Breathing Love into Zika

As the world’s gaze is fixated on Brazil’s Olympic and Paralympic games I’m struck by another gaze. The look of love by parents as they fuss over their babies infected by the Zika virus.

This is in contrast to the media’s obsession with the horrors of the virus. In their eyes, the story has quickly moved from the situation with families in Brazil to the herculean challenge that western science will surely overcome to eradicate the virus.

Meanwhile, back home, Brazilian moms and dads are rising to the occasion. I don’t want to romanticize the tough challenges, strains and demonization of their babies that these families are facing but dammit how could most reporters miss those tender arms holding those beautiful babies? That’s the tribe I belong to – the tribe of parents who have a child with a disability. It’s a tribe that specializes in meeting adversity with love and turning it into ingenuity.

These families will need all the ingenuity they can summon. Brazilians with disabilities and their families receive limited government support already. They must rely on underfinanced, overstretched non-governmental groups. The current political crisis and financial instability have made that worse. My contacts in Brazil inform me no special supports are available for these families. Perhaps Canada can help?

At least the families have each other. Because not much is known about the impact of the virus, mother led support networks have sprung up to share information, referrals and treatment. These moms will guide the professionals as they always do. They will make sure their children are not forgotten. “Microcephaly is not the end,” they declare. “Our children don’t need your pity, they need your respect.”

Alas, there are no gold medals awarded for loving courage. Too bad.

For Further Reading:

Here are two excellent pieces on the courage of Brazilian mothers, CBC journalist Stephanie Jenzer’s story, He’s a Warrior and a first person account by Brazil-based freelance journalist Katherine Jinyi Li, Brazil’s Zika Mothers are Speaking Out.


“I cannot afford the luxury of despair.”

– Ursula Franklin

Musical accompaniment this post, ‘We Don’t Know’ by the Strumbellas. Purchase. The tune was used in CBC’s opening montage for the Rio Olympics. Check out these lyrics:

And some say it gets brighter
We just have to wait
Mother mother, I can feel your heart break
Burning through me every single day.


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One Comment

  1. Malerie Meeker

    Hi Al. Really enjoying your series on Brasil…insightful and helpful. I’m heading to Rio on Sept 5 to watch Tristen compete in the Paralympics; looking forward to experiencing – first hand – the complexity and beauty of this city and its culture. Thanks for the brilliant writing and the great informationm! Lots of love, M.

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