Image by Kristin Beeler
My mother is perched on the edge of the couch with string woven between her fingers. When she shifts her legs, the tiny little beads in her lap sound like grains of rice pouring into a pot.
The hollow capsules are small, delicate, and light, clinging to the edge of my coffee table. My mom feels me watching her and says, “These are for the soldiers in Iraq. They want them all black.”
She pauses to consider their uniqueness, then continues. “It makes them seem more masculine, I suppose. And they look quite sharp, too.”
I try to picture American soldiers combing the desert with dog tags hanging around their necks, M16s secured to their chests, and black rosaries stuffed in their pockets.
My mother is surrounded by several pastel-colored tin buckets left over from past Easters, each filled to the rim with beads. Every few seconds, her unpainted fingernails sift through and select one. She then squints her eyes slightly in order to thread it.
I wonder why she just didn’t take up sewing.
When she does this, she is in a quiet, contemplative place. Somehow I find that the repetitious rhythm of beading resembles chanting — refrains of solace. I’ve never seen her so meditative. When my stomach growls I want to ask her what we should make for dinner. But I hold my tongue in order to avoid the awkward interruption.
I don’t know the prayers of the rosary. I attend Mass sporadically, and have never been confirmed as a Catholic. Though I feel a sense of peace when I sit in the pews of the church, there is a rift that will never be bridged between my feminist beliefs and Catholic ideology. I find it infuriating that women can’t be priests, that priests can’t marry, and that the pro-life platform has become the helm of the Church’s teachings. I question, probably too often, whether there even is a God.
And then there are my father’s Hindu beliefs to consider, sandwiching me between two faiths. So I remain at a distance, my relationship to Catholicism tenuous at best. I am hanging on by a thread, though I never tell my mother this.
In September 2006, soon after entering the second trimester, I called my mother while supine in a darkened ultrasound room. My hands were shaking so badly I could barely press the numbers on the phone.
“Hi Mom,” I said with a breathy, high-pitched voice. “The baby died.”
My mother normally remembers the exact day and time of every pregnancy appointment I have ever had. With my first two pregnancies, which resulted in two healthy girls, she was often calling me before I got off the examining table. “Did you hear the baby’s heartbeat?” she would shout into the phone, loud enough for the nurse scheduling my next appointment to overhear her.
On this particular day, because my mother had forgotten about my appointment, the news took some time to register. In the deafening silence that followed, I could almost hear her morbid thought process: Anjali is pregnant. Her appointment was today. But, how can it be? How can the baby be dead?
When my words finally made sense, she echoed my sobbing into the phone. The next day she flew up for my D & C, staying on a week to help me recover.
Soon thereafter, for the first time since becoming a church member twenty-five years earlier, my mother joined a ministry. Every Thursday night, she meets up with a group of women who make rosaries for people around the world.
I received the first one. It was blue — for the son we lost.
At first I found my mother’s new camaraderie irritating. I was hurt when she abruptly ended our phone conversations on Thursday evenings because she needed to dash out the door to a rosary-making meeting. I was jealous that she had established a nurturing collective — a means to work through her grief, whereas I still felt incredibly isolated despite a miscarriage support group and countless hours talking with mother-friends who had endured similar losses.
On the Friday mornings after her meetings with the Rosary Ladies, my mother would call to report the run-down of prayers and well wishes being sent my way. “Angela also had a miscarriage,” she’d say. “She prays for you every day.”
Or, “Lana’s niece just had a miscarriage, too.”
Some days, though, I didn’t really give a shit about these third-party condolences. What did they – these silly women with bead buckets – know about me?
While still in the throes of grief, I became pregnant again, and miscarried again. This time, the Rosary Ladies had a lot to pray about. There was a month of repeated hemorrhaging episodes, frequent trips to the ER, follow-up ultrasounds, powerful medications to expunge the “products of conception,” and then eventually, a second D & C. The Rosary Ladies prayed for my safety during the surgery. They Hail Mary’ed for a quick physical recovery. They Our Fathered for strength. They Glory Be’ed my scarred and depleted womb and Signed the Cross for my ability to bear a healthy child again.
Time passed. The Rosary Ladies, including my mother, kept beading.
Now, as I watch her delicately link prayers, I shift to relieve the pressure from the small head currently wedged up under my left rib cage.
We await the arrival of my third baby.
My mother seems serene, but her reflexive, repetitive fingers belie her easy-going facade. She is worried sick about this baby. To feign relaxation, we pass the day with superficial indulgences and vapid conversation. The verdict of every OB appointment and every ultrasound is a highly anxious ordeal. My mother can’t seem to stop making rosaries. She blames her dedication to the task on the group’s self-imposed goal of ten completed rosaries per week.
But my mother is really just afraid.
And so are the Rosary Ladies. They are saying extra prayers for me. Their beads surround me. I have one rosary hanging off the review mirror of my car, one folded in my backpack, two shoved in my nightstand, and one in the junk drawer of my kitchen, tangled with a spool of thread.
The other day, while picking up scattered remains of a puzzle, I found another in a toy box.
Even though I’ve never met them, the Rosary Ladies are now intimately connected to this lapsed Catholic’s pregnancy. I no longer shrug off their urgent messages of hope sent through my mother. Although I am still not much of a believer in religion, I have become a believer in the healing power of the beads. I listen closely to the rhythm of their sifting and pouring — I see the threading and knotting as an emblem of apology, an acknowledgment of pain, a ceremony of love and forgiveness. They provide me with a means to understand the fragility of life.
I realize, too, that the beads are my mother’s way of showing me that she continues to grieve deeply for my miscarriages. That her soft, warm embrace still holds me tight, and will never let me go.
My mother makes the final knots in her latest creation, hangs the cross, and delicately folds a green and blue rosary into my open palm. I would have never paired those two colors in a single strand. But when the rosary is complete, their union makes perfect sense.
I leave her work space and lug myself upstairs. I am heavy now, far along in my third trimester of pregnancy.
I enter the nursery unsure of where to place it. But when I see the sunlight shining through the blinds, illuminating the crib against the far wall, I follow the rays and position the rosary in the center of the newly laundered crib sheet.
It eagerly awaits, as do I, the soft dough skin of a newborn.
Anjali Enjeti is a graduate of Duke University and Washington University School of Law. She is a regular contributor to skirt.com. Her essay “Fade to Brown” is included in the anthology Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Mothering Across Cultures (Wyatt-Mackenzie Press 2009) and was quoted in The Japan Times. Her essay “In the Dark” appears in the anthology, Other Tongues: Mixed Race Women Speak Out (Inanna Press 2010), and she has a forthcoming piece in an anthology by Catalyst Press. She has also written for Mothering, Catholic Parent, Hip Mama, and MotherVerse. She lives in Atlanta.
Read our interview with Anjali here.