Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank, by Randi Hutter


Get Me Out of Here
A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank
By
Randi Hunter Epstein

What can be more relevant to history and women than the miracle of childbirth through the ages? In the book, Get Me Out of Here: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank, author and doctor Randi Hunter Epstein takes the reader on a journey into the history of childbirth from its earliest roots to modern day science. And what a journey it is! What you will find on the book's pages will make you laugh and cry, leave you shocked and surprised, and ultimately proud to be a woman simply because we have endured unspeakable horrors to arrive at today’s standards for childbirth.

Dr. Epstein leaves no stone unturned. For instance, in ancient times, monks wrote the leading book about childbirth, giving vivid instructions from how to get a woman in the mood to how little men thought about women. Yup, you heard it right – monks! From there, the book describes ancient fertility beliefs and practices that will give you nightmares long after the book is finished.

I shed tears when I read the chapter about the brutality of c-sections in medieval times. I laughed at some of the quotes written in the margins, i.e.: “Not a few women of good normal minds have gone to seed, become dumb, patient, brooding animals after the exhaustion of a succession of painful births.” How about following in the footsteps of Catherine de Medici and drinking cow manure soaked in mare’s urine to enhance you fertility?

Catherine de Medici 

Or how about the 19th century treatment of postpartum women being sent to the roof of a New York hospital to lay outside in the cold in order to prevent childbed fever?

One chapter delves deeply into the practices of the notorious Dr. J. Marion Sims who conducted live and prolonged medical experiments on slave women before the Civil War in order to conduct fistula repairs; a difficult chapter to read, but one that shows how his macabre procedures did ultimately produce some advancement in gynaecological treatments.


Another chapter describes how the Chamberlen family invented and kept secret the use of forceps for two hundred years in order to charge exorbitant fees when using the devices, thereby becoming increasing their wealth.

Chamberlen Forceps

Dr. Epstein shows us that even today, with all the medical and scientific advancements the world has made, we still have much to learn about the making babies. What really makes this book stand out is the author’s own voice. It feels as if she is speaking to the reader with ease and in a no-nonsense manner that is easy to understand and honestly portrayed, even when the subject matter is difficult to broach. Dr. Epstein lays out all the ethical and moral questions and lets you, the reader, see both sides in a frank portrayal of the facts. What lends credibility is the fact that the author is a medical doctor and a mother of four. She is knowledgeable when describing ultrasounds, artificial insemination, invitro fertilization, and many other of today’s fertility topics.

I have to say, this is a most enjoyable book; entertaining, engaging, and fresh. One that every woman should read in order to understand how far we have come and how far we have yet to travel. Thank you, Dr. Epstein, for the wonderful history lesson.


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