One Mother and 22 Children
Responsible Parenthood, Not "Breed Like Rabbits"
When Pope Francis said that Catholics should practice responsible parenthood and “not to breed like rabbits,” a certain documentary came to mind.
It’s about a woman who has twenty two children. Her name is Rosalie and she brings forth a child almost every year. After she gives birth to one child, most likely another is on the way. She claims she does not know anything about family planning then. She only finished third grade and has no job.
Somebody has advised her to undergo ligation but accordingly, she cannot have ligation because she has goiter. She does not even know if it is true, but she has never gone out of her way to check its veracity. She also claims that her husband does not know how to use protection.
At the age of 16, she gave birth to her eldest child, and continued to give birth until the age of 42. Out of all her children, 4 died.
The husband is Danilo, a 49-year-old street sweeper who only reached grade 4. He reasons that instead of looking for other women for his physical needs, he goes to his wife because he feels bad about cheating. He claims no one has advised him to do family planning.
Danilo works in the streets of Metro Manila with a minimum-wage salary. When his pay is delayed, he borrows money at the rate of 20% to 40% interest. This usurious lending rate is commonly called 5-6 or 5-7. When he borrows Php500, he pays Php600 or Php700 within 15 days.
The 1st Child
The first-born is Daniel who got married at age 33. He has one child and has a job but his wife gets upset when his mother asks monetary help from Daniel.
Daniel grew up with an uncle and without his parents’ support, finished only the second grade. He went to his parents for help when his wife gave birth and they needed a place to stay. Now he’s on his own and resolves not to be like his parents.
The 2nd Child
Ronelda, the second child has helped take care of her young siblings. Now that she is married, Ronelda and her husband plan for their family the natural way. Her husband wants two children but for her, one is enough. She does not want to be like her mother.
The 3rd Child
According to Rosalie, her third child Danilyn, married at age 13 and now has 3 kids.
Rosalie used the term “nag-asawa” which literally means “got married” but she might have meant her daughter moved in with a man. The Family Code of the Philippines provides that only male and female 18 years of age and above may contract marriage. Even before the effectivity of the Family Code on August 3, 1988, the required age to contract marriage under the New Civil Code of the Philippines was 14 for women and 16 for men.
Danilyn’s so-called husband has no permanent job. When her kids are hungry, they run to her father’s house to feed them.
The 7th Child
Danilo, Jr. is the seventh child who is gay. He works at odd jobs to help the family. He provides home services such as physical massage and mani-pedi. He sells balut at night.
At his third year in high school, his father asked him to stop. He really wanted to finish school but there are just too many of them. If only he could finish school, he would help his family until the end of his life. He is not bitter though, because he says they are happy together. Life is hard but they just laugh it off.
But there was one time when he was so hungry and he wanted to end it all. He attempted suicide but failed. He is angry with his “married” siblings who still stay at his parents’ house with their children because they mean more mouths to feed.
His father could not accept that he’s gay, especially that he’s the junior. He was beaten up many times. There were times he would run away from home, especially when his father was drunk. But later on, his father accepted him.
One day, he joined a Miss Gay contest wearing his disabled sister’s stuff. The sister made a scene on stage, pulled the clothes off him and punched him in the face. He was so embarrassed.
Danilo Jr., says he would always find a way to feed his younger siblings even if it meant that the older members of the family would go hungry. He wished there were only a few of them. They would have been in school and their life would not have been as difficult. He used to pray that the babies stop coming and that he would have no more siblings but they kept increasing in number. He wants to help his younger siblings finish school.
The 8th Child
Geraldine is the 8th child who does not live with the family. She works in a dress shop in another province and sometimes sends money to her mother. She has not seen the family in a long time.
The 10th Child
The tenth child is Hermenegilda, only 14 years old when she became a mother of one. When she was 13, she went dancing and met a guy. She went home with him until she got pregnant and the guy vanished, leaving no support for her child.
She is now living with an older guy with her child. Her father wants her to leave the guy and work as “akyat-barko” (go up the ships docked at piers to provide “service” to the sailors) but she says she does not want to do that.
Her married older brother molests her and wants to date her. She has told her father but nothing seems to have been done so she avoids the brother like the plague.
She was supposed to have another child but she had it aborted because she was addicted to solvent. She and her younger sister had been into solvent-sniffing.
Hermenegilda wants to have another child but she can not conceive because there is something wrong with her uterus. Now she sells balut to provide for her child.
The 12th Child
Aileen is the 12th child but she does not live with her parents and siblings. She also lives in another province with an aunt.
The 13th Child
Jimboy is the 13th child, 16 years old and works as a parking boy. He has run away from home and adopted by someone who taught him how to be a parking boy.
He says he is “married” and has a child but they have separated. He says the girl is being so difficult even if he gives her everything. The girl is a student who used to hang out in their place and he got her pregnant. He does not get along well with the girl’s parents as well.
The 15th Child
Maria Cristina is the 15th child, 14 years old. She helps Jimboy park cars. She does not park cars without her brother because she is scared. She wants to work to help her parents who depend on them for food.
The 17th Child
The 17th child, Ermingard, is 13 years old and in Grade 6. The documentary follows her as she prepares to meet her friends for a night out. She goes to the “sayawan” (dancing event) with her mute sister to have fun. She claims that she has no boyfriend because she is not allowed to have one.
18th and The Others
Justin is the 18th child and is in grade 4. There’s a child named Joy and there’s one named Princess who is in kindergarten. Rosalie’s youngest daughter is as old as her grandson. The mute daughter is not named.
The other children were no longer interviewed nor shown in the documentary. The end of the documentary shows Rosalie diagnosed with ulcer.
On the Lighter Side
A woman is a regular patient at the local hospital. She goes to the hospital to deliver a baby every year for the past 11 years. The hospital staff and doctors have come to expect her year after year.
After her 11th baby is born and she is about to leave the hospital, a friendly nurse says, “So, see you again next year…”
“Oh, no…” the woman replies. “Not anymore. Now we know what’s causing it!”
What is the best number of children per family given the current Philippine economy?
I remember years ago, my brother and my cousin would go to the rural areas to distribute family planning pamphlets as part of their community service, a school requirement then. They were met with hostility and many times, men would tell them that it's not their business, nor the government's business if they have many children.
I have heard many parents say, “Bahala na,” when asked how they are going to feed their numerous children. The “Bahala na” attitude or “just leave it up to fate” is one of the not-so-good characteristics of Filipinos. It is a fatalistic attitude which leaves everything to fate or to God.
When Pope Francis admonished people not to “breed like rabbits,” a lot were offended. Most parents claim that a large family is a blessing. That is true! But only if the parents can afford to give them the basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, and education.
Delivering a baby every year for more than half of her life is no small feat. Rosalie must be really tough. Her health has been so much at risk.
Then, there is the issue of guiding the children to develop good values. Some of Rosalie’s children have not displayed good moral standards. How could they when the father himself pushes one of his daughters to do immoral activities?
I only hope that the documentary has brought awareness to other Filipino families who may not have 22 children but are struggling with poverty, ignorance, and lack of good values. There are government institutions that can offer help in planning the family. I am sure even the church is willing to help.