“I think, for him, it was my fault the baby has microcephaly,” said 18-year-old Ianka Barbosa in a special report from Reuters. She was seven months pregnant when she discovered her unborn child had microcephaly, and the father of the baby had left her before the child was born. According to Barbosa, her former partner left her when she “most needed his help.”
Barbosa’s case is not unusual, as she lives in poverty with her parents, siblings, and two children. Only her father is employed, albeit occasionally, doing building work from time to time. As for her ex-partner Thesio, he tends to avoid bringing up microcephaly, instead pinning the blame on Barbosa’s parents.
“I gave her the choice, are you your parents’ woman or mine,” said Thesio. “And she chose her parents.”
It isn’t uncommon for parents to raise their children as single moms or dads in Brazil; studies suggest that about a third of poor children grow up without their biological father. But what’s proving to be perturbing for experts on the heels of Zika is the growing number of mothers with microcephaly babies who are being abandoned by their partners. And even those who still live with their partners don’t often get the financial or emotional support they need.
“At first many of the women say they have a partner, but as you get to know them better you realize the father is never around and the baby and mother have effectively been abandoned,” said psychologist Jacqueline Loureiro, who works at a microcephaly clinic in Campina Grande, Brazil. She told Reuters that less than a fourth – 10 out of 41 – of the women she counsels receive adequate support from their partners.
Loureiro believes that the predominant patriarchal culture in Brazil is largely to blame for the disturbing trend. As gender roles still suggest that women take care of babies and do household chores, the possibility of a mother having a child with microcephaly makes things harder for both partners, which often leads the man to leave, or refuse to provide assistance.
Unfortunately, the trend also appears to be present in developed countries such as the United States. Microcephaly Foundation head Jennifer Lewis is a mother of a 12-year-old child with microcephaly, and she says most of the women taking part in her charity are single mothers.
“I see single mothers all the time, where the fathers have left, the fathers have got scared. I even see married couples where the father has pretty much nothing to do with the child,” said Lewis, who runs the charity out of Phoenix.