'I am truly blessed'
They never go out
Bridget Harris - born to be a mother By Angela Osborne
May 12, 2002
Articles on people
They are nine in number. Their names are Carl, Joshua, Janellea, Mariah, Matthew, John, Jonathan, Andrew and Andrea. They are siblings and they are all under seven years old. Their mother, Bridgette Harris, is just 30 years old. How did she accomplish this feat? Not very easily.
Bridgette and her children - four sets of twins and her oldest boy - live in her mother's house in Leopold Street, Werk-en-Rust. She and their father, Carl McKenzie, have separated. But she was quick to point out that he was very supportive of her and the children and visited every afternoon to help her with them.
Bridgette grew up in Vryheid's Lust, where all her relatives still live, and came to Georgetown with her children's father, when she was just 16 years old. They lived together in Cummings Street for a couple of years but had problems with the landlord and later moved to her present residence.
At that time in her life, Bridgette sold snacks and food in and around Georgetown. She also sold food at Georgetown Seafoods Trading Company when its canteen was destroyed some years ago, but this aspect of her business was halted when the company re-established its canteen.
At the age of 24, Bridgette's life began to change, on December 23, 1995 she gave birth to her first child, Carl McKenzie, Jr, now six years old. Bridgette had no idea that her child-bearing years would be so life changing, but soon found out when one year later she gave birth to her first pair of twins.
Coming from a family of twins and triplets, (her grandmother gave birth to them), it was no surprise that she should have twins but to have four sets is somewhat unbelievable.
On February 12, 1997 Bridgette gave birth to Joshua and Janellea, now five years old. She said she was not aware that she was going to have twins.
When she went to Georgetown Hospital to have her baby, the doctor on duty noticed that she was having a hard time and told the nurses to get her down to the operating room, because she was in too much pain. The nurses decided among themselves to help her out and performed an episiotomy (a surgical cut in the perineum, the muscular area between the vagina and the back passage). They delivered Joshua, and as they were about to stitch her up, a ward sister coming in on the change of shift, noticed that her abdomen was still very high and told them to do another examination to ensure that there was no other baby in there. The doctor returned and when he did his examination he found Janellea tucked away high up in her mother's uterus.
When Bridgette became pregnant a third time, the doctor, knowing that she had had a multiple birth before, sent her for an ultra-sound. The results were what he had suspected, Bridgette was going to have twins. She said when the doctor first told her she thought he was teasing her, because she had had twins before. But when reality hit home, she was really excited. On September 28, 1998, Bridgette delivered her second set of twins, Mariah and Matthew.
At this point, she said, she began to consider permanent sterilisation through tubal ligation (having her tubes tied).
Before this decision could be finalised, however, Bridgette was pregnant again. Her third pair of twins - John and Jonathan - now two years old, were born on February 28, 2000. She noted that after this pregnancy it was never in her thoughts to have any more children. In fact, as her babies outgrew their things, she gave them away. So when she found herself pregnant again with her last pair, four-month-old Andrew and Andrea, Bridgette had to start all over again. This time around it was tough because she was sick all the time, so much so that she was bedridden and had no one to take care of her and the children.
Sister Jonas to the rescue
It was at this point in her life that she met Sister Jonas, wife of head of the Salvation Army in Guyana, Julius Jonas. Sister Jonas had heard of her through someone in the neighbourhood and went to visit her. Since that day one year ago, she has not left Bridgette on her own. Throughout the pregnancy, Sister Jonas made sure that meals were provided for Bridgette and her children and that someone was there to help with the cleaning, washing and caring for the children.
Bridgette gave birth on December 30, 2001 and this time she made sure that the tubal ligation was performed before she left the hospital. However, the operation has proven to be detrimental to Bridgette, as she has now developed a hernia, which is causing her immense pain to the extent that she sometimes loses consciousness. She has been given a date in July to have this corrected at the Georgetown Public Hospital, but fears that she cannot wait that long for the operation, as the pain is sometimes unbearable.
How does Bridgette cope with expenses? "Well you must know it is hard," she responded. "Their father works at Seafoods for $7,000 a week. He is a freezer hand there. From that he has to give me $5,250 for the children, but this can barely do to pack the lunch kits of the three who are going to school. I also get public assistance of $3,297. I try to make it do but it is hard.
"Four of my children [the smallest ones] are vegetarian [lactose intolerant], so they have to have special milk to drink. [If] I give them fish, nut butter and certain other foods, their skin breaks out and they smell rank.
"My day begins at three. I sleep on and off between nine in the night to three in the morning, due to the children waking for feed. I would get up at three and start preparing meals for those who have to go to school. Carl Jr attends Ketley Primary and Joshua and Janellea attend Smyth Street Nursery. By the time I am finished making their lunch, they would get up, which would be around five to six in the morning."
She would then bathe them and give them their breakfast and prepare them for school. At the end of this exercise, the other children would awaken and they require the same attention, "if not they [would] feel that I like the bigger ones more than them, so their meals and pampering must be the same like the big ones."
Sharing her attention among the nine children can be tough at times but she tries. "Sometimes I would have to leave off to feed the babies, or look at John and Jonathan and Mariah and Matthew would become jealous, Mariah would tell Matthew, 'come boy Matthew, she ain't got time for we, she like them more' and they would go and sit in a corner. I have to be constantly assuring them that I love them all the same way and to prove it, I would lie on the floor so that each one of them can have a piece of me," she said laughing fondly.
At some minutes after eight everyday, Bridgette leaves her smaller children, regrettably, alone, to take the three older ones to school, "I know I am taking a risk but I have no choice, I have no one to help me or to look at them, so I have to leave them alone and try to hurry to get back to them."
Carl Jr has been taught how to get to and from school, with strict instructions to ask someone to help him cross the road. As for the other two, she would ask neighbours who are going for their children, or the teachers at school to send them home with anyone who might be coming into her street. This prevents her from having to leave the younger ones alone again. Leaving the young ones at home alone has caused her double the work, as she would have to go home and clean up again. She said they would eat out everything that she has prepared, or go into the fridge and take out things that shouldn't be out, or play with the babies' oil, cream and powder. They have even tried to move the babies, who end up falling on the floor and are left there crying.
Bridgette says her housework never ends. During the interview, she had a sink full of dirty dishes (which the children's father came in and washed whilst he was visiting) and a tub full of clothes downstairs in the yard waiting to be washed.
When Carl Jr gets home in the afternoon, Bridgette gives her children a meal after which they have recreational time. After this period she would check her son's schoolbook, finding out what he has done for the day and help with whatever homework he might have.
Bridgette would then tidy them up and they are then allowed to watch some television - cartoons and news. "They must watch the news. I make it my duty for them to watch the news." And then it is off to bed. This happens during the week. At weekends they are allowed to watch one movie, providing it is not rated R.
Bridgette told Sunday Stabroek that she has also received help from Food for the Poor, which has given her some foodstuff and home furnishings.
First Lady, Varshnie Jagdeo has also visited Bridgette and her children on two occasions, and bought the soy milk which the four babies need. Mrs Jagdeo has also written to Dr Lee at Woodlands Hospital for him examine Bridgette's hernia.
And even though Bridgette lives in her mother's home she has bills to pay. "The bills are stacking up. Look, right now I don't have electricity because the lights were cut off due to non-payment." She said that Food for the Poor has promised to help her get the electricity reconnected. She also said that they indicated that they would help her get a telephone.
Bridgette noted that she was a hard-working woman before she was forced to give up her trade to look after her children. "It is hard for me to come to grips with the fact that I have to continue like this but I have no one to help me, maybe if I had someone to help me, I would not be in this position in the first place."
She hopes to be able to get a small loan to start her own business - making plantain chips again or selling food. Bridgette wants to fend for herself and her children.
She said she yearns to take her children on outings as they rarely get the opportunity to go out of the house, since she alone cannot handle it. "When the place gets dark and everyone has gone in, I would take them around the block at night, that is the most I can do at this time."
But Bridgette will not consider giving any of her children away. "I am truly blessed," she said. "I don't care how much I have to punish with them. I will not be giving away any of my children. You know how many people want to have children of their own and cannot have them? So why should I give away mine that God has blessed me with. I survive every day by the grace of God and I will get through this."
Anyone who meets Bridgette would be convinced that she will. Though she must feel severely challenged, there was nothing but love in her eyes as she talked about her children. And she is doing a fine job of raising them.
They never go out