Poor Moms Sedate Babies With Opium; You Would, Too

opium addict woman AfghanistanAs moms, we all develop special tricks for getting our babies to sleep. Some of us use by-the-book tactics while moms whose babies fall far outside any textbook written try the "whatever works" variety. I've heard many stories from parents who have gone to desperate measures just to get some sleep and get baby to sleep -- from letting baby sleep in their carseat atop the running dryer and placing scratchy radio static near the crib to driving baby around in the car at all hours. Sleeplessness makes us desperate.

So what happens when all this sleeplessness impedes with a day's work? What if you can't stay home with your baby and don't have childcare for when you head off to work? What if you not only lose sleep at night with your infant, but then you must take your baby to work with you and get your job done or you will starve to death?

Desperate times lead to desperate measures ... and in some poor villages in Afghanistan, moms deal with that desperation by giving babies pure opium.


I'm not even going to attempt to compare the "desperate" things I do nowadays -- give them free reign of the TV or YouTube, tell them to eat whatever they want, etc. -- in order to get my work done when I need to here in my home office. These petty concerns do not even compare to what poor women -- in this country and beyond -- are up against when they have to work and they have no support and they have to earn money to live.

In the Afghan story on CNN, the mother says, "If I don't give him opium he doesn't sleep. And he doesn't let me work."

We Western moms wince at this, but for this mother, a baby who won't sleep when she must work is a deadly combination. So this is how she and countless women before her have learned to cope with the issue -- and survive. They use opium to treat illness, as well as to keep their kids quiet, and entire families are addicted.

This kind of desperation behavior happens here, too. The working poor often must put their kids in risky situations we wouldn't even consider: leaving them with strangers while they work one to two jobs, sometimes at irregular hours, or leaving their kids unattended far before they are mature enough to handle it. Basic neglect is probably a best case scenario.

Parents do what they need to do to cope, and sometimes that is at the expense of their children's safety and health. It's horrific, but I'm not about to start judging. After all, put in the same shoes, what would we do? Sedate our kids or die of starvation? Send our kids to a neighbor or get kicked out on the street for not paying the rent?

How can we judge parents who are choosing survival? Sure, we can point fingers at all the poor choices some parents have made along the way. Or we can stop and recognize that they are keeping their families alive, sometimes against all odds, usually without any support or information, most the time the only way they know how -- using basic, bare bones survival skills.

In many cases, our parenting struggles don't even begin to lead us to the risky choices made by some moms, but that doesn't mean we can't stop, see, and try to understand how and why these choices come about and continue for generations. That doesn't mean we can judge. That doesn't mean we wouldn't do the same exact thing in their shoes.

What do you think? How should we, as a community, deal with the mistakes that some parents make when they have no support or choices?


Image via Jacksoncam/Flickr

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