Quest for Conception: Gender, Infertility, and Egyptian Medical Traditions, by Marcia C. Inhorn

Quest for Conception: Gender, Infertility, and Egyptian Medical Traditions

by Marcia C. Inhorn

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Format: Paperback, 1st ed., 472pp. 
ISBN: 0812215281
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press 
Pub. Date: September 1994

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In Quest for Conception, Marcia C. Inhorn portrays the poignant struggles of poor, urban Egyptian women and their attempts to overcome infertility. The author draws upon fifteen months of fieldwork in urban Egypt to present moving stories of infertile Muslim women whose tumultuous medical pilgrimages - or their "search for children," as they call their quests for conception - have yet to produce the desired pregnancies. Inhorn examines the devastating impact of infertility on the lives of these women, who are threatened with divorce by their husbands, harassed by their husbands' families, and ostracized by neighbors. Beliefs about procreation and infertility causation and cure among the Egyptian urban poor derive from a five-thousand-year history of shifting medical pluralism. Although colonially produced Western biomedicine is the dominant system in Egypt today, it represents only one of an array of therapeutic alternatives. Infertile women seek help from both "biogynecologists" (practitioners of Western biomedicine) and "ethnogynecologists" (practitioners of indigenous ethnomedicine), often using the remedies of both simultaneously. Quest for Conception examines in detail the variety of ethnomedical and biomedical treatments for infertility and concludes that treatments of both types are often ineffective and sometimes harmful. Given this untherapeutic setting, the future of infertile Egyptian women is explored in light of needed changes in reproductive health policy and the introduction of new reproductive technologies. Quest for Conception is the first comprehensive account of non-Western women's experiences of infertility and is a novel study within the literature on Middle Eastern women.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

List of Abbreviations


Notes on Transliteration

Preface: Hind's Story

Pt. 1 Problem, Place, and Procreative Theory

Ch. 1 The Infertility Problem in Egypt   3

Ch. 2 Ancient Alexandria and Its Modern Poor   39

Ch. 3 Past and Present in Theories of Procreation   49

Pt. 2 Ethnogynecology

Ch. 4 Healers, Herbalists, and Holy Ones   81

Ch. 5 Kabsa and Threatened Fertility   111

Ch. 6 From Humidity to Sorcery   158

Ch. 7 Divinity, Profanity, and Pilgrimage   206

Pt. 3 Biogynecology

Ch. 8 Biomedical Bodies   241

Ch. 9 Untherapeutic Therapeutics   286

Ch. 10 The Injection of Spermatic Animals   318

Ch. 11 Babies of the Tubes   334

Ch. 12 Futures for the Infertile   345

Appendix 1. Fieldwork   357

Appendix 2. Informants   371

Notes   379

Glossary of Arabic Terms   395

References   401

Index   429

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