I am participating in the six-month #INSPIRE2020 challenge, in which Indian Catholic content creators write about a particular topic every month. This month's topic is 'Mama Mary'. If you are an Indian Catholic, and would like to participate, sign up here: https://forms.gle/o5A1ZzBNFM94HoFP8Although I grew up very Catholic, I didn’t always relate well to Mother Mary. I must have played her in several Nativity plays in Sunday School, prayed many Hail Marys over the years, could explain and describe all the mysteries of the Rosary and had a picture of her up next to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in our home. I even wrote an essay biblically defending her role as Mother of all Christians in my Catechism class in the ninth standard (which I remember with much pride because I got full marks).
Thursday, 29 October 2020
Thursday, 1 October 2020
I am participating in the six-month #INSPIRE2020 challenge, in which Indian Catholic content creators write about a particular topic every month. This month's topic is 'The Eucharist'. If you are an Indian Catholic, and would like to participate, sign up here: https://forms.gle/o5A1ZzBNFM94HoFP8
Like most Catholics, I grew up with Sunday Mass being a regular, unquestioned part of life. I didn’t like or dislike it, it just WAS. I do remember feeling like it was VERY long, one hour can seem like an eternity to a child. I don’t think I thought much about God during Mass. It was more fun to look at people’s shoes and clothes as they walked up to receive Communion.
When I was about sixteen, I saw some visiting foreign missionaries genuflect with great reverence as they entered the church. ‘There must be more to the Eucharist than I thought’ was my subconscious thought. I began to make an effort to focus more on Jesus at Mass. I would shut my eyes tight after receiving Communion (those shoes and outfits remained a temptation) and remain kneeling to talk to Jesus even though everyone else was sitting and staring at the choir as if they were at a concert.
As my own faith grew stronger, and I invited the Holy Spirit to draw me closer to Jesus, my experience of Mass began to change too. I actually began to hear the readings, instead of zoning out as I used to do. At every Mass, I would hear something God was saying specifically to me. But to a large extent I still took the Eucharist and its availability for granted till a little incident in Delhi when I was 24 years old.
I was visiting my Protestant aunt and uncle for a couple of weeks, and I wanted to make sure I found a Catholic Mass on Sunday. I looked up Catholic Churches and masses online, and it turned out all the masses that Sunday were cancelled except for one big Mass outside the city because it was Christ the King Sunday. No problem, I thought, I’ll just find a Saturday evening Mass.
I was used to my home city where we have several Catholic Churches within a few kilometres of each other, and plenty of options for Sunday mass timings. But it turned out that the north of India did not have such a high concentration of Catholic Churches.
Finally I located one on the map which didn’t seem too far, and together with one of my (Catholic) cousins who was working in Delhi then, we ventured out in search of Saturday evening Mass.
To my dismay, it wasn’t as simple as it seemed. There was no church when we arrived at the location. We asked some locals, and no one seemed to have heard of it or any other Catholic Church. Finally someone responded positively- “Ah yes, the church!” and gave us some directions... which we followed into a residential area, and found ourselves at a small Protestant church.
Meanwhile I was getting more and more distressed. I resigned myself to arriving late to Mass, but by this time I was obviously not going to make it at all. I was in a strange, unfamiliar city, and the more we searched, the more desperate I began to feel for Jesus in the Eucharist. “I just want to meet you, Lord! Please! I miss you!”
I called up my mum, close to tears. She reassured me, reminding me about spiritual communion, the ability to receive Jesus almost as intimately, when it was not possible to receive Him sacramentally. That was a consolation, but I still longed for the Eucharist.
The Lord answered my prayer- my mum managed to contact a religious sister she knew who was posted in Delhi, and she told us about a Mass that was being celebrated for Catholics in the different foreign consulates. We ventured into the very beautiful consular area of Delhi that Sunday morning and to my great joy, participated in the Mass in a school hall along with a bunch of foreigners. It was the Feast of Christ, the Universal King.
That day I experienced ‘my soul thirsting for God, as a deer pants for water’. Over the years, especially as I left home and spent time in the US and the Philippines as a full-timer, I found joy, consolation and familiarity in many Adoration chapels and Masses in various churches and languages. Since March 2020, public Masses in India have been suspended. I have the familiarity of my own home and husband, and what with going through the discomforts of pregnancy and now the demands of caring for a small baby, I’m grateful not to have any social obligations including long Masses to attend. So it hasn’t been as intense an ache or longing. It’s like I’ve become satisfied with a long-distance relationship instead of meeting my Beloved in person.
I got the chance just once two months ago to receive the Eucharist (we made a special request to a priest we knew because I was going to be giving birth soon). There was no big dramatic experience as I received Him, but I was just so happy and grateful.
I am looking forward to meeting Jesus once again in His Eucharistic presence. I hope I will not let that love and longing fade away or be forgotten. Maybe this deprivation will give me and others a greater appreciation for this gift. I hope so anyway.
Reawaken my desire for You, O Lord. Increase my love and longing. You are the only One who can truly satisfy my soul. Please make a way for Your people to meet you in Your Eucharistic presence soon.
Friday, 28 August 2020
Tuesday, 14 July 2020
Wednesday, 24 June 2020
Some years ago a friend serving in the Philippines was telling another friend and me how she had helped a poor mother give birth to twins in her bamboo shack in a squatters’ hilly settlement. “We delivered the twins, but we had to take them to the hospital, so we just wrapped them up, didn’t even cut the cord, and climbed the narrow hilly paths, babies in arms, to get to the main road.”
My friend and I gaped in astonishment. How did that even work? Where was the mother? We visualized the babies and mother attached by the cord wandering up and down the hills. That was the moment when we both found out we had the misconception that the umbilical cord of the baby was attached directly to the mother’s uterus, instead of the placenta, and neither of us had any idea that the placenta or ‘afterbirth’ got detached from the uterus and was delivered after the babies were.
It’s kind of embarrassing to admit my ignorance, and yet I realize that I probably have a lot more basic knowledge about childbirth JUST from all the books I’ve read through the years, and there are probably many women who have far less idea of the details of pregnancy and childbirth, and how it all works. I guess most just get a hodgepodge of guidance and information from the older women of their families, fact and experience mixed with superstition and tradition (for example, I was told not to cross my legs during pregnancy).
I’m grateful for apps like Ovia pregnancy which gave me week by week updates on the baby’s development, and my own expected physical and hormonal changes. I also was lent a book called ‘Made for This: The Catholic Mom’s Guide to Birth’ which among other things gives a detailed description of what exactly happens during childbirth. One of the things the author talks about is how a woman’s body is made to nurture life, even without our conscious participation, which was a relief to hear because I kept thinking I didn't know what the heck I was doing, and feeling overwhelmed and under-prepared.
I remember thinking during the first trimester how uncomfortable and weird I felt, not like myself at all, and how even though I had grown up with the understanding and celebration of the fact that marriage, sex, pregnancy and babies all naturally were supposed to go together, that I could understand why so many women think of pregnancy as some kind of cruel trick of nature, an unpleasant aspect of being a woman, and spend most of their lives trying to avoid pregnancy.
The other extreme were women who told me, “This (pregnancy) is the best time of your life! Enjoy it!” Really? Constant acidity and indigestion, exhaustion, depression, inability to get anything done, needing to pee all the time, my body changing and becoming unfamiliar, and a host of other uncomfortable symptoms- this was supposed to be the best time of my life?
I think we need to prepare young women (and men) from an early age to think of pregnancy and childbirth as a normal part of life, not something weird or icky or horrible or to be avoided at all costs. In fact, a beautiful (if painful) gift, a kind of fruitful suffering that we can embrace instead of resent. But such a perspective works when we fit it into a larger worldview that doesn’t see comfort and avoidance of suffering as the ultimate good. It also comes from being educated about our own bodies and fertility, and seeing our bodies as GOOD.
On the whole, I’ve experienced Indian culture to be very supportive of pregnant women- people keep offering to bring me food (unfortunately COVID lockdowns has prevented them from being able to do so), most people seem very excited to hear that I’m having a baby, traffic stops for me on the street, and my husband gets asked more about me than about himself by people I don’t even know.
I wonder though whether that support and approval is because it’s a first baby, and whether disapproval would take its place if it was my fourth or fifth baby. But mums probably need even more help and care with multiple kids. The number doesn’t decrease the value and importance of each child. I often think in awe of my mum who had five, my aunt who had seven, and the many years they spent pregnant. In the midst of first trimester horribleness, I could easily imagine saying “Ugh, never again.” And much more so during the actual delivery. And yet they said yes again and again, and my siblings and cousins and I are grateful for the gift of our lives.
Different families have different situations - many would have had more kids if they could, there are probably many who couldn’t afford to have more than two. But there are also probably many who never thought that maybe God had another precious gift to entrust to them, if only they were willing to receive it. I am so impressed by someone I know here in my new city who had three kids aged 15 to 23, and then unexpectedly conceived another child. She and her husband and family welcomed the baby with joy. Life with God is a wonderful adventure, with twists and turns, and surprises around every corner... if only we will trust Him and let go of our plans and control.
Anyway, that’s a lot of deep thoughts that comes with third trimester insomnia (wrote this at 4 am last night). Here are some more practical tips and thoughts-
Pregnancy pillow - hadn’t ever heard of it, until my sister-in-law lent it to me, but it has been a game-changer after many uncomfortable nights as my tummy got bigger and I just couldn’t get comfortable. The more pillows, the better! Invest in or borrow a pregnancy pillow! They’re so comfortable, even my husband wants one now 😄
When you're up with pregnancy insomnia at 3 am, look up 'pregnancy memes', nothing like stifling giggles so your husband doesn't wake up as you realize you're not the only one.
Pregnancy brain and clumsiness is a thing, so cut yourself some slack. I started bumping into things and breaking things for the first time since childhood (when, fun fact, I used to be known as Calamity Jane because I couldn't put my hand in a glass cabinet without breaking something). I dropped a glass of juice, it shattered, and I burst into tears, so my husband told me to stand back as he cleared it up and comforted me. Now he tells me to be careful every time he sees me holding a knife. And the next time he found a broken glass, he asked me, "Did you cry?" :-D
Don’t drink alcohol even if you MAY get pregnant. No one told me this, but apparently even a little bit of alcohol at conception or early pregnancy could hurt the baby’s development, and I had a nice glass of Bailey’s a few days before I realized I was pregnant, and beat myself up about it for a while. The baby seems fine though, but I wish I had known that before. And if you smoke, you’ll need to quit months before you conceive.
An app I highly recommend for all women, married or single, is FEMM, which basically helps you keep track of your menstrual cycle, and know when you’re fertile. My sister convinced me to start using it long before I was married or even dating, and I’m glad she did! I’m surprised at how many women don’t know how their body works. I read somewhere about a woman who would not have sex with her husband on her fertile days, because she thought the mucus was a sign of an infection... and then she wondered why they weren’t getting pregnant! The app is also very helpful in practising Natural Family Planning, if you need to delay a pregnancy by avoiding sex on fertile days.
Get tested for infections before you get married. Even if you’ve never been sexually active, there are other infections that you can easily pick up without realizing it that can harm your unborn baby. I had never heard of any of these until I was already pregnant, and was sent to do various tests. If you do have an active infection, avoid pregnancy until it clears up.
Even if your baby IS at risk for physical or mental disabilities does NOT mean you need to abort! Apparently many doctors present this as an obvious choice or recommendation, as if you are shopping for a product and have to discard potentially ‘defective’ products. That baby already exists, already belongs to you, is a part of you, and God will give you the grace to love and care for your baby, even with special needs. It’s probably a good idea to talk about those possibilities with your spouse... even before you get married.
We have often referred to the pregnancy as 'our pregnancy'or 'when WE got pregnant'. That's because we see it as a joint effort. Talk to your husbands about how you need them to support you during this time, because their involvement, empathy and support can make a huge difference to a peaceful pregnancy.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1: 5
Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. Isaiah 49: 1
Pregnant Thoughts - Part 1
Small Family = Happy Family... Really?
Thursday, 18 June 2020
I often think twice about sharing publicly about my experiences of pregnancy. Not for the typical Indian reasons (I’ve heard people are afraid of being cursed by jealous or malicious onlookers? Or they don’t want to have to admit to the pain of miscarriage if they lose the baby). But the reason for my second thoughts is because I know there are so many who are longing for babies themselves, and it may be a source of great pain to them to hear the raptures of yet another pregnant mama. And yet, I remember rejoicing over my friends getting married when I was mourning my own loneliness. Somehow these two realities coexist.
I’ve been around a lot of pregnant women. And yet somehow there were a lot of pregnancy surprises. I had no idea, for example, that acidity and indigestion would become a daily occurrence for the first time in my life, practically from the first month. Or that my body would start changing almost immediately. Or that I could feel the baby’s movements from halfway through the pregnancy and not just at the end. I didn’t realize that part of the first trimester struggles was not just physical exhaustion but emotional lows too. I’d sleep for hours during the day and then lie in bed feeling depressed and overwhelmed by my dirty house and because I wasn’t doing anything productive (I thought). I was reminded by another young mum that making a baby is the most productive and creative work I could ever do.
The good news was I didn’t have first trimester nausea (only threw up once, on Christmas morning, a few minutes into Christmas Mass, at my in-law’s village church, probably because I was wearing a tight saree blouse.. I had to rush out, threw up in the church compound and got taken home by my husband. Did I become the talk of the town? I still don’t know.) Also, once the second trimester started, I realized that a lot of my sad thoughts and outlook on life went away, which is when I realized that my hormones had been playing cruel tricks with my emotions.
I realized how privileged I am (yet again) as other mothers, old and young, told me their pregnancy experiences- living in a joint family and expected to continue doing household chores while fighting nausea and exhaustion; or throwing up early in the morning and then leaving for work; or apparently two generations ago , working in the fields while pregnant, giving birth, and then getting back up to work in the fields the same day. I on the other hand got to stay home all of my pregnancy, the part time work I do is all online and flexible, and I have an accommodating and supportive husband who not only lets me moan to him about every tiny discomfort I’m feeling, but would cook when I couldn’t, or run to the store (pre-COVID) to buy mountains of junk food when I demanded it (please don’t ask how many packets of chilli limon potato chips I ate a few months ago).
I’ve been thinking more about ‘my body, my choice’ of late, and the tragedy of abortion. Never before has it been so obvious that this is not MY body - there is another body inside my body, that squirms and hiccups and kicks and jerks, regardless of me. It’s so crazy and yet so cool... a tiny human being growing inside me. I can hardly grasp it. So I occasionally google pictures of ‘baby in mother’s womb 31 weeks’ etc so I can try to wrap my mind around this reality and miracle hidden by a big tummy.
My husband and I both feel a desire to one day be involved in a pro-life ministry, providing support and encouragement and resources to women going through crisis pregnancies, creating more awareness of the truth and beauty of the life and personhood of these tiny, vulnerable human beings, and perhaps creating an easily accessible network of resources including healing retreats for post-abortive women. I’m sure there are Catholics (especially religious sisters) who do help women in need, but there is so little awareness and so much shame involved that I’m not surprised abortion is as common as it is.
I recall a correspondence I had with a self-professed religious Catholic woman who was not on board with my pro-life stance. She said ‘Of course, children are a gift from God, and that is why most of the time they are referred to as Angels. But would you consider the child borne due to a rape to be the same? I would term this as an unexpected pregnancy and would leave it to the woman to decide what she would like to do with her body. This is not anyone’s place to judge.’
Unwanted or longed for, unexpected or eagerly awaited, with special physical or mental needs or perfectly healthy, the result of a happy marriage or a traumatic rape, a baby is a BABY and deserves to be loved and cared for, not discarded. Our job is to love and help BOTH mama and baby when they need it most.
I have more thoughts, which is why I’m going to write a Part 2.
Friday, 5 June 2020
“I’m Indian! I’m brown! I can’t be racist!”
Do you think fairer people are objectively more attractive? Have you complimented someone’s looks by referring to how fair they are, or how they look like (white) foreigners? Do you often comment on your own or others’ skin tone changes after being in the sun? Do you tell people to cover up so they don't get darker? Do you wear socks and gloves and long sleeves when you go out in the sun because you're afraid of getting darker? Do you think ‘fair North Indians’ are more ‘beautiful’ than ‘dark South Indians?’
How often do you see Indian couples with very different skin tones? Does it surprise you when you do? Do you think it's natural that someone who is darker is less likely to find a spouse easily? Do you think it's natural that a fairer skinned applicant would be preferred in many jobs? Have you noticed fairer kids in school are treated better by the teachers than darker-skinned kids?
Do you feel bad for parents when their new baby has a darker skin tone? Have you seen siblings treated a little differently because one is darker and the other fairer? Have you ever comfortingly told someone that they’re also fair? Not that dark comparatively? Have you ever heard kids use nicknames based on the darkness of someone’s skin? Have you used nicknames like that? Have you ever felt instinctively that darker-skinned people are 'dirtier', and shied away from touching them?
Have you ever felt the lack of dark skinned dolls? Or thought it was normal to colour skin with what is called 'skin colour' but which is really pinky-peach? Have you ever encouraged kids to colour pictures of themselves with their actual skin colour- usually brown?
Do you instinctively trust someone who is fairer, or assume they must be educated and privileged? Do you look with suspicion at darker strangers? Do you use fairness products and get your own skin bleached? Do you think it’s normal for brides to look five shades fairer on their wedding day? Are you more likely to be respectful and accepting of white foreigners than black foreigners? African students in India have shared many horrible experiences at the hands of locals. But white foreigners are usually treated like royalty.
Have you noticed how often billboard advertisements for everything from housing societies to hospitals to schools feature families of white foreigners instead of Indians? And when they do feature Indians they are very fair too? Most movies and ads use fairer skinned actors and models. It’s extremely rare to see even medium brown skin on a main character, let alone really dark skin.
We are all the product of the prejudices of our society, of our families, of the people around us, of the media we consume and are exposed to. Biases don’t automatically go away unless we acknowledge them and work on allowing the truth into our minds and hearts. It’s not only skin colour. It's weight, height, and clothes. It’s subconscious biases based on education, community (aka caste), religion, language, and wealth. It's every time we refer to an entire group as ‘those people’. It’s easier to see it when other people are doing it. But self-examination is far more fruitful than pointing fingers and feeling self-righteous.
Sometimes when I work with kids, I’ve had these kinds of conversations: “Which is better? Dark skin or fair skin?” If they know me well, they hesitate, knowing that the obvious answer may not be right. Sometimes they’ll answer the obvious answer: “Fair skin!”
“Why is fair skin better? Did you know God made people all over the world with different colours?”
I show them pictures. “Do you think God loves some more than others? Or he made a mistake? No! He gave each one their own skin colour because he thinks they’re ALL beautiful! Now we just have to look at people the way God looks at them!”
Then we look at babies of different ethnicities and skin tones and say “Wow! So cute!” to all of them. “He thinks you are beautiful too! And your skin colour is lovely!” They look at their arms in surprise. You can see the slow change of perspective. It will probably take a while. But we must start somewhere. Preferably with ourselves and our own families.
Fluency in English is the White Privilege of India
We Belong to Each Other