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Get Me Out by Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D.

Image of Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank
I couldn’t figure out why every woman I knew wasn’t reading this book, and then I realized not everyone wants to sit curled up by a fireplace and read about forceps or vesicovaginal fistulas.

But even for the squeamish, Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank has a lot to offer on the history of childbirth. Medical journalist Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D., has created a dynamite look at everything from the growth of maternity wards to Lamaze. It’s surprisingly funny, such as when she’s discussing pre-16th century approaches to reproduction, such as the remedies for under-endowed men or early birthing recommendations. “Reading one fifteenth-century birthing guide makes you think of an erotic game of twister,” she writes.

She’s deadly serious, however, about the effect of technology and new medication on birth, devoting a chapter to the millions of pregnant women who were prescribed diethylstilbestrol (DES). While the drug was given to prevent miscarriage, it caused reproductive damage years later, including a rare form of deadly vaginal cancer. There’s a fascinating chapter on J. Marion Sims (who also is a key point in Cutting for Stone) and his work on repairing the vaginal walls of slaves. You can imagine the ambivalence the medical community has about Sims.

Epstein doesn’t always succeed in being objective: she’s a tad judgmental about egg freezing, and skimps a bit on the controversy around different methods of assisted reproduction. For those going down that path, I would recommend Liza Mundy’s Everything Conceivable.  However, for anyone embarking or thinking about pregnancy, or just interested in women’s history, Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank is a short, well-written and entertaining book, and recommended.