True, I am not you. I can’t know.  She’s only 28. And she’s already borne nine children

It’s so easy for me to look at her from the outside and judge her motives, her attitude, her actions. From my higher ground of better education, relative wealth and resolve, how can I possibly understand her circumstances and emotions fully, no matter how much I care? 




She’s only 28. And she’s already borne nine children – the last one just six months ago. While I believe that children are gifts, I also believe that gifts come with responsibility. I feel that to leave the conception and bearing of children to chance or fate when you can intervene, to a degree of course, is inexcusable and this when they can ill afford to have another baby. As it is, they have to depend on charity.


I ask her if she’s taken steps to stop further pregnancies and she says no. My feelings are mixed. I want to cry because she doesn’t know better. I want to cry because she’s so poor, legacy of an oppressive system and a vicious cycle of learned helplessness. At the same time, I am also angry because I feel she shouldknow better. From my position, I feel that every woman should know instinctively to give the best protection, education, care and love to their offspring, and that if they can’t, they should seriously not consider bringing another kid into the world. Surely she can see what her many children are lacking. The filthy squalor they live in alone is reason enough not to have more children and I haven’t even started on education which is every child’s right.


Her toddlers lie on the cold, sticky and slimy floor of the bare flat – half naked, sharing a dirty bottle which contains what looks more like “kopi susu” than “susu”. The older ones sit with dirty faces and hair staring vacantly, flashing their white teeth in wide grins when I smile at them. I feel pity for them. And her. But I also feel a little angry that she brought them into the world, to a life of abject poverty – without their permission. They did not ask to be born and to be subjected to such a life.


Because I’ve spoken to her before on a few occasions, I know that she is quite intelligent and so I find it even more unacceptable that she did not take the necessary birth- control measures. When I asked her to go and “ikat” and she replied with the “mahal lah” answer, I’m thinking “bullshit” because to my knowledge, it doesn’t cost that much. Besides, based on my prior observation of her children, she had chosen to spend money on clothes, accessories and even gold-plated necklaces for them instead. When I asked her about the wisdom of these purchases, her smiling reply of “Hari besar mah. Bagi budak happy” infuriated me even more.


I’m aware of feeling exasperated by her misplaced priorities and careless spending. I find myself gesticulating wildly and reasoning with her in a lecturing tone, practically expounding on the possibilities where money and education is concerned. I asked her if she wants to see her children repeat the life she herself has lived and the kind of example she wants to set for them – especially her daughters. When I suggested helping her with regards to tubal ligation, she responded by saying that she can just take some “ubat cina – murah saja… banyak bagus punya”. I questioned the efficacy and safety of it but she insisted that it’s safe. I feel utterly frustrated that what is so obvious to me is not so to her.


At one point, she said that she “sudah takut….tak mau lagi …saya cakap dengan suami saya, jangan dekat ah…”. She said that she told him if he wanted sex, she’ll give him the RM5 to go pay a prostitute for it.


My shoulders are slumped. I feel quite exhausted. I must have been shouting because my throat feels tired too and my mouth feels dry. I think to myself, “Why do I even bother?” I give up. But for just a while only. And then, I’m back at her again.


I ask her how old she is. “28,” she replies. I ask her, “You tak mau, kah?” in reference to sex. She coyly smiles and says, “Mau…”. I said, “Habis, macam mana? Nanti dapat sakit macam mana? You muda lagi, subur lagi. Nanti, sekali saja dekat, bunting lagi, macam mana?


She just smiles, shakes her head and says, “Ok punya lah.” I’m aware of wanting to grab her and shake some sense into her. Instead, I place my hand lightly on her shoulder, laugh like a loser and say, “Saya ta-boleh cakap lagi lah.” I feel so ineffective. I heave a heavy sigh. 

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