Book Review: Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth From the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank
By Randi Hutter Epstein, MD
W.W. Norton & Company, 2010
302 pages, hardback, $24.95
Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE
Since it shares a subtitle about the history of childbirth, I expected the new book Get Me Out to be very similar in content to the recent book Birth Day by Mark Sloan or to the book Birth by Tina Cassidy. I wondered how much more could possibly be reported about the history of childbirth. It turns out there is plenty more and I was delighted to discover that Get Me Out stands alone as a unique and interesting contribution to books of this genre.
Written by a physician and mother of four, Get Me Out focuses on some very recent elements of birth history including assisted reproductive technologies (ART), ultrasound, and freebirth, subjects not addressed in the books referenced above. Aside from familiar content about things like the Chamberlen brothers and the Twilight Sleep movement, the remainder of the text was fresh and engaging. Part one included an interesting and disturbing chapter about Marion Sims and his research and experiments with fistula repair on enslaved women. A later chapter explores Sims’ research with artificial insemination (this time with middle class white women). In fact, the latter half of the book contains an extensive historical look at artificial insemination, moving into present day history including an exploration of sperm banking and cryo-preservation of eggs.
Unique among birth history books is Epstein’s chapter on freebirth (more commonly known as “unassisted childbirth”) followed with a chapter about ultrasound including content about 4D and “novelty” ultrasounds. There is also a chapter exploring DES and its effects on reproduction.
Also different than Birth Day and Birth, is the total absence of memoir or personal reflective content. Epstein is a medical journalist and Get Me Out is written in that voice. There is a light, personal tone to the text, but nothing personal aside from occasional descriptions, observations, or quotes from interviews with sperm bank mangers (for example). I found myself feeling a little curious about her personal history of childbirth, an element freely interspersed throughout the texts of other recent birth history books.
As the author says, “…the way we give birth is a story about our deepest desires and our fundamental concerns about life, death, and sex.” Get Me Out is a fascinating tale focusing on our collective, cultural story about birth in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as dip into the story that continues being written today.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.