I recently watched a film produced by the Czech department of social services about the birth of quintuplets to a twenty-year-old woman and her husband.
Czech family-planning policy allows supplemental help from the state for one child. Since this couple already had a four-year-old son, the family would normally be excluded from any state benefits. This is the only case of quintuplets in the Czech Republic, and many people became involved to help the family care for these five children. All were born healthy—one female, two identical twin boys, and two fraternal twin boys. The state worker who introduced the film said it was vital to help this family because without adequate caretakers, the state might have to step in and remove the children as the family had meager financial resources to handle this daunting situation.
The film depicted many of the emotional issues that arise in multiple births, including monetary and physical demands. The young mother of the quints was understandably overwhelmed, depressed, and exhausted. There were segments where she was crying and depleted, trying her best to handle what she could in the face of the infants’ needs and her own. She had to return to the hospital for postnatal complications that required surgery. She had conflicts with her husband, who was shown going off to work as a clerk in a grocery store. One of the film’s more poignant moments was when the mother said goodbye to her five-year-old son who was off to his first day of school accompanied by his grandmother because his mother could not take him.
There was endless friction and tension between the paid caretakers who worked rotating shifts to help care for the infants. The mother, as well as the grandparents who lived with their daughter, disagreed about how to manage the babies. Cultural diversity was another source of stress because the mother is a Roma (a gypsy), a group often marginalized in Czech society.
The end of the film depicted the five children—some walking and others attempting to walk—with their mother on a deserted dirt road. After the film, the social worker informed the audience that the family continues to get help from donations and that caretakers are still being employed to help with the children. Nonetheless, watching this family’s efforts to cope with five babies, an older son, contentious in-laws, and paid caretakers was an emotional experience. The visual depiction of the difficulties in caring for multiples remains visceral and haunting.