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← Infanticide in higher mammals

LaurieB's Avatar Jump to comment 46 by LaurieB

Red Dog

It's not a typo. I mean to say infanticide by human females. I get it that this doesn't make sense. It never made sense to me either. In fact, I used to hold near and dear the idea that motherly love was unconditional and the strongest instinct that functioned in my brain. Then I started reading evo bio/psych and everything changed. Now I think I was programed to believe in unconditional motherly love by the whole Virgin Mary worshipping damn church. That's not how women tick.

What started the whole big question for me was with birds. I think I always knew that mother birds sometimes booted a baby bird out of the nest for whatever reason. I think the explanation was that it was a runt and it was just merciful that she made short work of it. Better for it's siblings that it was one less mouth to feed. Still, it never sat well with me. I thought, so what if it's runty? It will probably be able to reproduce at some later date anyway and there you have it, the genes have moved forward into the next generation. What's not to like? So this question of infanticide in birds never did have any satisfactory answer for me but I thought the ways of birds have nothing to do with us human females. We love our babies unconditionally and this is a superior trait that we have! sigh...:-(

A few years ago while reading on reproductive strategies of monkeys and apes I came across the fact that new males come marauding in and kill all the babies that are not theirs and bring the females into fertility. Ok, again I thought, wow, we're different and civilized. Then I saw the stats on stepfather violence and had something of a comeuppance. The next bunch of books I read were by Sarah Hrdy, who I mentioned above. Her books, Mother Nature and Mothers and Others are a detailed analysis of the reproductive strategies of female primates, including human females and these books destroyed any pie in the sky idealism that I had left in me concerning me and my fellow females.

I strongly recommend anyone reading these books for a clear picture of this subject. The infanticide that we engage in (though out our evolutionary past) has not been the dastardly shit that Premiseless talks about above. It takes the form of abandonment in the hours after birth. Of course this was infanticide. The statistics on newborn abandonment in Europe are shocking and this took place until relatively recently. What about the fact that European mothers placed newborns out to wet nurses as a regular practice and probably knew that most of those babies never came back alive. There were orphanages with little revolving doors in the wall to accept abandoned babies anonymously. There are many examples of baby abandonment, especially with hunter gatherers and right up to modern times that are nothing less than infanticide. Abandonment = infanticide. Our modern day version is of course, abortion. It is the abandonment of a (future) child. In times past I will assume that abortion was medically way too risky to the life of the mother and not an option. Even with high labor and delivery mortality rates in the past, she would have been safer to see the pregnancy through to term and abandon it at that point.

Why would she do it? Spacing of offspring is of crucial concern to women. If we go back in time a bit or into a present day hunter-gatherer band, one baby requires a significant increase in food resources. They are calorie expensive and so is the pregnancy for that matter. Once it's born she needs help from others around her. If resources are already tight then another mouth to feed could be a disaster. It would be a serious threat to the other children she already has. If a female is breast feeding and is not carrying an extra ounce of fat on her own body then her fertility will be compromised just like other primates. But if something goes wrong and she finds herself pregnant with a totally dependent one year old then she's got a real problem, right? Now the toddler and the newborn will be in direct competition for food and attention and I have to think that they will both be in jeopardy. What to do...

Thu, 05 Jul 2012 15:03:36 UTC | #948605