Pangasinan family: 2+21 -5+5+48 and counting
Cera, who has given birth to 21 children, said she could have produced more “had I not gone into menopause.”
Only 16 of her 21 children have survived, but she adopted five more and her extended family now also includes 48 grandchildren. Most of the Cera children have only reached high school.
Nana Mensi to her fellow villagers in Barangay Guilig here, Cera lives with husband Emilio, 59, and their two youngest children, aged 17 and 14, in a shanty near a private farm.
Married in 1969 at the age of 15, Cera said she and her husband were aware of family planning programs and contraceptives.
“We never tried any of those; we were not interested,” she said. “Although it is difficult to have many children, we do not regret having them. God gave them to us, and we raised them properly.”
Their first child, Delia, was born in 1971 and is now 40. The youngest, Carl Edmund, was born in 1997 and is now 14. Cera also bore twins, Jesse and Mary Ann, in 1973.
Five children—Jun, born in 1972; Maribel, 1976; Pedrito, 1979; Marc Michael, 1983; and Emilio Jr., 1984—have died of either accidents or illnesses.
The rest of the brood include Nestor, born in 1975; Melanie, 1978; Marites, 1981; Ricky, 1982; Angelo, 1985; Michael, 1986; Randy, 1987; Gary, 1988; Mariz, 1989; Maricel, 1990; Dennis; 1991; and Jeffrey, 1994.
“Honestly, had I not gone into menopause, I would have probably had more children,” she said.
Cera gave birth to all her children at home, first aided by a traditional midwife (hilot) and later by a professional. Not once did she suffer complications.
Her surviving children and grandchildren, she claimed, had all grown up healthy. “They rarely get sick. Even though they look thin, they are healthy. They eat regularly and don’t go hungry,” she said.
A diabetic, Cera neither drinks nor smokes.
But to Dr. Ophelia Rivera, health officer of Mangaldan, a mother like Cera may be prone to gynecological problems and heart disease. She may also be susceptible to tooth loss and her bones could easily grow weak.
“The Department of Health’s (DoH) mandate on family planning is on birth spacing, for the woman to regain her nutritional and physical status,” Rivera said.
According to Rivera, the DoH currently recommends spacing births by five to six years—longer than the previously suggested interval of two to three years—to ensure the health of both mother and child.
Told of Cera’s case, particularly her having no regrets about having that many children, the doctor said: “In this case, are (parents like her) really able to provide the basic needs like food, shelter, education? If they live in the slums, then I think not.”
At one point in the Inquirer interview, Cera likened one birth control method to tying a string around a finger and pulling it tight till it causes pain and swelling.
This kind of thinking, Rivera said, was just an example of the common misconceptions on the use of intrauterine devices, or IUDs.
These wrong notions persist because people tend to believe what friends or neighbors say rather than what doctors and health workers tell them, she added.
“Family planning is difficult to sell to those who have limited literacy or educational attainment because no matter how (often) we conduct an information campaign, somehow many still do not understand,” Rivera said.
A DoH survey had shown that many poor people did not avail themselves of family planning services even though these were readily accessible, she said.
The town doctor attributed this not to religious beliefs but to misconceptions on the physical effects of family planning methods as well as objections coming from husbands or male partners.
Cera’s eldest child, Delia, and fourth child, Nestor, have seven children each. Her younger children each have five or less.
Cera said the first 10 years of their marriage was a struggle because of the growing brood. “I tried many ways to earn money, mostly by selling any food I can prepare, while my husband worked in the slaughterhouse and took care of farm animals,” she said.
Cera finished high school, while her husband only completed grade school. Now retired, Emilio had worked as a partidor, or butcher—the same job now taken by his sons and sons-in-law.
“Being a partidor then, my husband was able to bring home pieces of meat enough for our growing family, and now that is also what our children do. I think being a partidor is really in our blood,” Cera said.
While the men in the family work at the nearby abattoir, the women are mostly in the food business: tending a small canteen, catering, or preparing rice delicacies and processed meat.
Cera used to own a canteen herself but decided to hand it over to one of her daughters. She also taught her girls how to make sweets and delicacies, engage in direct selling, or do manicure so they could augment their husbands’ incomes.
“I raised my children to live simple lives while being able to provide for themselves. I told them that even though they may not get rich, as long as they work hard and provide for their own families, a simple life is enough,” she said.
When family members gathered for a reunion in 2009, most of them stayed outside since not everyone could be accommodated inside the house.
“My husband and I had a pig slaughtered (for the celebration) but it wasn’t enough to feed everyone so we had to cook some more dishes,” Cera recalled
Most of her married children live near their parents’ house. When they leave home for work, Cera and her husband take care of grandchildren.
Nothing for herself
Cera currently earns a living selling bananas, mangoes and santol—with the earnings almost always going to the care of her grandchildren.
“If you give a peso to one of them, the rest will ask for money, too … So at the end of the day, I barely have anything left for myself,” she said.
But Cera maintained that life was not that hard now. “When I see (my grandchildren) play, I am happy. When they fight or cry all at the same time and I don’t know what to do, I end up laughing because they are so many,” she said.
With a soft spot for children, Cera had even earned an unofficial role as the village “consultant” when it came to parenting.
When Cera once served as barangay council member, a pregnant woman asked if she could shoulder the bills for her forthcoming childbirth. In exchange, Cera could keep the baby.
“I’m really surprised why people think I could be easily convinced to adopt their children when I have so many already. My children also ask me why I always accept them. You see, I am very fond of children,” she said.
Aside from her 21 children, Cera adopted five more boys. During the Inquirer interview, however, she could only remember the complete names of three: Nardy Estrada, Roger Ballesteros and Jeffrey de Guzman.
Asked why she agreed to take them all in, Cera said it was probably because of her past experience as a social worker under the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
“Those boys were only 6 or 7 years old when I took them in from the DSWD. Some ran away from home, some were abandoned by their parents. I got them circumcised, clothed and fed them, and they never left (my care) until they all got married,” she said.
“I only take care of them but I don’t give them [our] family name. They keep their own surnames. In fact, one of my daughters married one of my adopted children,” she said.
Cera admitted having difficulty remembering the names and birth years of all her children and grandchildren.
But then, she said, she had made a choice—and that was to raise a full, crowded house, with all its joys and struggles.