In so many words, Christmas is about pregnancy. And it was rather that sort of irregular one. One was of Elizabeth, and the other was of Mary. In old age, Elizabeth ran the risk of pregnancy-related complications. Mary, on the other hand, at a tender age, braced herself for socially critical issues, not excluding the punishment of death if it was found that the baby in her womb was out of wedlock. But then again, both have survived. And the rest is history. The history of the salvation of humankind, that is.
Along this pregnancy line, I think that Napsan could be considered the Christmas capital of this side of the globe. There are just too many Elizabeths and Marys at each corner over here. The truth is that our school (secondary) is the highest in terms of teenage pregnancy. I heard somebody saying, “At least, may isang top tayo sa ranking.” My estimation is that young girls as young as 14 years old could already be on the family way. For instance, there is Emelita, a 42-year-old woman who already has 11 children. She declared, “13 nga po sana yan sila, Father. Namatay lang po ang dalawa.” Ever wonder how old she was when she started begetting?
Last time, I had to provide shelter for 8 kids for two nights. We had to rush their mother, Emma, to the hospital in the city proper to deliver yet another baby. Emma is just 35 years old. I have to mention that she is already a grandmother to one apo. By calculation, both the mother and her daughter were then pregnant together.
Like what you might have been thinking right now, reports of these pregnancies (teenage, unplanned, out of wedlock, too many children and too close together, and what else?) could be downright disturbing. It indeed is. This reality is somewhat unsurprising to us, though. Study tells us that such a situation, while a global issue, occurs most in marginalized communities. Such a phenomenon is also unsettling if we look at it through the lens of the vicious cycle of poverty – end of education and job prospects turn dimmer.
Before I could paint, albeit unwittingly, a bleak picture of your Christmas and thus spoil everyone’s vibe, my sight was actually on the other side of the coin—the irrepressible joy that every family member has whenever they throw a glance at the newly-born baby. Every childbirth is reason enough for delight.
First-time moms, while experiencing inexplicable mixed emotions, would claim joy as the dominant feeling. This is the feeling that supersedes and suppresses all other emotions, be they positive or negative, brought about by and courtesy of the newborn baby. What is rather common for new mothers is to instinctually shed tears upon birth. “There’s so much love I cannot explain. I am also thankful na safe kami pareho ng baby ko nang iniluwal ko siya,” shared Lilibeth, a mother when she was then 18. And if I may also add, while the mother does give birth to a child, the baby too can give a mother a different kind of life.
I saw Emma almost daily since they live within church premises. When I met her 2 days after her delivery, I observed that she looked cut and dried. Parang walang nangyari. “Sanay naman na, Father,” she told me. In jest, I told her, “Gusto mo ba na ako na lang mag-alaga ng ibang anak mo?” She did not utter a word and shrugged her shoulders as a way of refusing my offer. Last night, I invited them to join me for Noche Buena. Together with her husband, they politely declined my invitation. “Salamat po, Father. Magsama-sama po muna kaming pamilya.”
As for Emelita, I challenged her to enumerate all the names of her 11 children. With the crisp facility, she did indeed mention all, and in chronological order at that. She told me further, “Malakas po ako, Father. May biyaya din po ang Diyos.”
Don’t get me wrong just yet. By no means do I want to romanticize this lamentable social condition. Again, the point is, in fact, about joy. What is it, then, especially in the spirit of Christmas?
For Jürgen Moltmann, a renowned German Reformed theologian, joy is about God’s presence. “Whenever I feel the presence of God, then my heart is lifted up, and I see more positivity in the future of the coming of God, and thus hope is awakened in me.” For him, Christianity is a religion of joy. Moreover, Moltman asserts that joy is different from mere fun. “Fun is a superficial feeling that must be repeated again and again to last. While joy is a deeper feeling of the whole existence. You can have fun at the side, but you can experience joy only with your whole heart, your whole soul, and all your energies.” Further, “it comes from outside into our life in a surprise, in a turning from sadness to goodness, from sickness to health, from loneliness to communion. And this turning point awakens joy.”
So then, are Emelita, Lillbeth, and Emma enough this Christmas? With Elizabeth, “her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.” (Lk. 1:57-66). And as for Mary, “there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest…”
Have a joyous season, everyone.