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Social Justice and Having a Baby

Social Justice and Having a Baby
by Jessica Merugu
March 2010

Before Kai, social justice was very concrete and objective for me. The issues were easily defined, right or wrong, just or unjust. My response to these issues was also easy: I can do direct service! I can vote! I can advocate! The principles of social justice, and catholic social teaching, were the lens through which I saw our world.

Now, as a mother, justice issues have become more abstract, more nuanced, more feeling and intuition. Justice has stopped being just about the “big” things and is more in the day to day, moment to moment, parts of life. Or, I guess I should say, the “big” issues, i.e.: hunger, poverty, war, and safety, to name a few, have gone from being large in scope and response to being put in the context of life with an infant.

When you have a baby, everything slows down. Your day is measured in hours, sometimes minutes. And social justice issues are broken down to this new level.

You nourish your baby, and the issues of world hunger take on a more intimate feeling: What if I didn’t have the resources to feed my baby? You wrap your baby in a warm blanket, and put him in his cozy crib, surrounded by material testaments of your love for him, and the issues of poverty become striking. What if I lived without health insurance, or was reliant on public assistance, or without a loving family? You cradle your child in your arms and the issues of peace and safety become so much more precious. The feeling of wanting to protect my baby at all costs is not special to me. All parents must feel this visceral and primal instinct. What if I lived in a war-torn country or a refugee camp?

These are the thoughts that have contextualized social justice for me as a mother.

Nothing could have really prepared me for having a baby. I read a lot, talked with many people, scoured the internet for information. I thought I had a pretty good idea of how everything would play out. Well, then, I actually did have a baby! And I soon realized I was in no way prepared for how my life would change.

With the arrival of my son, I have been challenged to redefine my worldview and perceptions, to accommodate my new role as a mother and the presence of this new person in my life.

With the birth of Kai, I have a whole new respect for life—how it begins, how it is nurtured, how it grows. And, of course, how do I raise a socially conscious child? How do I teach him the importance of the values I strongly hold?

One of the most fun things so far (he is only 6 months old, after all), is observing Kai as he observes everything he encounters. Every light, every sound, every new face: he takes them all in with a wonderment that is amazing to me. And it occurs to me that one day, I too will fall under his gaze. He will observe me: my actions and my words. This is how I will share with him how I choose to make social justice issues at the center of what I hold important in life.

I will end my reflection with a quote that has been with me throughout my transformation from single young adult, to married, to motherhood. It has taken on new meaning at each different stage of my life. I don’t know the author, but I can tell you it came from a Lenten Prayer Reflection book published by the Congregation of St. Joseph. For me, it serves as guidance and a daily prayer, and a reminder that no matter how I am impacted by issues of justice, I have a responsibility to myself, to my child, and to our world, to respond.

“What matters is that we live fully the life Christ modeled for us—a life so overflowing with love for each person that it moves us into service.”

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