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Last Updated on September 18, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 506


Mothers in extreme poverty in the region of Bom Jesus da Mata become resigned to the loss they will face. In this region, the typical woman will watch an average of 3.5 of her children die. She will deliver an average of 1.5 babies who are stillborn. She knows that 70% of childhood deaths occur within the first six months of life, and she becomes accustomed to watching the children of other mothers dying around her almost constantly. As a means of coping, these poverty-stricken mothers must find a way to contend with the realities they face. Thus, they learn to emotionally detach from their pregnancies and newborns until they are better able to ascertain a newborn's likelihood of survival. Scheper-Hughes coins a term called "mortal selective neglect" to explain how these mothers have a high expectancy of childhood death, which produces differing patterns of nurturing between infants who have higher odds of survival compared to those whom the mothers view as born "wanting to die." Underneath these emotional coping mechanisms is the foundation of crippling loss which underpins mothers' existence.

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Survival of the Fittest

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