anthropologybirth/MidwiferyBlack Feminist AnthropologybookseducationEthnography

What I’m Reading :: Family Secrets: Risking Reproduction in Central Mozambique

‘Family Secrets: Risking Reproduction in Central Mozambique’. Vanderbilt University Press, 2010.

Tomorrow, I’m going to begin reading Family Secrets: Risking Reproduction in Central Mozambique. I’m getting a head-start on my class coursework (school starts in just over two weeks). But even if that weren’t part of the equation I’d still be looking forward to this one.

Family Secrets is the ethnography of Dr. Rachel Chapman, a University of Washington professor whose areas of interest are maternal and infant health, reproductive health, social justice and human rights, and, from what else I understand, she’s a radical. Seriously, does it get any better? 

I’ve mentioned this title before when I was discussing women of the African Diaspora who are anthropologists, and who have written texts on birth and reproduction — which are rare and precious finds — and I started on this one a little while ago but didn’t get around to finishing. Professor Chapman conducted this research in Mozambique, a place she continues to visit each year, and what sets this one apart from others right now is that it is required reading for one of my classes on medical anthropology. I’m also taking a course on ‘Anthropology and the Politics of Reproduction,’ so this will, of course, compliment that coursework.

Last time I talked about Family Secrets, I provided a small clip from a section I peeked at about Dr. Chapman’s experience with the Shona Midwives and their views on breastfeeding — who tried to ‘gently persuade [her] to wait until the ‘hot”, liminal time from birth was washed away with a shower before she nursed her daughter. This time, the exerpt is from the chapter titled Controlling Women: Reproducing Reproduction. The section of this chapter is titled Sorcery and the Commoditization of Birth Assistance:

The competition for access to women in childbirth as potential opportunities for economic gain constitutes another level of women’s reproductive vulnerability. When this work becomes lucrative, compensated with money, the potential for competition and corruption to enter the relationship increases, and the motives for assisting in the birth process become suspect. Any potential midwife might vie for the opportunity to profit from a birth or intentionally create a need for her presence by precipitating a crisis through magical or spiritual means. The possibility haunts a process already fraught with potential danger for mother and infant.

Pregnant women fear aggressive strangers, persistent neighbors, or even jealous relatives who could be competing for the role of birth assistant for the cash and gifts involved , and who might resort to witchcraft or sorcery to achieve this end. A person who uses sorcery or witchcraft to provoke a problem during childbirth, such as obstructed labor or retention of the placenta, must be summoned to the bedside of the woman in childbirth to undo this feitico. Failure to call on this interfering individual could result in the serious injury or death of the mother, the infant, or both.

Did you ever pick up your copy?

Will you be reading along?

Image Source: Date accessed: September 8, 2013.

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