"Maybe she just wasn't meant for us"

Last week, our stay-out helper's story, told over a span of days, was about a five-month-old baby in her neighborhood who had died because of "tigdas itim." I didn't know it then, but she was referring to German measles.

The parents already had eight (father side) and four (mother side) children before they had this one, she said, and for hours each day, they had needed to leave their new baby at a relative's house so they could do whatever they did to make a living.

Unfortunately for the baby, our helper said, the house stood beside a tree that was home to an elemental. It may have been annoyed by the baby's non-stop crying. The parents were warned by a hilot not to bring the baby back there, but they refused to listen. Besides, they needed to work.

One day, the baby got sick, black spots appearing all over her body. Our helper explained that it was different from the usual measles because the spots were blackish instead of red. The baby also had high fever. They brought her to a clinic, but she never got better and, towards the end, vomited and pooped thick blackish liquid.

There was more drama over the next few days after the baby passed away: about the doctor giving the wrong medicine, about the family not having anyone stay up with the baby at night during the wake, about a cousin having to file for death benefits instead because the baby's parents just moved here and had no IDs, about an insensitive relative roasting eggplant (apparently a huge no-no) while the wake was ongoing, about the baby not having been baptized so she might end up as tiyanak, and about the parents being missing when the priest came for final blessing.

For a few days, our helper said, you couldn't talk to the mother. She wasn't hysterical with grief; it was as if she was stunned by everything that was happening. The father, on the other hand, was resigned to his loss. "Hindi talaga siguro para sa amin," he said. Maybe she just wasn't meant for us.

I wanted to say that while not all deaths are preventable, this one was, but I didn't want to start a conversation with her that would surely lead to what--or who--is killing our children.

Instead, I asked whether her children and her children's children had been vaccinated. She said yes, and I left it at that.