Early Infant Mortality Has Become A Topic Of Interest For Scheper Hughes

Early Infant Mortality Has Become A Topic Of Interest For Scheper Hughes

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Throughout the Alto, the topic of early infant mortality has become a topic of interest for Scheper-Hughes. She seems fascinated by how “a high expectancy of child death is a powerful shaper of maternal thinking and practice” and how this creates a detachment between mother and baby, which can be deathly (Scheper-Hughes, 1992: 340). Throughout the course of the book, the topic of a failure to mourn the death of the child is also brought up. The culture of the Alto and their own form of grieving is something that brought great fascination to Scheper-Hughes. While conditions of high fertility and high infant mortality prevail, the death of an Alto child has become the social norm and does not allow for full maternal acceptance or grieving.
Scheper-Hughes begins her chapter (M) Other Love with what she classifies as her own definition of motherly love. She describes mother love as “anything other than natural and instead represents a matrix of images, meanings, sentiments and practices that are everywhere socially and culturally produced” (1992: 341). Mother and child are supposed to thrive and naturally adapt to each other in order to reap the benefits that the other has to offer. In an ideal world, this bond is supposed to be easy and immediate. There should be no lapse of communication from one to the other but in the Alto, this gap exists. Mothering in the Alto “can require an almost superhuman effect” (1992: 361). In the Alto, it is easy for almost anyone to die at any time because there are so many environmental issues. For example the “polluted and overly treated public faucet water, the gritty dirt under little bare feet, the insects in the air, the sluggish and insidious snails along the muddy banks of the river” (1992: 36...


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...them to die in peace. Scheper-Hughes translated a saying about letting go of a dying child, “leave it be, girl; leave things along and see how they turn out for themselves” (1992: 363). This practice of letting go takes some practice but after it has been achieved, many Alto women “say that their infants re like birds, nervous an flighty creatures that are here today and gone tomorrow” (1992: 363). Good mothers can, “with a clear conscience let go of an infant who wants to escape life (1992: 363). Scheper-Hughes asked for clarification on this form of letting go and the response that she got is that all of our lives are like candles that can go out without any warning. The grownup’s candles are much harder to blow out because adults have a knack for life. As for the infants, their candles are much easier to blow out because the baby is not as connected to the earth.

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