The women, men, and children that live in Bom Jesus, for the most part, from the moment they are born have a very hard life. The impoverished women, on average during their reproductive days, have about 12 pregnancies. Of those pregnancies only about three of the children survive. (pg. 311) When asked, how many children would be the ideal family size, the women would answer between two to three children. (pg. 331-332) So the question that must be asked is why these women have so many pregnancies when they only really want about three children? The answer to that question has many reasons and most of them are deeply rooted in the culture that the women live in. First there is the issue of birth control and the many different types they could use. Some of the women that Nancy Shcheper-Hughes interviewed said that they have used the pill for a brief time. Although it was effective they considered it dangerous. They said that it would cause cancer, swelling, headaches, nausea, and extreme nervousness. (pg. 333) Then there are diaphragms which are not available in local drugstores or not known to the women and with the men they are known to wear condoms but only with the prostitutes in the zona. (pg. 333) The older women of Alto have many different herbal teas, baths, washes, and infusions that would effect a women’s period so that it would be late and were stated to having “abortive” properties. (pg. 333-334) The women know that these herbs can be dangerous in early stages of pregnancy but they are constantly sick and taking so many different drugs and herbs that if an abortion were to happen then it was an “unintended consequence”. (pg. 335)
Catholicism runs deep in Brazil which is one of the reason’s the women do not receive a hysterectomy or sterilization. (pg. 231) The clinics and doctors lecture the women about how it is the woman’s “duty” to give birth to children as in the case of a single woman of thirty-eight who asked for a hysterectomy and was sent home with a scolding. (pg. 206-207) Sterilization and abortion is not only a mortal sin according to the Catholic Church but very expensive thus the women of the Alto would not be able to afford the procedure. (pg. 336-337) But in the end the women of the Alto agree that they have a duty to “cooperate with God and with nature” which means that they have an obligation to have children. (pg. 337)
Lastly, and probably the most important, would be that the women do not want to “give up” having sex. The men, women, and children of Bom Jesus have so much pain and suffering in their lives and they live day to day with a constant hunger. One of the women said that she may not have money to buy food but sex is free and no one can take that away from her. (pg. 165) But the one quote that made the most sense was a woman that said that she was starving but when she had sex she felt alive and knew that the hunger had not killed her yet. (pg. 165) The consequences of having sex is that the women of Bom Jesus have many children but they cannot stop having sex because it is the one thing that makes them feel alive and takes their cares away even if it just for a brief moment. Thus in the end the reason that the impoverished women have so many children, even if they do not want so many, is because they have limited resources, money to afford birth control and operations, and there are some aspects of their life that they are not willing to stop even if that means having more children.
“Maternal Philosophy” of the Women of Bom Jesus
The women of Bom Jesus, and the men, deal with death every day with the culture that they live in. Every day they deal with bad working conditions, low wages, bad medical assistance, and lack of food. The “maternal philosophy” that the women of Bom Jesus have can be summed up in a quote “A child died today in the favela. He was two months old. If he had lived he would have gone hungry anyway.” (pg. 268) On...