Henna belly painting can be a meaningful pregnancy ritual
By Aimee Heckel
It’s far from new; in fact, mothers have been painting their pregnant bellies with henna for thousands of years. But the idea is growing in popularity in the United States.
This week, just in time for Mother’s Day, author, photographer and henna painter SarahKate Butterworth released her latest coffee table book about henna body painting. The book, $75, Blessed Belly, Blessed Baby: Honoring Motherhood with Henna Tattoos Volume 3, is where the ancient art form meets the modern woman, as she celebrates the passageway into motherhood.
Designed to be a work of art, the book features 100 pages of full color photographs, and is now available through Blurb.com.
Tip: Order through ShopAtHome.com and get a flat rate of shipping for $6.99 with this coupon code. If you are planning on buying multiple books, use this coupon code for 10 percent off the purchase of 10 books or more.
Curious to learn more about henna tattoos and other motherhood rituals, we recently spoke with Butterworth about the tradition.
ShopAtHome.com: Where did the idea of henna painting come from?
SarahKate Butterworth: Nobody knows how it started. People have been dying their hair with henna for 8,000 years and putting henna on their toenails for 6,000 years. The tradition goes all around the Mediterranean Sea, Africa and India.
SAH: What is one of the motherhood rituals you know of?
SB: The ritual I read about comes from North Africa. It’s something the Berbers do. They adorn the hands and feet of the pregnant mama in her seventh month. They have a whole celebration where they honor her with ceremonial clothes and seat her in a ceremonial seat with coconut, papaya and mango on her lap. They do it again right after she has given birth: postpartum henna.
SAH: What is the henna supposed to do for pregnant women?
SB: It protects them against the “evil eye.” When evil visits them, to us it looks like postpartum depression. In this part of the world, they have low postpartum depression rates. Is that because of the properties of henna, or because women support each other and are there for each other and take care of each other?
For nine days, new mothers do nothing but just be with their baby. Nine days of nursing and bonding, covered in henna. On the ninth day, she comes out and is received by whole female community to honor her rise in status, and that’s when she names her baby.
SAH: How do you translate that tradition to our modern society?
SB: I talk with the women about their vision and offer to paint their hands, feet or belly. Almost every mama wants her belly painted. We set an intention and say a prayer or blessing. I also encourage her to celebrate afterward.
I’ve been to a lot of baby showers and blessings that can be very powerful. I’ve been to the simple ones, with Snickers melted in diapers, and then powerful ones, with the whole community of women dedicated to support that mama.
But the postpartum end is more challenging. I’ve yet to meet a woman who wants to throw a party after she gives birth. It all comes down to what she’s comfortable with and what will leave her the most joy.
SAH: Where do you find your henna paint?
SB: I order it online. I mix it up with lemon juice, eucalyptus oil and sugar. It sits for six hours and is then ready to be used.
SAH: Beyond the tradition, why do women do this?
SB: What women really like is it makes them feel special. They get to sit down and somebody else takes care of them and adorns them with something beautiful. It’s a really light, feathery touch, and it’s also cooling; that’s it’s medicinal property. Pregnant woman are usually very happy to have anything that helps them feel cooler. It’s also soothing to your nerves, so they feel so relaxed.
SAH: How do they pick the designs?
SB: I try to allow them to just choose what feels right to them. The most common requests are flowers or a tree. The symbolism is different for each person. Flowers symbolize beauty, in general. The most ancient spiritual symbol of the tree is the tree of life or the tree of knowledge. Women say it’s grounding and helps them to remember to stay grounded during this whole process.
SAH: How long does an application take?
SB: It takes one to two hours. Henna lasts one to two weeks, unless you give birth with it on. Then it can last a month. It’s just the way the skin contracts on the belly — it tends to hold it longer.
SAH: What do you want readers to know about this tradition?
SB: This is one of the biggest transformations in a person’s life, to become a mother, and it’s worth it to stop and take some time to honor that and to celebrate it, because you’re a completely different person on the other side. And that can be done in a really beautiful way.
SAH: What are some other ways to celebrate this transition if you don’t have access to henna painting?
SB: There are all kinds of body art you can do, or get a water color pencil and sketch. Just take some time to honor this beautiful process and the belly when it’s so big and abundant.
Love henna art? Check out Butterworth’s website at sarahkatebutterworth.com and her Etsy shop, where you can buy 5×7 blank greeting cards. Ten cards cost $20, and each card is a custom picture inspired by a mother in the book.
Use this Etsy coupon: Buy two items and the second item ships for free.
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