Sobreparto and the lonely childbirth: Postpartum illness and embodiment of emotions among Andean migrants in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia

Karolina Kuberska


The goal of this paper is to analyse the phenomenon of sobreparto, a traditionally Andean postpartum condition, among Andean migrants to the lowland city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. Although matters of maternal health have usually be examined through the lens of traditional Andean understandings of the body, health, and illness, it is also analytically worthwhile to foreground the social and emotional dimensions of this postpartum illness. This is especially important given the fact that most research participants emphasised that biomedical doctors do not know how to cure sobreparto. In particular, it is especially productive to consider it as a lens for wider, not necessarily medical, processes at work in migrant women’s lives, such as motherhood and womanhood, emotions and sociality, or the biomedicalisation of pregnancy and childbirth. While narrating their individual experiences of sobreparto, female migrants in Santa Cruz pointed to aspects of women’s lives beyond the episodes of illness, revealing the complex landscapes of their everyday existence. Using migrants’ accounts of their experiences of childbirth, I argue that sobreparto may be read as a way of dealing with the feeling of loneliness within a weakened social network, so common among migrants to urban areas. Furthermore, this postpartum illness becomes an emblem of ethnicity for the Andean migrants in the increasingly biomedicalised landscape of childbirth in Santa Cruz, enabling them to articulate an embodied commentary on the social realities they experience.

Słowa kluczowe: sobreparto, postpartum illness, childbirth, embodiment of emotions, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia

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