May 14, 2017 News
– 82-year-old mom of 12 tells her story
By Rehana Ahamad
By the time Gwendolyn Joseph was 32 years old, she had already given birth to 12 children. Her family was Guyana’s version of ‘Cheaper by the dozen’ – even before the 2003 film was made.
The story of the childhood lovers from Airy Hall, Mahaicony, East Coast Demerara, is one that was well known by villagers.
Ms. Gwendolyn, as she is fondly referred to, was swept off of her feet at the tender age of 15. Lincoln Joseph, also known as ‘Killy’ was the man who stole her heart and made her a mother – multiple times actually.
The two got married just as she turned an adult. A few months later, they were expecting their first child. The pregnancy was smooth and seemingly healthy, but during Joseph’s delivery, something unexpected happen.
“The nurse brought my baby boy, and I smiled. I was so happy. Plus, she said that after the delivery, the pain would ease, so I was glad about that too,” she recalled.
But the pain didn’t stop. To her surprise, Mrs. Joseph was told to prepare to make the other delivery.
“The other delivery?” she wondered anxiously.
As it turned out, the then-teenager had been carrying not one, but two baby boys in her tummy for the past nine months. The second boy, Maxwell, was born three minutes after his elder brother Marlon, on October 12, 1954.
“I was kind of shocked, because I never knew I was having twins,” the now 82-year-old woman related during a pleasant interview with Kaieteur News.
Sitting in the living room of her ninth child – Sharon, Mrs. Joseph explained that although it was unexpected, she was happy.
If holding one child could make her feel that content, then she could only image the overwhelming joy of cuddling them both.
Eventually, the surprise went away and Mr. and Mrs. Joseph became very focused on being wonderful parents to their boys.
“It was very difficult though,” Mrs. Joseph said.
She recounted, “It was a whole lot of crying for the first few months. I hardly slept, but my mother and my sister were there to help me.”
Joseph’s mother had experience with raising twins. As a matter of fact, Gwendolyn Joseph has siblings who are a twin. But growing up with twins and actually raising them, was a different ball game altogether.
Just as the young mother was grooving into the art of managing two feisty toddlers all by herself, her morning sickness returned. And since the vomiting is not known to be post-delivery, there was only one plausible explanation – the Josephs were pregnant again. And, they were going to have another set of twins!
The young couple, barely in their twenties, were up to the challenge. They possessed unconditional love for the two children already running around their humble home, and a second pregnancy would mean nothing less than a divine blessing that they were ready to tackle.
Mrs. Joseph would go on to give birth to two beautiful baby girls.
“So, we now had two boys and two girls, and we loved them with everything we had.”
The Josephs were sure that they were even more prepared to handle all the late nights and diaper changing that came with being new parents.
But as with many other things, this was much, much easier said than done; managing two toddlers and two infants started to take a massive toll on Mrs. Joseph.
“I remember one day, I was standing in the house and the babies were crying. My mother and my husband wanted to know why I had the children crying, because I don’t leave them to cry. But I just couldn’t go to them. All I felt was my foot becoming weak and I started to see dark.”
Mrs. Joseph fainted. She was unconscious and lay in bed for three days and three nights.
“It was like I was in a coma,” the woman said.
Doctors had explained that having four children in four years had had an adverse effect on her health.
“They said I didn’t have enough blood, so it wasn’t reaching to my heart,” she noted.
But, after a few weeks, Joseph was nurtured back to health, and she was fully prepared to resume her very important role as ‘mommy.’
With four growing children, Mrs. Joseph decided to do start up a business to assist with finances. She embarked on poultry farming. Word spread and villagers were flocking her yard for their meat needs. Meanwhile, Mr. Joseph, who was the ‘Jack of all trades’, held a senior position at the Burma Rice Factory.
“Things were going well,” she recalled.
The first set of twins was four years old, and the girls – Valarie and Shelly, were less than two years old.
The children, energetic as ever, had the Josephs very busy. But not busy enough for Mrs. Joseph to realise that her menstruation was once again, late. As it turned out, she was pregnant for the third time in six years. And yes, her womb contained not one, but two babies.
After a few months came little Dawn and Brian – the fifth and sixth children of the Joseph’s household.
“My husband and I couldn’t believe it. We had six children in six years…six!”
But, the immense love that the Joseph couple had for their children was enough to strengthen their will to deal with all the hard work and sleepless nights that would come with being good parents.
At this point, they were fully aware that this was easier said than done, but the duo was determined to make things work.
“You never let the hard times cloud all the good things. That is something we never did. God was always there for us,” Mrs. Joseph said.
About two years after her third pregnancy, she realised that her morning sickness had returned…again. A fourth pregnancy was confirmed. The Mahaicony woman would eventually give birth to yet another set of twin – two girls – Denise and Cheryl.
Each set of twins, all fraternal, came two years after each other.
‘THE FIRST SINGLE’
The very fertile Mr. and Mrs. Joseph were not done yet. After another two-year hiatus, they were expecting their ninth child. This time, it was not a twin. It was little Sharon – the first of the Joseph’s children who didn’t have to share a womb.
Her birth was followed by that of three other ‘singles’ – Deeann, Karen, and a baby boy who died prematurely.
According to Ms. Sharon, the siblings have always lived, and continue to be close-knit.
“Even to this day, we don’t have room for too many friends, because we are all very close friends with each other,” she said.
The mother of three, known as Sharon Bhojedat, recalls years of mischievous fun with her brothers and sisters.
“Mommy was a member of the Dundee Village Council, and she would go out for meetings and so, we would leave whatever she cooked, and we would go and do our own lil bush-cook in the yard.” As Bhojedat recalled, they were almost caught at one point.
“She came home and it was just one big scattering. Some of us stalled her while the rest of us tried to hide the pot. We ended up hiding it under the bed. And the funny thing about it was that we kept taking turns to go inside the room and eat,” Bhojedat smiled contently.
Mrs. Joseph, being reminded of the story, laughed, “You know, I was wondering why they were going in the room in and out, but I didn’t pay much attention to it.”
“I remember one day, the two older boys were fighting, some of the children were crying, there was screaming and like I just could not take it anymore. They were crying for their mommy, and like I just needed my mommy, so I too started to cry,” Joseph recalled.
“When they saw me crying, everybody just stopped, and they calmed down and were left looking at me,” Joseph told this newspaper.
She maintained that life for them was made far easier with the help of relatives and caring neighbours.
“During those days, people had love for each other. People used to share and be helpful, not like these days.”
Mrs. Joseph stands as a proud mother. Each of her children was brought up well educated, and all now have thriving careers.
“We all attended Novar Primary School…who didn’t go on to Mahaicony Secondary, ended up at Bygeval Secondary,” the first ‘single’ child, Sharon said.
The now elderly woman said that apart from the ordinary childhood mischief, hers were good, mannerly children.
THE ART OF PARENTING
After a dozen children, it is safe to say that the Josephs would have perfected the art of parenting. Sharing some tips, Mrs. Joseph said that the key to being a good parent is love.
“Nowadays you find too many parents putting themselves first. You can’t do that. You have to love your children enough to take a step back and allow them to grow,” she advised.
The elderly woman went further to note, “I believe in talking to children…explaining to them right from wrong…setting boundaries and ensuring that they know who is in charge.”
As Mrs. Joseph recalled, it was Mr. Joseph who was the strict parent.
“When he gave them a strong watch, everybody would fall in line…but even then, he was a loving father.”
Mr. Joseph only died a few years ago, but it would appear as though the parenting techniques were passed on. The Joseph clan has now grown by 42 grandchildren – this includes one set of twins born to Dawn from the third set of twins – the boy and girl duo.
The still healthy and vibrant Mrs. Joseph also has 31 great-grandchildren, who, like their elders, have been making significant strides.
So, all in all, the task of giving birth to and raising 12 children, inclusive of four sets of twins, was indeed, a challenge well executed.
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