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In colonial and semi-colonial Egypt, most childbirths occurred at home with dayas or hakimas (midwives) in attendance, with most deliveries proceeding normally. But occasionally a pregnancy went wrong, terribly wrong, either before, during, or after childbirth. Complications included miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, placenta previa, ruptured or prolapsed or retroflexed uteruses, puerperal sepsis, and fistulas. The list of what could and did go wrong at different moments was long and included mental health illnesses. Looking at the problems of pregnant, parturient, and post-partum women in the first half of the twentieth century opens a window onto the experiences of childbirth in Egypt before the dramatic shift to hospital-based medicalized childbirths later in the century and helps in retrieving forgotten or suppressed birth stories. Due to pain and shame, these stories were often silenced yet remained etched on women’s bodies, embodying the practices and politics of maternal health. This paper draws on memoirs; medical journal articles and books by Egyptian doctors, most notably Dr. Naguib Mahfouz; and Mahfouz’s Gynecological and Obstetrical Museum. It uses visual, oral, and literary sources to recover women’s voices and memories of their unborn fetuses and newborn infants.
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