COLUMN: How inherent is motherhood?


Gisella Mancera

Gisella Mancera, Columnist

Motherhood is a valued part of the human experience and no one can deny that mothers have a unique role in child-rearing. Carrying your future child for 9 months, going through a lengthy and painful birthing process, and breastfeeding are all unique to the mother’s ability.

Unfortunately, because of these capabilities’ women were restricted to their maternal roles. Biology became women’s destiny and research was produced in order to support women’s innate nurturing capabilities, giving them exclusive responsibility for all things parental. Consequently, it also gave an out for fathers to claim incompetency and neglect their duties as parental figures.

But does motherhood come as naturally to women as we thought? Just how inherent are mothering capabilities? The reason why I am interested in these discrepancies is that I want to be a doula after graduation and while the body may prime women with a hormonal cocktail conducive to the process of attachment, experience in motherhood is varied. In order to understand motherhood, and more broadly, parenthood, we have to deconstruct our assumptions that women have an exclusive unwavering ability to nurture.

Nancy Scheper-Hughes’ 1989 study of mothers in Bom Jesus, a place wracked with poverty in Northeastern Brazil, challenges the conception of immediate attachment to children. Due to the intense poverty and lack of sufficient food, these women do not develop a full attachment to children until later ages when it becomes more apparent the child will live into adulthood.

Hughes reports that mothers in Bom Jesus displayed a peculiar indifference to infant death. Upon further consideration, Hughes labeled this delayed attachment as a survival strategy. The delayed attachment allowed mothers to easily abandon their infants at the first sign of weakness.

This allowed for current resources to be allocated towards living family members, but also prevented the reoccurring heartbreak of mothers in an area that had a 30 percent to 40 percent infant mortality rate within the first year.

Previous ideas have held that women have a certain biological response priming them for the social responsibility of a child. Women were thought to have a parental brain, or structural and hormonal processes in the brain that makes one in tune with the baby’s needs.

When taking MRI’s of straight couples, the women had a parental brain while the men did not, leading researchers to believe this was an adaption exclusive to the mother. Similar studies have been conducted on gay couples and results have shown that one partner will develop a parental brain, while the other takes on “typical dad” brain. Showing that a parental brain is not determined by sex, but as viewing oneself as a primary caregiver.

Biology is critical in encouraging parent-child relationships. However, I wanted to highlight these studies to illustrate a wider perspective not just on motherhood, but parenthood.

Additionally, the MRI study demonstrates research bias and how deep-seated ideologies can fabricate what we take as factual evidence. As social research starts to include more minority populations, we could see more of our common beliefs be challenged.

Gisella Mancera is a senior sociology major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].