By Tony Ogaga Erhariefe
When Mrs. Maryrose Ezeno lost her only son at the age of 50 in 2010, her world came crashing like a pack of dominoes. However, with support from her husband and family, she was able to weather the storm. Today, at 53, she is the proud mother of a set quadruplets.
On May 3, the Ezenos’ celebrated the second birthday anniversary of their quadruplets in a quiet ceremony at their home at Irepodun Estate, Lagos. Mrs. Ezeno who is a teacher with the Lagos State Ministry of Education and has taught since 1985 recounted how she lost her first son when he was on the verge of relocating to the UK for his Master’s degree.
“When I lost my son in a ghastly car crash, I never believed I could survive it or even come to terms with it. Chudi, my first child, a graduate of Engineering, had finished his youth service and was to travel to the UK for his Masters at the Metropolitan University when he died suddenly.
“For a long while, I was in denial. It was the most trying moment for my family. But we held unto our rosary and God saw us through. Today, I am filled with joy whenever I see my kids. They have brought so much joy to our hearts. It’s amazing that at my age, people still hear the cries of children in my house. It was nothing short of a miracle that I could conceive and bear children at the age of 51. Everybody wrote me off. Chukwudi, Rosary, Chukwuazanam and Nnechukwukadibia have brought so much joy and blessing to our hearts,” she added with unquantifiable joy written all over her smile.
“I am 53 now and not growing any younger. I am like ‘God at this age, who am I that people should hear the cries of children in this house?’ I can’t quantify the joy. There were times my husband had to rush me to the hospital because I was falling apart due to stress.
“But I think the joy is overwhelming. It’s like walking along the road and suddenly stumbling on a Ghana-must-go bag stuffed with dollars! No matter how heavy that bag is, you will carry it and even if you fall into a gutter and your leg gets broken, you will get up again and continue because you know that when you get home, you will take money out of the dollars and treat yourself,” the happy and fulfilled mother of quadruplets adds.
Lucky grand mum
Today the kids have grown and one thing a visitor cannot ignore is baby chatter, which echoes throughout the entire household. Ezeno reveals that a lot of times due to the age difference between her kids and herself, she plays along when people think that her kids are her grand children.
“I would keep saying it till the day I will depart this world,” she says with a ring of sincerity, “everything about my life, especially these children is by the sheer grace of God. When I go out with them people think I’m their grandmother. When I buy clothes for them I have to buy in sets and people say, ‘madam, you’re such a lucky grandmum; all these for your grand children?’ They have no idea I am their biological mother,” she confessed.
Once upon a loss…
Recounting how she had quadruplets at age 51, she says that it all began after the death of her only son, Chudi, in a ghastly car crash as the family returned from the village in 2010 after that year’s Christmas and New Year celebrations. Ezeno says she was filled by a desire to replace the family’s heir apparent and that culminated in her taking the risk of getting pregnant at the age of 51 after she was exposed to fertility treatment 21 years after she had her last child. And when she eventually got pregnant, series of scans revealed that she was bearing quintuplets!
Consequently, doctors tried to discourage them by advising that she aborts at least three of the fetuses. Ezeno says despite the opinion of the doctors, they refused to budge as she and her husband firmly believed that whatever God has started, He would bring to a logical conclusion.
“To start with, the doctors showed us the actual size of the uterus which is not bigger than a normal Nokia cell phone,” Ezeno said going down memory lane as she shakes her head in an attempt to capture the magnitude of the miracle. “They said: ‘How do you expect this uterus to expand to the extent of carrying five kids? Do you know when last this woman was pregnant? Twenty years ago. Now she is 51 and you want her to go through this? How would she survive? By now her muscles and bones are weak. By 40 a lot of women start complaining about arthritis and she is not an exception.
“What’s more, her bones are no longer forming but wearing out. These children are going to get everything they need to grow in the womb of this woman. How is she going to survive? Where is the magic? The best option is to reduce. Come and collect letter and go for reduction. Reduce it to one or two,’” she said doctors advised as they bombarded her and her husband with a litany of reasons why she would not be able to bring the pregnancy to term.
However, she and her husband stuck to their guns on the grounds that since they were Catholics, abortion or reduction was not an option. To stave off the pressure from the medics, they deliberately stayed away from the hospital until the pregnancy had advanced beyond five months, which was the window doctors gave her for safe reduction.
“Even the doctors in India were stunned I could survive the pregnancy. When we got to India, doctors told us that if we had come earlier than five months, they would have reduced. However, they also confessed that what they were seeing was a miracle! When I finally gave birth on May 3, 2011, I was delivered of quintuplets. However, one of the boys died shortly after birth.”
Amazing world of quadruplets
Today, a visit to the Ezeno’s home is a noisy yet exciting experience as Chudi and his crew of sisters leap about playing, fighting and crying. She talks about the journey so far confessing that it is all time consuming.
“People used to tell me that once they start sitting, it would be better because my job would be lighter. But when they started sitting, it only intensified. Then they said, ‘Don’t worry, when they start crawling, all you’ll need to do is just drop some toys for them and they’ll start playing and won’t stress you. So, when they started crawling we bought toys for them but the job wasn’t lighter. Then they said, ‘Don’t worry, once they start walking, the work would be over.’ Then they started walking and running and it is even more challenging now because you have to chase them around,” she said laughing with the joy and pride of a 53-year-old mum of two year-old quadruplets.
Ezeno revealed that when she buys presents, she must buy four sets and they must all be the same colour because her quadruplets, despite their age would fight over colour: “Do you know the amazing thing?” Ezeno asked rhetorically, “They may all go for a particular ball and keep fighting over it. If you bring three other balls of different colours and beg them to take, they will ignore you and keep fighting over that same ball and you wonder, ‘what is special about that ball?’
“If Rosary decides to take off her diapers, the others will take off their diapers at the same time. If one picks a pair of shoes to wear, others will follow suit but if you bring sandals for one of them, that one will reject the sandals. It’s amazing the way they fight over what has no meaning. If you’re feeding them and one grabs a spoon, before you know it the other three will start fighting over that spoon and settling the matter is like going to war. The only solution is to bring three other spoons.
“Their fighting sometimes could be frustrating. At times, I am forced to shout, ‘you people will not kill me-o’ and even spank them with my palm. But I will quickly pamper them to pacify them because when they cry, it’s another wahala. We have used three sets of rugs since we had them.”
“Nothing about them has been easy. Is it their pregnancy at that age? Or is it now that they have eventually been delivered? What is easy there? Is it breastfeeding four of them at the same time? I was taught the football style in India where I would hold two heads at the middle of my chest to suck. I devised a means of breastfeeding them set by set. But as they gained weight and became heavier, it was no longer easy for me.”
She said that all her life, she has never weighed beyond 70 Kg but now she is weighing 85kg. “That means I have gained a lot of weight and that was because of breastfeeding. If I must breastfeed them very well, I must eat very well. In India they gave me two oral awards. The first award was The Most Caring Mother while the second was Most Lactating Mother. My breast were dripping with milk you wouldn’t believe it. After feeding them I had to fill two feeding bottles before I rested.
“When it became difficult for me, my husband had to buy an extracting machine. Eventually we came back to Nigeria and I continued. To the greater glory of God I breast fed them for one whole year.”
Ezeno said that now that the kids are bigger, she has devised means of cutting cost as baby cereal has become very expensive. Aside buying the medium tin of beverage every two days at N1, 200, she does her own locally made ogi (pap), which is made from yellow corn. “I do it myself, I soak and grind it and then I prepare soya beans mixed with groundnuts and crayfish. I use it with milk for their food. I never bought Cerelac for once. When we priced it, they said it was N1, 800 per pack. By now it should be up to N2000 and that will not last them for one day. So, I had to look for an alternative and I thank God that up till now they are still taking it; it is very nutritious. We thank God for that.”
According to Ezeno who has since returned to her job as a teacher: “What really broke me down was stress and that was because I couldn’t get enough rest. As I was breast-feeding, all my hormones went back to when I was young. I never had any joint pains or arthritis, everything about me was functional like I was very young but the stress of breastfeeding four kids at the same time was a lot of stress but I thank God. ”
Balancing motherhood and work
For 28 years, Ezeno has worked as a teacher. She says that the major reason why she is still teaching is because she has a passion for it. “The truth is that I am still teaching because I have passion for teaching. I can beat my chest proudly today because I know that a lot of students I have taught in the past 28 years are highly placed and some of them could be in government, especially those from the Northern part of the country. I have trained doctors, engineers and senators. I started teaching on September 27, 1985; that’s 28 years this year.
“Teaching is part of me and I love it. I couldn’t have gone for any other job except teaching. By the grace of God I have touched some students. I have reformed the most hardened students, I have fought, begged, pleaded and encouraged students sometimes even with my own financial resources and my husband has been supportive.
“My husband is my number one nanny. I often say that if you love me and pray one Hail Mary for me, pray 10 for him. This man, aside God is everything to me. If he had behaved like other men after our son died, you wouldn’t see a human being in me today. A teacher in my school once called me and said, ‘You’re lucky, if you were married to a particular tribe, by now stress will be written all over you. But because your husband is there, you’re able to be punctual at work.’ I have at each time three nannies in the house. Each earns N15, 000 a month and I also have to clothe them as well.
“My husband retired voluntarily from NITEL in 2008 when we thought that we were rounding off training of our children. Then Chudi died and the quadruplets came. The question now is, how do we survive?
“My husband is more of a mushroom contractor. How many jobs does he get in a year and how often? So, the only thing that is steady is my salary. Presently, I am deputy director at the Ministry of Education, Level 16. When I get my salary I am sure of my children’s diapers for the month. I am able to buy cartons of milk and so many things. And that’s a big relief for my family.
“It cost a fortune to raise quadruplets. We use Huggies which are quite expensive because they react and get rashes whenever we use other brands of diapers. The minimum number of cartons we use in a month has come down to six and a carton costs N9, 500. At a time we were using as many as 10 in a month. So, you can imagine how much we have spent on diapers,” she added.
Two years after, how are the kids doing healthwise?
“The grace of God is what has been keeping us. They have gone on admission a dozen times over these last two years. We have resolved to be using Igando General Hospital; the doctors are doing a marvelous work. Where do I start from?” she asked rhetorically.
“Each time you want to treat one for anything, make sure you treat all of them because if you treat only one, you’re wasting time. The others will come down with the same ailment in a short while! But God has been merciful. The last time I complained to my doctor he said, ‘Madam, do you know what you’re talking about? Four kids and how many times do you visit here? Go and thank God that your children are very healthy.’”
Trouble with nannies
However, one major challenge she has been battling with is her nannies. She laments that nannies rather than reduce her burden end up aggravating them. “Since these children came along, I have been changing house helps like I’m changing diapers. I can’t count how many that have come and gone. Some will come and you place all your hopes on them so you leave the house for them, give them all the freedom and tell them the only thing you want from them is to take care of these children.
“But just when they begin to settle in and you begin to trust them, they are gone! Some even say that they are doing it to punish me and I ask why? I have been very nice to them. I try to make them comfortable. They say they are tired because the work is too much but I have a washing machine.
“I don’t have problems with the married ones among them; it is the single ones who say they are denied liberty of moving out and meeting people because they only go out when the family has an outing. So, just when you’re getting accustomed to one, she leaves. You now start looking for another one again and paying as much as N15, 000 or more for agent fee,” she lamented.
Her quadruplets all look alike. How does she tell the difference? Ezeno laughed as she responded: “People say they look alike. Maybe, we can identify who is who because we are the parents. We know them even from their voices; they don’t sound alike when they cry.”
A while ago, her quadruplets started attending day care. Against the high cost of school fees today in the country, how are the Ezenos’ faring?
“Each child pays N36, 000. Multiply it by four and you’ll get an idea how much we are spending. I don’t want to compromise on the quality of their education because I believe that they deserve the best; we are even denying ourselves to give them good education even at this stage. Thank God I am not a fashion conscious person so the little we earn is channeled into giving them good health and education though it’s draining our lean resources,” said Ezeno.
Ezeno, while revealing that government has not come to the aid of the family, however, revealed that individuals and well meaning Nigerians including church members and people from the six villages that make up her town have showered the family with love. She spoke glowingly about the Igwilos and the role they have played so far since the quadruplets came along: “Engineer Patrick and Funke Igwilo put their house on sale just to raise money for us to travel to India because we had no money; they helped us with millions. When my husband received the alert, he was shocked and quickly called his account officer to ask what was happening? It turned out Patrick Igwilo had to put his house on sale. He gave my husband a firm admonition, ‘Uche Maryrose must not die in this country. Take that money and take her out of this country.’
“When we were in India, he renovated our house. He and his wife came to India and spent three weeks with us. The day we came back they came to pick us at the airport in a convoy and brought us home. We couldn’t believe it. Our house was full of drinks and wine courtesy of the Igwilos so we didn’t spend a dime entertaining guests.
“February last year, in fulfillment of my promise to God, I took them to Mariam Shrine, Maryland, Lagos, to give testimony. I made that promise because after the doctors said it was impossible for me to bring the pregnancy to term, I had resumed my antenatal there. So, I went there to fulfill my promise. When we got there we experienced an outpouring of love. A police man gave me a cash gift of N4000. That day we came back with over N13, 000. We are grateful to our former parish priest, Father Hyacinth Ibe. The children have been a lot of blessing.”
However, she concluded: “We are not getting any younger. By August this year, my husband will be 60 years. At that age we ought to have been grandparents.”