When she was young, Rivkah, a Jerusalem resident belonging to the Belz Hasidic movement, never dreamed that at the age of 44 she would be leaving the maternity ward with her 18th child.
It's true that she herself comes from a large family – she has 15 brothers and sisters, but her husband comes from a much smaller family that includes 'only' five kids.
"We didn't make a conscious decision to have 18 children," she says with a smile. "They came one by one - thank God."
Incidentally, the new addition to the family was born an uncle. His oldest brother already has two children, which makes Rivkah a proud grandmother. Another point for pride in her family – her 18 children are divided equally between the two sexes: Nine girls and nine boys.
'Quiet? Not here!'
Rivkah knows what it's like to grow up in a big family. Her childhood memories include a lot of noise and mayhem, but also lots of love and a house filled with life. Either way, she stresses, it's a lot easier being a mom today than it was when she was a kid.
"When my mother was raising us, being a mother involved a lot more physical work than it does today," she explained. "I remember how she had to launder and scrub all the diapers by hand. I especially remember piles and piles of laundry on Friday and before the holidays. I have two washing machines that work 24 hours a day; otherwise we wouldn't be able to manage.
And baby makes 18. Rivkah with the new addition
"These days raising children isn't about the physical work; it's more about maneuvering between everybody's needs: This one needs an early bedtime, this one needs to read, that one needs his medication. Motherhood has become more of a mental strain than a physical one."
What does your house look like?
"Our house is a house filled with mess and noise. If you're looking for a quiet corner – don't look for it here. We have a house filled with life. My mother always used to tell me that cemeteries are quiet and clean, houses with children aren't. Noise is healthy. The children study, play, try all sorts of things together, they have a social life and friends that come over."
Nevertheless, it can't be easy being a mother to so many children.
"I used to think the more kids you have – the more stressed the parents. Today I see that people who have fewer children are more stressed than me. Children aren't a reason for hardship or anger. It all depends on the person and how much he works on his or her character.
"I believe that you need to get up every morning and thank God for each and every soul he has given us. They are all healthy and whole, and that only gives me strength, it doesn't take it away."
Rivkah wears a very special bracelet on her wrist; it's stamped with the names of her 17 children. The new baby, who as yet has no name, will also be added to the bracelet. And who knows, maybe the last three empty spaces will be filled in the future.
Does your husband help you out with the kids?
Until my eighth was born, I managed by myself, but when we got to eight, my husband saw that I needed help, so he started going to morning prayers even earlier so that he could get home by 7 am. Since then we've been getting the kids ready together every morning.
"My husband is the one who makes the kids' sandwiches every morning; each one gets his or her favorite: Omelet, toast, fruit. It takes him almost an hour. Then the kids have their carpools to school, so that my mornings are usually free because I don't work. My husband's involvement in raising our children is something he saw growing up, and it's the example he has passed on to our sons – a father who is a helpmate and partner."
Special bracelet. Room for three more names
If you were wondering what kind of car suits a family with 18 children, we can reveal that there isn't one. This family doesn't own a car, since there just isn't one that's big enough. "A car isn't enough for our family – we need a train. We use public transportation to get where we need to go. For my eldest son's wedding we rented a van."
'Patience comes with the baby'
In contrast to raising the children, which Rivkah says has gotten easier over the years, the pregnancies have become a greater burden with each birth. Not necessarily because of the physical difficulty.
"During the first pregnancies no one scared me by telling me what could happen to the baby, but the older I got and the more children I had, the more stressful it became because those factors increase the likelihood of problems with the baby. This pregnancy, I'm already 44-years-old and the doctors were very concerned due to the statistics, but thankfully, not all children born to older mothers are born with problems."
Did you undergo examinations during the pregnancy to see if there were any problems?
"Of course. Tests taken during the course of the pregnancy are important, not in order to have an abortion if a problem is discovered, but in order for the parents to be prepared before the baby comes."
Since giving birth to her 14th child, Rivkah is very meticulous about getting some rest after each birth. She spends a few days convalescing at a special maternity convalescent home. "After the first two births I stayed with my mother to get some rest, but for the next 12 births I preferred to go home," she explains.
"Then after the 14th birth, I decided to try the convalescent homes, because everyone spoke in favor of getting rest and told me that it rejuvenates. Happily, I found this to be very true."
At the age of 44 and after 18 children, do you have the strength for another baby?
"You don't need strength for the baby. You need strength for the big kids, the teenagers and the married kids. All the patience comes with the baby. I heard someone say that each baby is born with a loaf of bread in his hand, meaning that a baby is born with everything it needs. When the baby is created, love and patience are created with him; otherwise we wouldn't be able to raise them."
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