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

Nursing Book Club

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

By Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D. (W.W. Norton & Co., 2010)
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Reviewed By Christine Contillo, RN, BSN

My first job as an RN was on a maternity floor, so I will admit to having a soft spot for stories about childbirth. This attitude is apparently shared by Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D., mother of four and author of Get Me Out. She also has quite a sense of humor, which makes this book a joy to read.

Get Me OutPainful and Dangerous
The history begins with Eve, whom the author calls “the first woman to become pregnant,” and then traces the cultural changes in the Western world regarding how we view childbirth. Epstein tells us, “In 1591, Eufame MacIntyre was burned at the stake for asking for pain relief during the birth of her twins.” For centuries after, not much changed. Everyone agreed childbirth was painful and women should put up with it. Even the Bible said so.

That viewpoint has flip-flopped several times in the more recent past. Until the 1930s, babies were generally born at home. With the discovery of anesthesia, “Mad Men” era wives preferred to labor in antiseptically clean hospital beds and wake up afterwards. Following that era, the organic granola-crunching crowd returned to delivering at home with the help of a crowd of  family and friends. Most of the rest of  us fell somewhere in the middle.

How we view childbirth, be it natural or technology-driven, leads us directly to the way we feel about conception itself. Does it begin with a romantic private liaison that ultimately leads to a birth “surrounded by prodding strangers … otherwise known as birth attendants”? With her tongue firmly placed against her cheek, Epstein continues, “Sometimes people you’ve never met are shoving fingers up your vagina.”

Cottage Industry
Did you have a high-tech conception that began with frozen sperm? The first recorded birth from frozen sperm was in 1953, but the author acknowledges that “the ability to freeze plus overnight delivery propelled the sperm industry from a local enterprise to a global affair.” Epstein shares the inside scoop about sperm banks and their patrons, as well as making the science of embryology relatively understandable to readers. She also tries to help us understand the thinking of young women who freeze and store eggs at a high cost before age causes them to “go bad,” in case they meet the right father/husband/ consort later in life.

Epstein leaves us to question the ethics behind many enterprises geared toward high-strung, well-financed young couples. Do they really need a 3-D ultrasound done in a non-medical facility at a strip mall, where they can purchase fancy frames and send them off to family and friends? Are Caesarean sections on demand (which, by the way, are not named after Julius Caesar) safer than vaginal deliveries —or merely more convenient? And convenient for whom? Patient or doctor?

The End of the Beginning
All in all, it’s the final point the author makes that I like best (it will not be a spoiler to anyone who has already had a baby, and shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone considering pregnancy). Epstein says, “Pregnancy and childbirth — however you get there — is one of the few adventures you will ever embark on that when you get to the finish line you’ve only just begun.”  

Chamberlin forcepsWell said.    


Chamberlin forceps (pictured right) were a secret invention that the doctor would deploy only after everyone had left the room and the laboring mother was blindfolded.


Christine Contillo, RN, BSN is a public health nurse who suggests joining a book club as a reason to put down trashy magazines and look smart on the subway.

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