The Los Angeles Times can come out with some gorgeous photo essays and their latest, about Brazilian moms with Zika babies, is one. The writer is a veteran of the Times foreign desk and the photographer is an old Washington Times colleague of mine who has risen up in the world.
Specifically, the story is about these Zika moms whose husbands or lovers have abandoned them when the men discovered the extent of their offspring’s handicap. Heartbreakingly, these women are now having to go it alone.
But there’s something left out of this narrative. You might even call it a "ghost," to use the proper GetReligion term. It starts thus:
The day Josemary Gomes brought her newborn son Gilberto home to a tiny pink house on a sun-baked cobblestone street, she laid him on her bed and wept.
But there was no one to comfort the single mother. “I raised my head,” she said, “and carried on alone.”
Gomes is among a growing number of women in Brazil who are raising children damaged by the Zika virus on their own. As many as a third of mothers are unmarried in this nation of 200 million, the hardest hit in an epidemic that has swept around the world. Studies suggest that the rate is highest in impoverished rural villages and crowded slums -- the places most affected by the mosquito-borne virus that has been linked to at least 1,638 cases of birth defects across the country.
Even mothers who have a partner have found themselves suddenly abandoned as their relationships crumble under the emotional strain, economic burden and social stigma that come with raising a child who may require almost constant attention.
The story goes on to chronicle Gomes’ horror when she learns her newborn child’s head was abnormally small.
She thought the doctor must be mistaken. Two ultrasound exams hadn’t revealed any problems during the pregnancy. When Gomes called to tell the father, she said, he refused to accept that the baby had a malformation.
“He said, ‘No. No way,’ ” she recalled. “I asked him, ‘Why? Do you have any prejudice? He said no.’ ”
She didn’t believe him. People with disabilities are heavily stigmatized in Brazil, especially in the conservative and impoverished northeast, where some view the babies with microcephaly as beset by demons.
I wonder who are the “some” in this piece.
People off the street? Religious folks? Cults? Meanwhile, who are the "conservatives" in this "conservative" region? Tmatt has written in the past about the amorphous “conservatives” who haunt news copy and who are guilty of all sorts of misdeeds.
The other question staring me in the face has to do with the woman's name. "Josemary" does hint at a Catholic background.
Some Religion 101 on Brazil: The country has more Roman Catholics –- 123 million -– than any other nation. Its religious mix includes 42 million Protestants of all varieties and 10 million spiritualists. The growth of Pentecostalism has been particularly quick, doubling from 6 percent of the country’s population in 1991 to 13 percent by 2010. The rural areas, where the woman portrayed in this article lives, tend to be Catholic.
So where is Josemary Gomes' church and family in this? Do any of the clergy in her city have something to say about the men who are abandoning their families? Since the church is still a powerful institution in Brazil, is there any support coming from it for these women, even if it’s only a food pantry or clothes closet?
So here is a major journalism issue: If the churches are AWOL on this issue, shouldn’t that be mentioned as well? Isn't that a key part of this story? Of course, there is another issue looming in the background here -- abortion.
I googled “churches” “aid,” “Brazil” and “Zika” and found this a Brazilian Anglican Lenten outreach for Zika victims; a campaign by Seventh-day Adventists; the Brazilian president asking clergy to mention Zika in their sermons and a report on the debates among Brazilian Christians over whether Zika is an acceptable excuse for abortion.
So, obviously this is an issue that church leaders have an opinion on. I understand that a photo-heavy piece like this is not the same as an in-depth investigation. But in making the point there is no help for these women, what about their churches, assuming they attend one? And I do assume they do, as (1) Brazil is a very religious place and (2) Since these women brought their children to term, perhaps it was their faith that informed their decision not to abort.
But if those responsible for guiding their faith have turned their backs, theirs is a very dark road, indeed.