National Geographic : 2011 Sep
• pregnancy termination---Brazilian women had gured it out on their own. No publicity campaign explained misoprostol; this was pre- Internet, remember, and Brazilian law prohibits abortion except in cases of rape or risk to the woman's life. But that law is ignored at every level of society. "Women were telling each other what the dose was," says Brazilian demographer Sarah Costa, director of the New York City--based Women's Refugee Commission, who has written about Brazil's Cytotec phenomenon for the medical journal the Lancet. " ere were street vendors selling it in train stations. Most public health posts at that time were not providing family planning services, and if you are motivated to regulate your fertility, even if you have poor ser- vices and poor information, you'll ask somebody, What can I do? And the information will ow." e open availability of Cytotec didn't last long. By 1991 the Brazilian government had put restrictions on it; today it is available only in hospitals, although women assured me that packs of Cytotec could still be obtained over the Internet or in certain ea markets. But the public health service now pays for sterilizations and other methods of birth control. Illegal abor- tion ourishes, in circumstances ranging from medically reliable to scary. It may not be entirely easy or safe for a Brazilian woman to keep her family small, but there's no shortage of available ways to do so. And in every respect, women of all ages told me, this is what they now expect of themselves---and what contemporary Brazil, in turn, appears to expect from them. "Look at the apartments," said a 31-year-old Rio de Janeiro marketing executive named An- diara Petterle. " ey're designed for a maximum of four people. Two bedrooms. In the supermar- kets, even the labels on frozen foods---always for four people." The company Petterle founded specializes in sales research on Brazilian women, whose buying habits and life priorities seem to have been upended just in the years since Petterle was born. It wasn't until 1977, she reminded me, that the nation legalized divorce. "We've changed so fast," she said. "We've found that for many young women, their rst priority now is their education. e second is their profession. And the third is children and a stable relationship." So raising children hasn't vanished from these modern priorities, Petterle said---it's just lower on the list, and a tougher thing to juggle now. She has no children herself, although she hopes to someday. As Petterle talked, I heard what was becoming a familiar refrain: Con- temporary Brazilian life is too expensive to ac- commodate more than two kids. Much of the public school system is ruim---useless, a disas- ter---people will tell you, and families scrape for any private education they can a ord. e na- tionwide health system is ruim too, many insist, and families scrape for any private medical care they can a ord. Clothing, books, backpacks, cell phones---all these things are costly, and all must somehow be obtained. And everything a young family might need is now available, as the mall windows relentlessly remind passing customers, with nanciamento, short- or long-term. Want your child to have that huge stuffed beagle, that dolly set in the fancy gi box, that four-foot-long, battery-powered, ride-on SUV? Buy it on the installment plan---with interest, of course. Consumer credit has exploded through- out Brazil, reaching middle- and working-class families that two decades ago had no access to these kinds of discretionary purchases paid o over time. While I was in Brazil, the business magazine Exame ran a cover story on the na- tion's new multi-class consumerism. e São Paulo journalist who wrote the story, Fabiane It would be a gross oversimplification to suggest that Brazilians are having fewer children because they want to spend more money on each. But questions about material acquisition---how much everyone desires---troubled nearly every woman I met.