midwives and medical staff and, of course, the media picked up on this with headlines in UK newspapers stating that midwives were “BANNED” (sic) from using certain terms because they could be disrespectful to women. Well, as you know you can’t ban people from using certain words and language but you can inspire people to reflect on their communication and the words and language they use. This discussion is not new to the maternity services. Midwifery language and communication has been researched and written about repeatedly. There is still one specific area we can’t quite agree on though – what we call the women we care for:
Patients – could be disempowering, the majority of pregnant women are not sick but well and healthy, they just happen to be pregnant. Ladies – is thought of as patronising. Clients – more suited to hairdressers and therapists. I have even heard midwives call women ‘birds’, or sometimes just ‘Room 8’ or whatever room/bed number the midwife is assigned to.
Personally, I call a woman I care for by her name.
For me what is even more irksome is when midwives talk about ‘my lady’ or ‘my woman’. The woman doesn’t belong to anyone and this kind of language is paternalistic. How we frame things, how we say things influences how we practice, what we do and ultimately how we treat people.
I have noticed a similarity in the ceremony sector with celebrants, photographers and suppliers often talking about ‘my couple’. Even though this is very likely unconscious and well intended it is the kind of language that has the ability to disempower and can influence a relationship. The individuals that make up a couple don’t belong to anyone. No one owns the two people who, may function socially as a unit but, are individual autonomous adults and decision makers.
In our work and practice as celebrants we must promote working in partnership and recognise we are not owners but facilitators. Our language should regard and respect the current social norms, expectations and rights of the people we work with.
I know that in the past I have slipped into the negative terminology that dominates the culture I work in & failed to appreciate the impact my words have had, but after many years working with women, couples and families I feel I know I have made a shift and on the whole I am now mindful of the language I use. That shift came with self-awareness, reflection and a fundamental belief in respecting individuals, choice and equality.
Start reflecting on the language you use, the words you utter and type and make a shift if need be. It is not difficult to make the language we use about, and around, couples and families appropriate and respectful.
Changing the way we think can change our words and changing our words can change our way of thinking.
I found the stark reality of ‘The Ballad of Julie Cope’ very poignant. To have the tale of a ‘fictional every-woman’ told via such large, beautiful tapestries is very powerful. With Grayson Perry’s narration of the folklore style ballad filling the gallery, you can’t help but absorb Julie’s story.
Of course, the descriptions of some of the ceremonial events in her life caught my celebrant attention. Short paragraphs highlight contrasting wedding ceremonies decades apart and the longer tale of Julie’s funeral is poetic and moving. I won’t reveal too much here, go to see the exhibition in Edinburgh if you can. http://dovecotstudios.com
What I will share, because I found this part of the tale magical, is the touching moment when grieving Rob ‘knows what he has to do’. Inspired by his recollections of their trip to India where they marvelled at the Taj Mahal and the love story behind the mausoleums creation, Rob decides to build a secular chapel in Julie’s memory.
And reader, the chapel does exist, it is Perry’s ‘House for Essex’, where ‘The Ballad of Julie Cope’ tapestries are housed. This is a project built as a memorial, inspired by pilgrimage chapels and shrines. A fictional chapel built for a fictional character underpinned by a narrative of love.
I was baptised. I find it hard to understand why or how this came about as my family were, and are, not religious in any way but I suppose it just came down to tradition. That was the 1960’s and by the time my own daughters were born it was something we didn’t even consider. We had family gatherings and parties instead. We celebrated. A blend of the traditional baptism and secular celebration is happening today in the form of naming ceremonies.
Naming ceremonies could be seen as the modern day version of christening or baptism. They can be carried out by a Registrar or Celebrant. Secular, family focussed and personalised, naming ceremonies are a celebration, a meaningful celebration which can have as much or as little tradition, culture and symbolism as the family want. The family are in control of the content and wording of the readings which are underpinned by the love, hope, wishes and promises for their child’s, or children’s, future. Friends may be asked to become a Sparent or Odd Parent and take on the role of supporting adult for the growing child. Celebrations such as this are a way of making an announcement or a statement of intent for the child but in a beautifully creative, relevant way that suits a wide range of families.
As a midwife I have been privileged to be present at the most amazing naming ceremonies. The birth. The ceremony of birth and the beautiful moments of a mother meeting her baby for the first time. Holding space for the parents to fall in love with their baby, begin their new relationships and give the baby a name.
When I facilitated ante natal classes we would discuss names and naming, I would ask everyone present to share their names, nicknames and a little of the story behind their name. It was a great ice breaker. We would discuss the fading traditions around naming. In regard to their own babies, most couples would have lists of names but some couldn’t agree. Some knew the sex of the baby and had already given he or she a name but didn’t want to share the name, some were happy to share and some even had the name tattooed. Saying that, sexing scans can be wrong. I, and many of my colleagues have been at births where the expected gender has been the opposite. No scans are 100% accurate. There are lots of things to consider when choosing a name but you’ll know if it’s right when you meet your baby. I had three names for a girl and one for a boy when my first daughter was born. My first words as I met her were ‘It’s Innes!!’
In Scotland you have 3 weeks from the date of birth to register the birth, so plenty time for choosing names. Just make sure the Registrar spells your chosen name correctly. My brother says his daughter Poppy almost ended up having Poopy on her birth certificate.