- Marginal motherhood: the ambiguous experience of pregnancy-loss in Cameroon
- Medische Antropologie
- Volume | Issue number
- 19 | 2
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)
There has been much international and scholarly attention for, on the one hand, ‘overpopulation’
or ‘high fertility rates’; and, on the other hand, experiences of infertility. Little light has been shed, however, on the marginal ‘in-between’ situation of women experiencing reproductive loss, that is: being able to conceive, but having problems with carrying pregnancies successfully to term. It is the experiences and decisions of those women who do not immediately attain high fertility rates, but are not infertile either that will be at the centre of this study. Based on anthropological fieldwork in East Cameroon in 2004-2005, this article places the experiences of these women within their social contexts by first describing the relevant fields of gender, kinship and marriage in the village of Ndemba I and exemplifying their significance through a personal illness narrative. It then discusses the two major themes that were explored through participant observation, interviews, free listing and pile sorting: the perceived causes and the social consequences of pregnancy-loss. By understanding both the aetiology of and the help-seeking behaviour after pregnancy-loss in the light of the given contexts in the village, it becomes clear that the lives of women who experience pregnancy-loss are characterized by marginality and ambiguity. Not only are their status as a woman and the status of the foetus as a person contested; pregnancy-loss itself is also a phenomenon that is surrounded by doubts and suspicion. It is however this ambiguity that leaves some free room for manoeuvring and enables women to aspire certain ambitions that might run counter the patriarchal ideal of bearing many children. Thus, this article shows that the generally assumed distinction
between wanted and unwanted pregnancies or unintended and intended losses - that is, abortions - becomes blurred within the ambiguous dynamics of the prenatal period. It argues that both suffering and agency are dialectically connected within the marginal phenomenon of pregnancy-loss.
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