Thursday, October 13, 2011

One woman, 15 pregnancies, 12 children

She is 42 years old, has had 15 pregnancies, two of them miscarriages and one induced abortion. She has 12 children who are alive, the eldest of them aged 26 and the youngest about four or five. She has three grandchildren, two of them children of single mothers.

I met Yoling (not her real name) last week. A friend brought Yoling with her from a town in Rizal where both their families reside. Yoling stayed overnight in Quezon City while waiting for someone to pick her up. She was going to a home somewhere outside Metro Manila where she will be working as a maid for a monthly pay of P2,500.
When I learned that Yoling has 12 children I asked her if I we could talk. She said yes right away. I told her I was a journalist writing for the Inquirer. I also said that she must have a very interesting life and a good story to tell. Could I write about her? Could I take a photo of her? Could she tell me her name and her children’s? She said yes to all without shyness or hesitation, but I also told her that it was best that I withheld her identity.
I asked my questions with utmost respect. Yoling was serious but not guarded, she was not the very talkative type but she answered questions straightforwardly.

Yoling is a real person. She is not a fictitious character or a composite of so many women.

What got me interested in her was her being a mother, at a young age of 42, to 12 children. And that she was leaving all of them, her husband Narding (not his real name) included, to work far from their home. Narding, 57, has tuberculosis and cannot earn a living.

Yoling and Narding raised their big family in a rather secluded rural part of a Rizal town. They have been caretakers of a piece of land, about four hectares, that has not been developed. Yoling sometimes did domestic work for the landowner’s family while Narding did basic carpentry for people nearby.

The two had very little income. The land was not very good for rice or vegetable farming but the couple did try to make it yield food for their family.

“I was born in Naga (Camarines Sur),” Yoling narrated. “I finished Grade 3. At an early age I ran away from home.” She went to Pampanga and worked as a domestic helper for several years. There she met Narding who was then working in her employers’ rice mill. In no time, they became a couple.

Rizal province was where they headed for and began raising a family. The two were never married legally but Yoling said many years ago a pastor from a religious denomination married them. Yoling clarified though that Narding had been previously married to someone and had in fact four children from that union, and 10 grandchildren as well.

Oh, she added, Narding had beaten her up a few times, but when she fought back, he backed off and that was the end of it.

The children came one after the other, Yoling said. “Kung minsan ako ang nagpaanak sa sarili ko.” (Sometimes I just delivered the baby by myself.) That was when the hilot (midwife) came too late or when there was no one to assist her.

Yoling volunteered the information that although she has 12 living children, she has had 15 pregnancies. Three did not make it. One of them—maybe the 10th, Yoling cannot now recall exactly—was lost because of induced abortion. Of her 12 living children, one—maybe the ninth—was given up for adoption.

And how did she come to know about an abortionist? “A neighbor led me to one who lived not far from our place,” Yoling answered.

And what was the procedure like? Were instruments inserted into her? Did she have to take pills or drink concoctions? None of those, Yoling answered. All the abortionist did was to press on her abdomen, on the area where the uterus was. She pressed hard and long. The pain was so intense Yoling almost passed out. The pressure was meant to suffocate and kill the baby. The result was not immediate.

Soon after, the landowner, not knowing what Yoling went through, called for her to do the laundry. The physical exertion took its toll.

A few days later, Yoling bled and a fetus came out of her. “It was a boy,” she said sadly. Yoling hemorrhaged and was rushed to the hospital. “I was 50-50,” she said, hastening to narrate her near-death experience (NDE). How she felt, what she heard and saw in that divide between life and the afterlife. And how she was sent back. (Not enough space here for Yoling’s NDE.)

“I stayed in the hospital for almost two weeks,” she recalled. “My husband was angry and he tried to track down the abortionist but he could not find her.”

The experience left Yoling weak, but never too weak to have a couple more babies. Now 42, Yoling could have several more. She still menstruates but her husband, she said, is no longer up to it. She sounded relieved. Narding is tubercular and nearing 60.

But how did her family become so big? we asked. Two months after delivering the baby, the baby-making resumed as usual and without let-up, she said. In the midst of a huge brood? I asked. “We have a separate room,” she answered sheepishly.

Did she breastfeed? Hardly, Yoling said. What formula did she feed her infants? “Milkmaid,” was her stunning answer. That was how she called condensed milk, the sweet, sticky ingredient used for desserts.

No way her husband would use condoms. No ligation for her, no vasectomy for him. Pills, she tried to get from the health center but she was being asked to pay for them. What about natural family planning (NFP). Yung pagpipigil, was how I said it. “Yung calendar?” she asked. Yoling knew about NFP but said they couldn’t quite follow it.

Was there anyone from the government, the NGOs or the churches who, upon beholding their life of penury, had seriously helped them plan their family and for their children’s future?

No one.

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