Updated 15 Oct 2011
There are four important aspects of human life that play a major role in women’s reproductive decisions. Since she alone bears the risk of losing a life growing inside her, she alone gives birth to that new life. She alone is responsible for the care and feeding of the infant (although bottle-feeding has freed women from some of the time constraints, even if it is not as good for the infant as breast-feeding), and the care, feeding, and subsequent growth of all children until they reach an age where fathers can offer as much support as the mother can. She must be recognized for her power, taught how to exercise it wisely and given complete societal, familial, and government support so that she can be the mother needed by her child and by society as a whole. Even children raised by gay couples must have a parent who can take over these duties as well as a biological mother should. The impact of psychological, social, medical, and economic forces against the mother is huge and must be rallied by society in support of the mother, the child, and the family in all cases.
Power Depends Upon Support
Because the mother is responsible for the survival of her children, the decisions she makes from the time she learns she is pregnant to the time her children leave the nest will reflect that power. The implication for humans is that these decisions are the result of physical, social, psychological, and economic forces. All of these forces have to be right before a mother can make that decision to continue a pregnancy, because it becomes increasingly difficult to change her mind after a birth. Furthermore, they play a role in all decisions she makes about her family throughout her life. Thus, theoretically, a woman wields enormous power as a result of her decision.
Being a Mammal Mother
In all mammals, and even in non-mammals, we see decisions by the mother to abort, or kill her infants when her ability to care for her child can be foreseen. Evolutionary forces dictate that because a mammal baby is expensive to care for (it saps energy from the mother necessary for her survival, both before and after birth), when it comes down to a choice between who survives, the mother makes it for herself. After all, she can always make babies, but the baby/fetus cannot survive without the mother. Now, we as Americans, will deny that mammal mother’s legacy of the power of life or death over a baby, even though she is built biologically to have this power and the man is not.
As humans, we have devised a social system where, we hope, that every life is sacred, that ALL adults will sacrifice in favor of the life of an innocent child. In many cases, this means that sacrifice is made for a fetus which has never experienced childhood yet, nor is equipped to experience it, since it is in a developmental stage that would never survive the world outside of a uterus. Moreover, this attitude assumes that the woman would survive, regardless of what happens in pregnancy. We know this to be false, since the highest rate of death from pregnancy-related complications is found in young women between 15 and 19 years of age (it was on the CBS news around 05 May 2011 but I cannot find any news source for this announcement)–the so-called time of highest fertility. But what if that social system fails the mother? What choice does she have if she faces little to no social, economic, psychological, or medical support (thus the word “ALL” in the first sentence becomes “some”)? Could she be able to raise a baby to adulthood with one of those pillars of support gone?
With power comes responsibility. All mammal mothers share certain instincts because of the evolution of internal development and the ability to suckle a child after birth. By extending development over time, these two mammal adaptations allow both tremendous physical development (greatly expanded neocortex and conscious thought), and social development (existence of families and larger social groups). This happens at a HUGE cost if anything goes wrong during the development of a child to adulthood. In human social societies this cost is first borne by the mother, and then spreads to other levels of society: family, neighborhood, city, state, country, globe. We have to remember that the cost is based on the development of trust in the mother, which gives rise to trust in other people, and then to trust in social systems. This trust gives rise to other aspects of survival as a human develops. Because development takes so long, it is increasingly difficult for humans to make family decisions that will ensure survival of their children. Thus, the four pillars of support must be held over a lifetime. Society forms cracks when any one of them starts to fail.
Effects of Weakening of the Four Pillars of Support
I suspect that because of this long period of time to adulthood, we have a difficult time seeing the connection between the necessity of four pillars of support for a mother’s decision and the outcomes of that decision when these pillars fail. We have seen the chipping away of the pillars of support for mothers in the US and other countries, thus reducing her ability to wield the power that evolution had granted her. How have these pillars of support been sacrificed? Certainly in times of budget cuts the actions of legislatures most often and radically affect these four pillars of support for lower economic groups, rather than the incomes of wealthy individuals.
However, the four pillars of support are also weakened by other actions. Failure of a society to control how it evenly divides up resources needed for survival can happen in many scenarios. We have historically seen that, when control of water, land, food, energy, or housing rests in one or few entities, many social groups fail to have enough resources for raising a family. Historically, we have seen other scenarios that show the interaction among these four pillars of support: allowing the creation of a high unemployment level in groups that traditionally face low expectations for survival; when a family or other social group abandons a young woman because she got pregnant or fails to support her decisions about her child; when a mother rejects her newborn; when there is no affordable access to mental and physical health care; when local schools cannot provide good basic education; when parents assume that only schools are responsible for educating their children; when there is not enough adult supervision of children at all ages until they reach adulthood. These are only a few of the circumstances.
Culture of Poverty
What are the effects of this process of cutting off a mother’s support systems? We see increasingly poor conditions for raising children by the creation of a “culture of poverty”, where poverty is in the lack of most of the four pillars of support. The culture of poverty has enormous effects on a person psychologically, and socially, caused by and causing economic and physical failures. Children raised in the culture of poverty do not get to see many of their peers “make it” by getting a chance at earning a decent living wage, thus lowering their expectations in life. However, they learn from TV and movies that others live better and can afford many things that are luxuries to the poverty-stricken. They are bombarded with these images in school, on street signs and billboards, stores, and the “wealth” of local groups involved in illegal activity, creating a huge conflict between reality and fantasy. This conflict is rarely found in those more economically blessed levels of society. Thus, they cannot understand the level of conflict in poorer groups at all. The increase in juvenile crime reflects both this conflict and a lack of trust in a society which either doesn’t want to help them or provides only sporadic help.
What about daily life for the woman living in such a culture of poverty? When economic support systems fail, she would most likely end up living in what ecologists would call “peripheral habitats”–less desirable because of poor resources available (like no affordable broadband–imagine all the implications of this, you who live on the East and West Coasts of the US). In human terms this may also include greater toxicity in living conditions. The mother might have to constantly run interference for her children caught in the state of their neighborhood. She might have to choose where to dispose of the drugs her son/daughter brings home in case the police come looking. She might have to change her employment so that she can go with her child to a bus stop or school each morning to protect the child from drive-by shootings, street fights, or abductions. She might have to spend money on things that she would never spend on herself because she is afraid of the stigma that her child faces when they don’t wear the clothing expected by their schoolmates. Furthermore, exposure to environmental toxins from the local factories causes a poorer health outlook in her family.
Social & Psychological Support
Even when economic forces are satisfactory, a lower- or middle-income mother may face losses of psychological and sociological support. She might not be able to rely upon her husband to help out with the raising of her children, either by unplanned-for absences or as a poor role model. She may face loss of her own family support for her choice of husband, employment, living arrangements, or religious concerns. She may be in constant depression because of her own issues, or escape into alcohol or drugs and is not there for her own children. She may have come from a family with the same issues she has, and thus had no good role models.
Her state may prevent her easy access to reproductive medical benefits. Even if she decided to carry a fetus to term and put the baby up for adoption, that child may never be adopted (there is a 10% adoption rate from foster families throughout the US) and she would have to carry the burden of raising an unwanted child (with consequent dangerous and lifetime effects on the child–see “Special Case of Type I PTSD–Rejected Children). She may also have to carry the burden if her own relatives demand that she do so, either not wanting her to have an abortion or because they want this unwanted child where they can see him/her, but do not want to raise the child themselves. Adoption statistics can be extremely misleading because they include adoptions by family members or neighbors and there are no statistics on how successful the unwanted child is in these circumstances (mainly because it is so difficult to determine “rejection”). These circumstances creates a rage against women because children grow up without the attention needed by them when very young, and often in extremely intolerable conditions (Politics and Rage Against Women).
To bolster my arguments that a woman faces enormous pressure from her social world, the ABC TV show, The View in 2011, featured in a woman who chose to leave her role of primary caretaker for her career. Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, author of “Hiroshima in the Morning”, was a stay-at-home mom who clearly loved her children, but when offered the opportunity to go to Japan for four months to interview survivors of Hiroshima, she leaped at the chance. While there, she realized that she really did not want to be a mother. Upon her return, she and her husband talked about it, and he really wanted to be a primary caretaker, now that he had experienced that life while his wife was gone. It was a saddening experience for both, but they had an amicable divorce, where Rahna was the one who moved out. She moved down the street so that she could be nearby.
I suspect that she became the breadwinner so that her husband could become the primary caretaker. However the bad thing about this “role reversal” was that she became despised in the community, accused of not loving her children, and got death threats. She was being criticized everywhere for “abandoning” her children. It appears that, at least as recently as 2011, the only way a woman can show she loves her children is to remain a stay-at-home mom. Thus, in our society, no matter what happens in reality, a mother is greatly pressured to keep her children and take care of them, or must face the consequences. Few women are raised to deal with that kind of pressure other than to buckle. I suspect that women who decide to put a child up for adoption are similarly pressured not to.
Finally, lack of medical support might mean that she cannot overcome her psychological issues, cannot afford an abortion, or has enormous difficulty during a pregnancy because of medical conditions she cannot afford to get treated. Lack of medical support for the child also adds a burden for her because now her child may have to heal a broken bone without medical intervention, suffer tooth loss because of poor dental education, or have other medical conditions that must go untreated. Unless her state provides free vaccinations for school, her child may have to be home-schooled, adding extra time to a long day which includes night work. Her own health problems will most definitely affect her children, making her ability to earn a living that much more difficult.
A woman faced with the reality of a pregnancy, whether planned or not, will take into account factors from all four pillars of support when she makes the following decisions:
- whether to go ahead with the pregnancy
- how to assure the survival of a child in those first three critical years
- that impact the social, psychological, physical and economic development of the child as it interacts with the family and then increasingly, with the outside world,
- that affect her future grandchildren.
All four types of decisions will play a role when she tries to imagine life with that child before she goes into labor. Most likely, her own mother’s situation, while she was growing up, will affect the imagined life scenario of a new mother–perpetuating any trend seen in the previous generation. In each circumstance above, she depends upon the four pillars of support. She will make her decision based upon the resources she can call upon. Removing any one of these resources increases the risk that any decision will not be enough to ensure the survival of her child to a successful life.
So what are the mother’s choices? If abortion is out of the question for economic, medical, or social reasons, she must keep the unwanted child. Some might decide to keep it to avoid these “expenses” because they think they stand to benefit from welfare, tax deduction, and/or Medicare support by keeping the child. Then she faces severe emotional dilemmas. This means she will probably never bond with that child, never make a place for it in her brain, and constantly forget about it. She will create a “rejected child”, one who has never developed that basic platform of security in the brain that will allow him/her to succeed in life.
We are probably seeing the consequences of our policy of not encouraging birth control or removing the option for abortion now as the numbers of homeless children are increasing. It is more likely that in a culture of poverty, scarce resources lead to mothers rejecting children at birth, and continuing to not make a place for them as a member of their families in their own brains throughout the life of the child.
Rejected children may have a higher likelihood of rejecting their own children because they have never experienced the bond that the mother must make with her newborn within the baby’s first three years of life. This might happen in those were rejected at birth and were badly treated, never finding out what their mothers did to them in their early years or that their mothers should not have done this to them. Or, they may bond even more strongly with their own children to prevent them from ever having to experience what their mother had (Special Case of Type I PTSD: Rejected Children).
Since the mother must establish this bond, more men than women will probably be able to establish a nurturing family, provided they marry a woman who had not been rejected at birth. The baby will be born with a brain expecting a mother to supply this bond, not a father, so the father becomes a less satisfactory substitute for a poor mother, although, today, we see many more fathers being able to step in when the mother dies or fails to play the role.
Society pays in the long run for not supplying women with the four pillars of support she needs just be the person she must be when she has children. We are only beginning to realize how ignoring 51% of the population has caused severe economic and social problems. And with the economic downturn and the increasing number of men who opt out of the economy, we are seeing a role reversal: many men are learning how to be the loving and nurturing fathers, even stepping into traditional women’s roles, with society learning to accept this change. It looks like the young parents of today face a very different family than their mothers faced just one generation ago.
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© Copyright 2014 by Martha L. Hyde and https://marthalhyde.wordpress.com.