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Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank Hardcover – January 11, 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0393064582 ISBN-10: 0393064581 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Medical journalist Epstein notes that because medical men held viewing a living woman’s anatomy medically taboo, for millennia the field of gynecology has been and, to a certain extent, remains a quirky pas de deux of science and social mores, with a bit of superstition thrown in for additional complexity. Engagingly combining wit and wisdom, Epstein traces humanity’s relationship and obsession with its own reproduction, beginning back when it was popularly believed that a woman’s menstrual blood formed itself into a child. From ancient times, however, the primary goal has consistently been to produce offspring superior to previous generations, and that opened the door to superstition. To assure healthy babies, pregnant women have been variously directed to eat certain foods and abstain from others and add or give up certain herbs and/or exercise. Notions have changed depending on era, locale, and custom. As scientific advances enable more options for reproduction, however, the entire process becomes more ethically problematical than ever. Add the multiplicity of ubiquitous myths and superstitions that refuse to go away, and the gynecological marriage of science and society endures. Although it solves no problems, this is dynamic reading, to be sure. --Donna Chavez


“[A] sharp, sassy history of childbirth.... The author’s engaging sarcasm, evident even in a caption of an illustration of an absurd obstetric contraption—'Nineteenth-century Italian do-it-yourself forceps. The fad never took off'—lends this chronicle a welcome punch and vitality often absent from medical histories. Roll over, Dr. Lamaze, and make room for Epstein’s eyebrow-raising history.” (Kirkus Reviews)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 302 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (January 11, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393064581
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393064582
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #761,656 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D., is a medical journalist who has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Daily Telegraph, and several national magazines. She lives in New York City with her husband and four children.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Jean E. Pouliot on March 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This history of the last few hundred years of childbirth trends had all the makings of an irreverent romp through the messy business of baby-making. There are moments of hilarity and charm, but author Randi Epstein is smart enough to realize that much of the history of interventions in the childbearing business is built on untimely death and horrifying suffering. The curse of Eve -- by which theologians blithely assigned the pain of childbirth to the disobedience of our prodigal mother -- is a ready reality in this age of antiseptics and ultrasounds. Women still die bearing children, perhaps not as much in the industrialized world as elsewhere. But all must deal with the evolutionary tradeoff between big-headed babies and narrow birth canals that allow upright walking.

While gently mocking old trends (male doctors were once banned from actually watching childbirth and had to grope around blindly under sheets) Epstein is almost too fair when it comes to the ironies of modern childbirth trends. Those who choose elective C-sections vie with the hardy souls who insist on birthing without meds at all. The western cultural bias toward individuality in all things vies with the proven track record of medical practitioners whose experience with thousands of mothers gives them a leg up on the less experienced. Epstein is also fair about the midwife v. obstetrician controversy, acknowledging the disdain with which men looked down on women practitioners, but realizing that the midwives were hardly the font of natural knowledge that simpler histories might suggest. Epstein also bends over backward when telling of Dr. Marion Sims, the doctor who perfected techniques for repairing vaginal fistulas by injuring slave women, then sewing them up -- all without anesthetics. Was Sims a monster or a messiah?
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dora Calott Wang on March 31, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What if we view history not by the rise and fall of empires, but through the everyday experience of childbirth through time? This is the story told in "Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank,"(W.W. Norton, $15.95 paperback) by Randi Hutter-Epstein, M.D. Witty and entertaining, the book is also encyclopedic in scope. It passes muster as a work of medical history, and at the same time, provides practical information that new mothers will find valuable.

"Get Me Out" is full of truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tales. To get pregnant, Catherine de Medici, France's sixteenth-century queen, was advised to drink mare's urine, and to soak her privates in cow manure and ground stag's antlers. In nineteenth century New York, post-partum women aired out their genitals on the hospital rooftop, high above Manhattan.

The book abounds with fascinating characters. We meet England's Chamberlen family, who for 200 years beginning in the 1500's, were renowned for their ability to safely deliver babies thanks to a secret family tool--forceps. In pre-Civil War United States, surgeon Marion Sims took ten postpartum slave women into his backyard, and by gruesome experimentation on their genitals, cured one of childbirth's most horrible side effects--vaginal rips that caused women to leak urine and feces, and to thus be outcast for the rest of their lives. This disabling postpartum condition is still common in developing countries, but no longer exists in the west, thanks to the anonymous slave women, and to Dr. Sims.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Manista on February 7, 2011
Format: Paperback
If you are looking for a book that covers a little bit of history, some medical, some present day topics about pregnancy, labor, and conception, this book is for you. Epstein did a good job covering so many topics. That being said, if you are looking for in-depth coverage on one of the many topics she covers, her bibliography is wonderful. Each chapter (and even sub-chapters) could themselves fill a full length book. This book will keep your interest and hopefully get you to read more about the topics that interest you most.

Epstein's writing is very easy to understand and the book itself was very easy to read. The only thing I didn't like was the overuse of footnotes. Now, I understand the function of the footnotes, but in my opinion, when the footnote spans half a page, it warrants it's own paragraph in the main text. I find it distracting when footnotes are used like this.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By 7DogNight on September 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover
As a 64-year-old mother and grandmother, childbirth is a subject I rarely give any amount of thought to exploring. However, I have a daughter whose education and career includes child development and this book came to her attention. She passed it to me with full assurance that I would enjoy the read. It took me several months to even open it, but I'm glad I did.

The author touches on the history of child birthing practices, beliefs, etc from ancient times to the present. She keeps the ancient history brief and easy to read. I enjoyed reading the history - found it fascinating. I'm so glad I didn't live back then and have to give birth! Even though this book's handling of the history is very brief, she gives enough details and references that it would be easy to delve into any additional areas I might want to explore. She does a good job of setting the stage for what will follow.

I found the author to be even handed and she does a good job of refraining from judgment for practices that border on the criminal in my mind. Her perspective was not to be judge and jury, but to inform and give perspective on how our culture has arrived at where we are today in this field. As she approaches modern times, the information is more detailed and consequently more troubling. However, she continues to inform rather than indict.

For women who are at this time of life and having to work their way through making decisions for themselves and their unborn babies, I think this is an especially good book. It should help to give some sense of context and perspective to the many decisions that they will need to make. The bulk of the book deals with more modern issues and situations that will be more relevant to today's prospective mothers.

For those of us who have already traveled this road, it makes for a quick and interesting journey through womankind's common history.
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