“When you’re pregnant, you can’t imagine not being pregnant any more,” my Mother recently told an expectant waitress. I’m sure that moms everywhere can relate to her sentiments.
Family demographics throughout time are as diverse as the ethnicities of New York City residents, and the sartorial styles of designers at Fashion Week. Let’s stick to the facts. Census statistics are a direct result of lifestyle trends and geographic density. To date, there are an estimated 7.125 billion people on Earth. The largest population increase in U.S. history was recorded between 1990 and 2000. It spiked by a whopping 32.7 million people during that decade.
The average size of the modern American family, as according to the 2010 U.S. Census, consists of about 3 people. That being said, the average mom spends a total of 9 months of her life being pregnant. The body’s resilience to the dramatic transformation it undergoes during pregnancy is different for everyone. While some women bounce back to their pre-baby bodies right away, others seem to carry it with them for the rest of their days.
The moral values of America are not what they used to be either. With a 50% divorce rate on the rise, modern marriages are at an all-time high risk of failure. Unfortunately, some would say that it is now extraordinary when two people get together and actually stay together. It seems like a simple concept but is happening less and less every year. Where will be 50 years from now, with statistics like this?
Modern motherhood, like never before, paints with a broad brush. For some, it entails pets in place of children. For others, it means having a baby without any partner at all. Then there’s adoption, artificial insemination, and those who skip parenthood altogether. While it was commonplace for our Grandparents to come from exceedingly large families, that’s certainly not the case today. Let’s face it; we’ve got loads of options today that weren’t available to generations before us.
Believe it or not, (despite being on the verge of extinction), big families still exist. Some of the world’s biggest families to date have 15+ children, and they are fascinating. We want to know how they’re doing it!
On that note, if being pregnant is fabulous, then consider my cousin JoAnne Diaz the Anna Wintour of the birthing world. Boasting 9 children and 8 pregnancies (due to a set of twins), it would be safe to assume that JoAnne has the art of pregnancy perfected at this point. When you’ve been through it as many times as she has, you’re nearly a professional.
In total (and if you’re as bad with numbers as I am), JoAnne has spent roughly 72 months (more than 6 years) of her adult life being pregnant!
Perpetual baby making is not the only fun fact about my cousin JoAnne. She’s full of surprises. When I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed kid, JoAnne introduced me to New York City in a way that I had never seen it before.
JoAnne’s unbridled, passionate navigation of the great urban jungle was more than inspiring for a young and restless girl like myself. JoAnne already had a successful modeling career under her skirt. JoAnne was a Fashion Institute of Technology student. JoAnne worked for Joe Boxer. JoAnne had the charisma, attitude, and personality that Hollywood legends are made of. JoAnne was exciting. JoAnne owned it. “Be like JoAnne!” was my pre-teen mantra, and the rest is history.
The question remains: how did a vivacious, spunky teenager from Ringoes, New Jersey with a promising modeling career go from the high-profile fashion industry in NYC, to a Mother of 9 in rural Pennsylvania and inspiring spiritual role model for moms everywhere? Furthermore, what is the noise level like in a house of 9 kids? Let’s ask her:
What were you like as a child? What were your goals?
I was a girly girl and a tomboy at the same time. I was very adventurous and wild. I did not have many goals. I thought short-term: graduate high school. After that, I had no plans or goals whatsoever! I only went to college because my parents made me. In elementary school, I was voted class clown. I loved to mess around; I still do!
Do you come from a big family?
I came from a family of 5 children. My Mom would have had more: my Dad, not so much. I was their miracle/surprise child and I remind them of that every day!
Are your parents still together?
Yes, my parents have been happily married for 53 years.
What do you think is the secret to a lasting marriage?
Without a doubt faith. I believe if you get married with the same religion and religious beliefs you are bound to succeed. It won’t be easy but when God and your faith are on your side you cannot fail. You may stumble, but fail you will not. Also, you both have to look at it, not like 50/50 but like 100/100; give all or nothing, and if you do you, both will get back.
For example, we both work really hard in the house and outside of the house (I have a job too!) and when I need a break I am all about a spa day, and when he needs a break he is all about gym day. We both win. Additionally, once a month (or more, if we can afford it) we do date night, and once a year we go away even if it is just for two nights. So God + faith + 100% effort from both parties + ”you” time + date nights once a month + trips away once a year = lasting marriage in my eyes.
You mentioned you have a job too. Would you like to tell us about it?
Sure, I currently work part-time from home as a Learning Management Systems Administrator. A few years after I graduated with a degree in Fashion Buying and Merchandising I realized I wanted to switch gears. I got into the Training arena, which eventually landed me the System Administrator job. I enjoyed it so much I went back for a B.S. in Information Technology. I hope to go back for my Master’s degree to at some point. Being in IT I can work from the comfort of my own home with the kids and around their schedules. It’s a win; win.
How important is a religion to you?
Religion is everything to me. I would not be who I am without it. I always say I am a Daughter of God/a Catholic first, then a Wife, and then a Mom. I may not always be a good example, but I can assure you I am in confession every week or more to make up for it!
Did you always feel this way about your faith?
I converted. I grew up in a Catholic family. My parents went astray and then my brother got into a bad accident and almost died. We all prayed the rosary and he lived, and that is when my Mom, my sister and I began our conversions. I am still converting! So I always had a love for God. I always knew right from wrong even if I did wrong anyway. But my deep love for God and my Catholic religion did not occur until my mid-twenties. It was a long process starting in my teenage years.
How did you meet your husband?
Go figure, I met my husband at Church! He was dating someone. I was dating someone. For a year or so everyone in the Church and outside of the Church was waiting for us to be single to put us together. When we were both single a Priest, an older woman, and a couple got us together for a “blind” date. 3 weeks later we got engaged, 3 months later we married, one month later we were pregnant, and I have been happily perpetually pregnant ever since then.
How important is it to you that your children have religious values?
It is the most important thing. I do not care what they become in life. I do not care what grades they get. What I do care about is that they have a deep love for God and for their religion and that they lead good, solid, moral and ethical lives worthy of Sainthood.
Was it always your dream to have such a big family?
Heck no! When I was younger I wanted babies, then I decided to give my life to God and not ever get married. Then things changed…and when I met my husband and we knew we would be married, we both agreed that no matter what we would be open to God with regards to having children; we would have however many children he wanted us to have.
Do you have any help from family members and friends?
My Mom and Dad have always been there for me. My Mom has had health issues but she will save me for date nights by taking a child or two to her house for a few days. I know I can always call her, but I don’t because of her age and out of respect for my Dad. When I was working full-time I had help every day. Now that I work part-time, I do not need a lot of help because I work around the kids’ schedules. My one babysitter who used to help me is now in college and working, so she helps me in a pinch. Otherwise, I have one babysitter who comes once a week for 4 hours if I need her. Otherwise, it is me, myself and I.
I used to call myself the “lone ranger” and get bummed that I had no help but now I love my bubble; I embrace my bubble, and there is a huge sense of pride in knowing I can basically run a ship of 9 children by myself when my husband is gone and has late nights.
What are your children’s names and ages?
Peter is 9, Anthony is 8, Maria is 7, Bella is 5, my twins Nicholas and Thomas are 4, Andrew is 3, Joseph is 1, and Philip is 1 month. So yeah, all back-to-back babies, more or less!
What are their personalities like?
One-third of the family is wild and adventurous like me, the other third is calm and patient like my husband is, and the other one-third is yet to be determined; we look at them and wonder if they are the milkman’s babies!
What do you typically spend on groceries, and what do you buy the most of?
No idea. You would think I have it down but I do not. I do not budget. I buy what I need and trust that God will handle the bill since He got me here in the first place!
I can go to Sam’s Club one week and blow $600, and then next week only blow $200. It depends on the circumstance. I also shop at Walmart and the Dollar Store, and usually those bills are about $200 (more or less) per week. But I spend way too much. It is not the cost of the groceries that kills us; it is the cost of repairing what our kids break that kills us (like TVs and etc.).
What I buy the most of is school food (so as to save money) as well as canned goods that I can mix with produce and make crockpot meals which are healthy and go a long way financially.
What is the noise level like in the house?
We just moved so the noise level in the new house is much better because it is three times the house. When we were living in our 1,200 square foot home of ten years the noise level was insane. What is the highest octave? Well, whatever it is multiple that times like, 100. Ha!
When is your quiet or alone time?
I lay down when the baby lies down, so every day during nap time. Sometimes I nap, sometimes I pray, and sometimes both. I am an insomniac so every night for a good chunk of time is “me time”. I hate not sleeping, but I love “me time” and SILENCE. I also take a Mother’s retreat once a year for two nights.
How do you fit in date nights with Nicholas during your busy schedule?
It is not an option. We just do it. It is non-negotiable. If I were broke, I would ask someone to sponsor a date night because that is how key it is for us. Sometimes we plan it, and sometimes I say; “We are going out tonight.”
What are some of your most memorable birthing moments?
The first experience is unlike any…just because it is the first time. Other than that, I remember with my 4th, Bella. I remember feeling her enter the world, which was a first for me (the previous the epidural was so strong it was; “Wait the baby is out? What?!”). And of course, my twins were very memorable because they were my only set of twins and my only C-section. Every birth was memorable and I will cherish every one of them until the day I die!
Does it get any easier the more you go through it?
No. I am a total disaster in the labor and delivery room. I get very anxious when I know the baby could come at any moment. So from week 36 on, I start panicking. I hate it because I fear death and it is always the unknown; will I die? Will baby die? Will the baby be ok? So, no, it does not get easier and all that crap people say like, “once you have had X amount of children you just pop them out!” That is NOT true, not for me anyways. I was induced with all of my babies except my twins, but I was 35.5 weeks pregnant and they were almost 6 pounds each, so yeah, of course, I did not need to be induced with them! However, I will say my last birth was easier in some ways but I honestly think it is only because I was more mature spiritually than the last birth.
What are some of your most outrageous mom moments?
EVERY moment in the life of a big family is outrageous! I wouldn’t even know where to begin. We have seen it all. Think war. Think insanity. Think perfection. Think total joy. Think adventure! Every moment is outrageously good, bad, crazy or all of the above!
JoAnne, you’re always smiling! What’s the secret to running such a big, happy family?
My love for God. I aim to serve. As Saint Francis of Assist says in one of his popular poems which has now become a song, “It is in giving that we receive” so I give, but I get back much more than I give so I keep giving so to beat out my competition and it never works, but it’s a glorious circle of love! And my husband. I would not be able to do it without him; he does so much. He is such a good man, husband, and Father. If Momma is happy, everybody is happy so Nicholas makes sure that I am happy!
Do you set aside designated time to spend with your girls and boys individually?
Yes. It is hard but every birthday is their day. I go out alone with them for lunch and whatnot. Then, I have confession lines as we call them here. They line outside my bedroom and come talk to me one at a time. We just chat about their day and whatnot. Then I try to alternate either taking them to the grocery store with me and/or doing a project with me like cooking. It is not ideal but better than nothing. I must say I do envy the one-on-one time that parents with only one or two children have.
What are the benefits of having such a large family?
Too many to list. You will never be alone. If you make them, someone will take care of you in your old age. The joy is multiplied. The love is multiplied. The rewards from heaven are multiplied. I believe when you do what God wants, He will bless you even more.
Are there any monumental complications or side effects you can pinpoint in hindsight of having 9 kids?
No. I was blessed I did not have any complications or side effects whatsoever with my pregnancies or deliveries. Everyone always tells me we should wait longer to have children (instead of back-to-back), and while that is optimal it doesn’t always happen. My Doctors are fine with me having as many children as I have and as close as I have had them. I had postpartum with Bella, my 4th, and now I have it with my 9th. Since I had it before, I know how to treat it so I am working on it right now.
Do you plan to have more kids, or have you reached your ceiling?
I joke and say I reached my ceiling at number 4, but clearly someone was not getting the message. All joking aside, like I said, in the beginning, we always said we would be open to however many children God gave us. That has not changed. If He gives us more: great. If He does not: great. We are blessed.
What are some of the negative feedback you have gotten from having such a big family?
All the time, but I could care less. I have killer confidence so I never care what people say about my family or me. I get it. To each, his own. If they saw how happy and blessed I was, maybe they would have more kids too, I don’t know… It’s very hard to articulate how having such a big family can change you for the better. It even changes the children; they have their selfish moments, but they know they can’t be spoiled or selfish and that is a good trait to have in this world.
If your family could have their own TV show, what would it be called?
We are hoping to. We need to. SOMEONE FIND US. Ha ha! People have reached out to us about it, so we will see if it happens. I have no idea what it would be called, but nothing with a number because we continue to grow so…maybe something like Welcome to the Nut House!
If you could have one magical power, what would it be?
To make all of my children holy, have a deep love for God, and become Saints while on this Earth.
Do you have any last words of wisdom for aspiring big family moms?
Like Nike says: “Just do it!” If you don’t take a leap you will never know what awaits you on the other side! And once you are there, get a lot of wine (or whatever ye fancy) and call me so I won’t be in the trenches alone!
Would you ever want to resurrect your modeling career?
Absolutely. I think about it all the time. I get told a lot that I could or should be a pregnancy model and I wanted to. I also see the latest trends in plus size and even obese models and I always think to myself I want to be a plus size model! [tc-mark