Reproduction and Its Discontents in Mexico

Childbirth and Contraception from 1750 to 1905

By Nora E. Jaffary

322 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 12 halftones, 6 tables, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2940-7
    Published: November 2016
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-2939-1
    Published: November 2016
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-2941-4
    Published: October 2016
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5194-9
    Published: October 2016

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Awards & distinctions

2017 Wallace K. Ferguson Prize, Canadian Historical Association

Honorable Mention, 2018 Howard F. Cline Book Prize in Mexican History, Latin American Studies Association

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.

About the Author

Nora E. Jaffary is associate professor of history at Concordia University in Montreal.
For more information about Nora E. Jaffary, visit the Author Page.


“Readers will appreciate Nora Jaffary's clear, eloquent and sophisticated prose, as well as her impressively thorough searches in multiple and often unyielding data sets.”--Journal of Latin American Studies

“Presents significant archival material that shows the immense importance of the Nahua midwives, as well as historical records that reveal the struggle that all Mexican women faced to control their bodies.”--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Challenges traditional narratives of Mexican history through a careful study of the development of obstetrical practices from 1750-1905."--Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences

"A truly remarkable--and timely--accomplishment. With grace, sensitivity, and even poetry, Nora E. Jaffary takes a comprehensive approach to the history of reproduction in Mexico. Straddling the colonial and independent eras, Jaffary shifts the lens beyond Mexico City and unearths in the archival records an elusive theme and well-hidden realities in Mexico's history. She adds a new dimension to medical history by demonstrating how sex, birth control, pregnancy, birth, and reproductive abnormalities have been subject to shifting understandings over a century and a half of Mexican history."--Heather McCrea, Kansas State University

"In Nora E. Jaffary's unique book, the history of reproduction in Mexico is finally given the attention it deserves. More than a history of medicine, Reproduction and Its Discontents in Mexico looks at the connections between the private aspects of female lives and their connections to the public sphere. It is a significant contribution not only to Mexican and Latin American history but also to medical history and the history of reproduction and female reproductive health. Rich and nuanced in analysis and such a pleasure to read."--Sonya Lipsett-Rivera, Carleton University