In May of 1926, Anna Lewis Evans was washed and anointed in preparation for her upcoming birth. This was the first documented time that she would receive this blessing from women in the 31st Ward, Park Stake. She would go on to experience this sacred ritual another five times — on September 13, 1927, January 9, 1930, July 12, 1931, January 16, 1936 and finally an unspecified date in 1937.
Generally, Anna was attended to by 2 or 3 women, most of whom served as Relief Society teachers or in the Relief Society presidency. One woman, Ruby Boden, was present on all of these occasions except for the last one. Her presence seems to serve as a symbol of continuity in an act that combined realistic biological matters with the more ethereal blessings of God.
There is very little physical evidence left in regards to the wording of such pregnancy blessings. One rare document from the Oakley (Idaho) Second Ward Relief Society minute books gives us a rare glimpse of what might have been said to bless and comfort women in their period of “confinement”. According to Linda King Newell, “We do not know whether they followed the text exactly or deviated from it, but its very existence bespeaks an insistence that the words be used in a certain way and that the process be linked to the Relief Society. They did follow earlier counsel to avoid the wording used in the temple ordinances and, of course, the blessing and sealing are different in concept from the temple washing and anointing.”
Perhaps Anna Lewis might have heard:
We anoint your back, your spinal column that you might be stong and healthy [that] no disease fasten upon it, no accident befall you, Your kidneys that they might be active and healthy and perform their proper functions, your bladder that it might be strong and protected from accident, your sides that your liver, your lungs, and spleen that they might be strong and perform their proper functions, … your breasts that your milk may come freely, and you need not be afflicted with sore nipples as many are, your heart that it might be comforted.
Linda Newell notes that, “They continue by requesting blessings from the Lord on the unborn child that it might be…”
perfect in every joint and limb and muscle, that it might be beautiful to look upon … [and] happy” and that “when [its] full time shall have come that the child shall present right for birth and that the afterbirth shall come at its proper time … you need not flow to excess … We anoint … your thighs that they might be healthy and strong that you might be exempt from cramps and from the bursting of veins … That you might stand upon the earth [and] go in and out of the Temples of God.
The final act of sisterhood was the sealing of the blessing:
We unitedly lay our hands upon you to seal this washing and anointing where with you have been washed and anointed for your safe delivery, for the salvation of you and your child, and we ask God to let his special blessings rest upon you, that you might sleep well at night, that your dreams might be pleasant and that the good spirit might guard and protect you from every evil influence spirit and power that you may go your full time and that every blessing that we have asked God to confer upon you and your offspring ma be literally fulfilled that all fear and dread may be taken from you and that you might trust in God. All these blessings, we unitedly seal upon you, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today, our ministrations to mothers have retreated from the sacred to the mundane. Instead of “warm Relief Society hands upon our bodies“, we are filled by meals that are prepared by the same type of loving hands. Husbands are now more likely to administer a blessing of comfort to their pregnant wives, an image which in and of itself is also beautiful. However, I can’t help but think of Anna Evans and feel a bit melancholy. A longing for a world where women are washed and anointed with the “balm of sisterhood”. A lost but extrordinary ritual of motherhood — where the spiritual and the visceral assemble under the hands of women.