Building a family means more than producing babies

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I read a story in Sinar Harian recently about a six-month-old baby suffering from various chronic illnesses. In dire need of a breathing machine and a special air-conditioned room in order to survive, the family turned to the public for donations.

So used to reading similar gut-wrenching tales such as this in our local dailies, I browsed through this particular article only to learn that (unsurprisingly) the child’s 31-year-old father, who makes a living by selling coconut water by the roadside, is the sole breadwinner of the family. His wife, a 27-year-old, has two other children to take care of. Their eldest son, aged nine, is disabled.

My heart goes out to this family. However, being sympathetic did not stop me from questioning why a man whose livelihood depended on the sale of coconut water, took a woman into his already poverty-stricken life and fathered three children with her.

What I find even harder to accept is why the couple decided to have two more children even after their first was born disabled. I mean, did they seriously think they could afford the care of a disabled child plus two others on their income from coconut water sales?

Or perhaps like many underprivileged couples, they built their family without giving too much thought to what they were doing.

This reminded me of a conversation I had with a taxi driver a couple of weeks ago. According to the driver, he lost his job in the oil and gas industry and has been switching from one job to another ever since. Driving a taxi, according to him, was one of the toughest jobs as he sometimes makes under RM20 after a 12-hour shift and pays RM65 per day on taxi rental.

I learned that his family lived at a kampong in Terengganu, where his wife cares for their four children and is expecting their fifth. I couldn’t help but ask what made them decide to have yet another child when he was already struggling to make ends meet, only to have him answer rather casually: “She likes children.”

I would like to contrast both these stories with a couple I met not too long ago at the San Peng PPR Flats in Kuala Lumpur. Julie and her mechanic husband are the struggling parents of one nine-year old boy who was born perfect but lost his sight at the age of one due to eye cancer. For the past eight years, while her husband worked hard to support his family, Julie accompanied her boy to school, nursed him at home and became his best friend. To encourage his passion in music, they even saved enough money to get him a keyboard and pay for his music lessons.

For Julie and her husband, although they could afford to parent one more child, they decided not to, as caring for a disabled child required lots of energy. There was also the fear that a second child would take up too much of their time and attention. Both Julie and her husband decided instead to dedicate their lives to moulding their son’s life so he could someday live independently and confidently as an active member of society.

I have to say that I have so much respect for Julie and her husband. Unlike the other two parents I mentioned, this husband-and-wife team are doing all they can to ensure that even if their offspring does not become an asset to society, they still wish for him not to end up a burden instead.

You see, having many children is not wrong, but if you continue to produce children knowing you aren’t able to nurture them the way they deserve to be nurtured – then it’s wrong.

Likewise, nobody desires to have a sick or disabled child. But while our children’s physical well-being at birth may not be in our hands, their future certainly is. And for parents who continue having children despite being unable to care for their sick or disabled ones, their actions are questionable – because it is society in the end who may have to shoulder the responsibility of caring for their offspring.

I believe many people share my opinion, yet worry to speak their mind for fear their words will bruise the feelings of others. However, I believe it is time we came out in the open and talked about it objectively.

Malaysia needs members of society who can become assets to our great nation, not dependent on the generosity of others to survive. So instead of blindly encouraging our people to help increase the country’s population, I think it is time our government encouraged people to stop building families if they lack the means to support them physically, emotionally and financially.

Please have some pity on children who do not have any other choice but to be born into a household struggling to survive.

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