Mar 13, 2011

Get Me Out

A History of Childbirth
by Randi Hutter Epstein

One of the most interesting birth-related books I've read yet, Get Me Out is about the cultural history of childbirth, from ancient times up to today. Each chapter takes a subject through its evolution- the one about cesarean sections begins in the 1400's when they were done only after both mother and child had died in childbirth, in order to baptize the baby before burial; eventually the operations became more successful (at least the baby lived) but were done only in extrememe emergencies; today some women request the surgery for convenience! Quite a change. Other parts of the book explore the advancement of birthing tools (like forceps), how women have moved from birthing at home to using hospitals (and back into the home again), the use of drugs (whether for pain relief or supposed prenatal benefits- often going awry), the first use of x-rays and then later ultrasound, and sperm banking. Some of the stories from the past can be quite horrific- as when a doctor in the 1800's did repeated experimental surgeries on slave women to learn how to repair fistulas. Lots of things in the book opened my eyes but probably the most surprising was when I read about twilight sleep. For some reason I had assumed that twilight sleep was pressed upon women by doctors who wanted complete control over unconscious patients during birth (from something I read before?) but this book tells the opposite: doctors were reluctant to use a drug they didn't know all the side-effects of, and feminists of the day demanded a pain-free birth when they saw it was possible.

There's a lot to learn in Get Me Out, not only about how medical science has advanced over the decades but also how societal attitidues towards birth have changed, often drastically so! There's enough disturbing details about what women suffered in childbirth in times past that I'm not sure I would recommend this for pregnant women to read (I probably shouldn't have read it at the time, myself!) but otherwise, it's pretty intriguing.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 302 pages, 2010

more opinions at:
Elizabeth's Books


  1. Sounds interesting. I did not know any of the information you mention in your review.

    I saw a fascinating exhibit in a Paris museum about the history of childbirth several years ago. They had a revolving door sort of thing from the late medieval period. Women who could not support their newborns, placed them in the door and then turned it around anonymously delivering the baby to the hospital or orphanage inside.

    It was a moving thing to see. I'm not really sure if we're better off now that we don't have these sorts of things anymore or not, though we're much better off now overall.

  2. I was thinking a lot through this book: thank God we don't do things like that anymore! But then it always makes me wonder, what aspects of childbirth are so common and accepted nowadays, but a hundred years down the road will be viewed entirely different? I'm always curious about things like that.

  3. I thought I read a lot of books about childbirth, but you are fast becoming an expert!

    I like the sound of this one. I haven't read much about the history of childbirth so I think I'll keep an eye out for this one now. Thanks for drawing it to my attention.

  4. Perhaps I'm learning too much! Certainly this book has a lot of info that can scare a pregnant woman silly. I have three more childbirth-related books on my list and then I think I'm going to have to switch to some easygoing fiction for my last month or so.

  5. Anonymous3/14/2011

    Sounds interesting, but I'm probably glad I didn't read it when I was pregnant.

  6. Hi Jeane - do you do what I do? Whenever I hear of a woman who needs a Caesarean, or who has days of childbirth, or needs shots to stop bleeding during childbirth, I think - in the past, that woman would be dead. Which I would have to include myself in, at least twice over! It was dangerous, and sometimes, the cover over our eyes today slips and it still is.

    What I think are gruesome are the old forceps used. When I saw the modern version - my eldest needed forceps - I began crying and pushing harder so they wouldn't be needed! I can only guess at how women felt before modern medicine.

    Interesting book and thoughts!

  7. Sounds fascinating! For me to read now, long before I am contemplating getting pregnant. :p I love cultural histories!

  8. Loved this book! Unfortunately read it while pregnant and scared myself senseless with things I shouldn't have been thinking about. However, upon having my daughter through emergency c-section the doctor told me that if this was a hundred years ago we both would have been gone, nice huh?


Comments are screened due to spam.