Book Review: Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth by Randi Hutter Epstein

Review by Kristina Bartlett Brody

The “me” in the title of Epstein’s book refers not only to the baby, but also to any mother who might want out of the medical way of giving birth prevalent in Western culture today.

After saying that the book’s guidance “should pique your curiosity to think about the medical maze in a different sort of way,” Epstein describes childbirth from the 1600s to the present, ultimately tackling how modern medicine influences the way women conceive and give birth.

Epstein, a medical journalist who is also trained as a physician, offers revealing and sometimes disturbing insight into the medicalization of childbirth: the suffering female slaves endured in the 1800s as unwitting test subjects for early gynecological devices; the business maneuvering and resulting financial success by the inventors of the forceps; and the financial posturing required before ultrasound replaced harmful X-rays in viewing fetuses during prenatal care. Such stories certainly need to be told.

Lessening the power of Epstein’s otherwise vivid narrative and authoritative tone are hints of opinions and judgments that are never clearly stated. In describing “freebirthers” — women who choose to give birth at home without a doctor or midwife — Epstein alludes to her personal view: “Seeing the videos and talking to women who have gone the unassisted route is so inspiring.”

But these missteps mar only slightly an otherwise fascinating and powerful recounting of conception and childbirth.

W.W. Norton & Co., 2010, 302 p., $24.95.