Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank by Randi Hutter Epstien
Science meets snark in Randi Hutter Epstien’s Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank, an irreverent look at the often misguided struggle of humans to understand how we are conceived and born. Hutter, a physician and science writer who has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, and Daily Telegraph, blends humor with wonder as she recounts the history of pregnancy and childbirth in a conversational style.
Hutter’s tales hit a range of topics, from the mysterious secret of forceps deliveries (their closely guarded design was not known to the public, even after over 100 years of use, until the 1813 discovery of a set hidden in the attic of a home in England), to the migration of the birthing process from home to hospital during the 20th century. Along the way Hutter chronicles the origins of the use of anesthesia in childbirth, as well as the growth of the natural childbirth movement—interestingly pointing out that both methods, in different eras, have symbolized the empowerment of women giving birth. Epstein’s light tone takes a tender tack in the book’s tragic chapters; for instance, in describing early gynecological experiments on slaves in the antebellum United States, the author calls on readers to remember the ethical travesty of this research, and a chapter on the widespread use of drugs such as DES and Thalidomide illuminates, at times disturbingly, the fallibility of modern medicine in recent decades. The book’s final chapters address the rise in popularity of sonograms, sperm banks, and the C-section.
Get Me Out is an enlightening and amusing read, especially for those interested in past methods of childbirth. Among its many revelations is the extent to which the views of the medical establishment have varied over the years, and how different the standard procedures of today are from those employed just 50 or 100 years ago. The book provides a rich historical context for anyone who has experienced childbirth, either as a parent or a baby, which, by my calculations, includes just about everyone.
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