Nancy Scheper-Hughes “Mother’s Love: Death without Weeping.”
Living in our society, it is hard to imagine that a woman will easily live through the loss of a child. In fact, it is hard to find a person who will not be affected by a death of a young child, even if they did not personally know them or their parents. Due to the advanced healthcare system, industrialized cities, social welfare programs, child welfare programs, social workers and many other resources and organizations child mortality is not common in our society. It is not the norm and therefore evokes many different emotions.
However, Ms. Scheper-Hughes described in great detail the terrible and challenging conditions in Alto. Every day there, is a fight for survival on the part of the adults, not to mention children. These conditions have been consistently bad and have not improved for a long period of time. Therefore, they shaped the culture of the society especially when it comes to death. Since death is so common the society would not be able to function if every person took time to grieve each loss of someone close to them. Hence, they adapted and choose to protect themselves by believing that children “choose” to live or die and by not allowing themselves attachment. The author shows that unfortunately these “self-preservation” beliefs often left children to die that could have been saved.
The political and religious institutions encourage the “as-a-matter-of-fact” treatment of infant mortality. There is no negative stigma about a mother “giving up” on a sick child and no actions are taken by the government to enact laws governing child care. This cultural pattern however, creates a vicious cycle: the more infants die the less likely the mothers are to get attached to sick or weak children, and the less likely the mothers are to get attached means less likely to care for the sick child, therefore more infants will die.
It is very sad that women are forced to give up their nurturing nature and motherly love for a child in order to save themselves continuous pain from the deaths of their children. Unfortunately, living in their conditions it is not possible to change this pattern without first changing the welfare of these women, in my opinion. Perhaps if their quality of life improved enough to decrease the mortality rate at least from malnutrition, the women would slowly begin to allow themselves to get attached. In turn, they would decrease the mortality rate even more, because they would put effort into nurturing their children.
Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. “Mother's Love: Death without Weeping”. In Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology, 12 ed., ed. Spradley and McCurdy. Allyn & Bacon, 2008, 45-54.