Elevate Difference

Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank

When researching medical or social history, one of the things that often becomes apparent is the level of mystery that surrounded women’s bodies and bodily functions. This mystery and speculation is the subject of Randi Hutter Epstein’s Get Me Out. As the title suggests, Hutter Epstein, a medical journalist, presents an overview of ideas related to conception, pregnancy, and childbirth spanning from antiquity to the modern day. While it is easy to laugh at some of the mistaken notions from the past (and some of them are, indeed, hilarious and/or terrifying), Hutter Epstein also makes sure to note the unknowns that still surround these processes today.

One thing that Get Me Out makes very clear is the way in which pregnancy and childbirth—and, therefore, women’s bodies—have continuously been the subjects of experimentation. This has sometimes been to women’s benefit, but all too often to their detriment. Early medical texts were written by monks who were not only excluded from the delivery room due to their gender (only women were allowed to attend childbirth) but were also likely completely unfamiliar with women’s bodies, leading to a lot of guesswork. Hutter Epstein describes disturbing experiments on female slaves that did eventually produce positive results, but at unknown cost to the women experimented upon. Another type of experimentation Hutter Epstein recounts is pain suppression during childbirth. Get Me Out describes the contradictory views of women towards drug use during childbirth over time: from these drugs being a part of women’s liberation to the drugs being a tool of subjugation.

The key strengths of Get Me Out are the fascinating nature of the information it provides and the book’s readability. Get Me Out is incredibly engaging. As Hutter Epstein notes in the title, this is a history; she does not attempt to tell the history. This approach allows her to describe some of the high (or low) points of ideas and processes from antiquity to the nineteenth century in the first few chapters, and then focus the rest of the book on the twentieth century. Even with the volume of material presented, I appreciated that Hutter Epstein did not rigidly confine herself to the topic at hand. The book is peppered with footnotes that provide additional, often tangential, information. At one point, the author uses a footnote to discuss the differences in the sperm trade between humans and thoroughbred horses. It is clear that Hutter Epstein has a very curious mind, which has led to her creating an interesting, funny, illuminating, enjoyable book.

Written by: Erin Schowalter, December 27th 2009

I considered discussing editing issues in the book, but I had an advance copy to review, so I wasn't sure to what extent the editing would be changed in the final version. The jumpiness of it was initially a little jarring to me, but as I read, I found it almost more engaging than I do a book that's technically perfect. I've read quite a few more academic texts about the topic, so maybe it was the difference that I found really refreshing.

While I agree the subject matter is interesting (and often grotesque, particularly so as I'm a new mother,) I couldn't get over how poorly written and edited the book was. Her use of colloquialisms hinders the accessibility of her message, rather than enhancing it as I imagine was the goal. Organization within chapters is lax, and organization within paragraphs is almost nonexistent. Punctuation is oddly used, creating a staccato experience for the reader. I consistently found myself confused as she jumped from topic to topic and subject to subject. I truly appreciate what Hutter Epstein took on here, but I'm disappointed with the result. It felt more like an intermediate draft than a publishable final version. Hard to say whether to fault her or her editor more.