Childbirth brings life but also controversy. From the choice of delivering at home to opting for pain relief, women hear a cacophony of contradictory advice intended to guide them through these difficult decisions. Their preferences reflect different ideas about parenting, tradition, and control. Women and men of previous eras did not have access to the range of current technologies that tell them far more about birthing babies than they could have imagined possible. This dearth of information may have had its benefits, but it also meant that reproduction remained shrouded in mystery.1
Fact and fiction blended seamlessly in public perceptions of reproduction in Iran. As late as 1944, misinformation surrounded childbirth. One women’s journal, Banu, even devoted its inaugural issue to this topic. “What do you know about the birth of babies?” it asked the reading public. Listing a series of true-or-false questions, the journal went through a set of common beliefs about reproduction to set apart science from superstition. Some questions dealt with identifying a baby’s gender. Others offered information about correctly determining pregnancy weeks after conception.2 Although the intent of this short piece was informational, its publication signaled a desire to propagate a new understanding of reproduction—or in other words, the origins of parenthood—even if some of the information presented remained unsubstantiated and contested.
A deceptively simple concept frames the narrative of this book: the mother. Why did mothers matter? How did maternity become tied to