In this history of childbirth and contraception in Mexico, Nora E.
Jaffary chronicles colonial and nineteenth-century beliefs and
practices surrounding conception, pregnancy and its prevention, and
birth. Tracking Mexico's transition from colony to nation, Jaffary
demonstrates the central role of reproduction in ideas about female
sexuality and virtue, the development of modern Mexico, and the
growth of modern medicine in the Latin American context.
The story encompasses networks of people in all parts of society,
from state and medical authorities to mothers and midwives,
husbands and lovers, employers and neighbors. Jaffary focuses on
key topics including virginity, conception, contraception and
abortion, infanticide, "monstrous" births, and obstetrical
medicine. Her approach yields surprising insights into the
emergence of modernity in Mexico. Over the course of the nineteenth
century, for example, expectations of idealized womanhood and
female sexual virtue gained rather than lost importance. In
addition, rather than being obliterated by European medical
practice, features of pre-Columbian obstetrical knowledge,
especially of abortifacients, circulated among the Mexican public
throughout the period under study. Jaffary details how, across
time, localized contexts shaped the changing history of
reproduction, contraception, and maternity.