GET ME OUT: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank

From a witty, relentlessly inquisitive medical writer, an eye-opening history of pregnancy and birthing joys and debacles. Making and having babies—what it takes to get pregnant, stay pregnant, and deliver—has mystified women and men for the whole of human history. The birth gurus of ancient times told newlyweds that simultaneous orgasms were necessary for conception and that during pregnancy a woman should drink red wine but not too much and have sex but not too frequently. Over the last one hundred years, depending on the latest prevailing advice, women have taken morphine, practiced Lamaze, relied on ultrasound images, sampled fertility drugs, and shopped at sperm banks.

In Get Me Out, the insatiably curious Randi Hutter Epstein journeys through history, fads, and fables, and to the fringe of science, where audacious researchers have gone to extreme measures to get healthy babies out of mothers.

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“Physician and medical journalist Randi Hutter Epstein is here to tell us in “Get Me Out,” her engrossing survey of the history of childbirth, that even with all of today’s whiz-bang technology, ‘We are still in the dark about so many things that go into making babies.’ …. Writing that pregnancy has always been ‘a wonderful blend of custom and science,’ Epstein takes us on a delightful romp through past guides that are filled with a whole lot of do-this-but-avoid-that advice. ‘You’ve got to be kidding me’ will be the reaction to most of it.” Washington Post (Read full review)

“In her lively history Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank, Randi Hutter Epstein injects new energy into the now-familiar story of how male doctors gradually usurped a procedure that was once the provenance of midwives and how they sometimes victimized women in the process. Her book takes a kind of great-man—and not so great-man—approach to childbirth’s history, focusing on some of the personalities who transformed it for better and for worse. Among other things, Epstein (herself an M.D.) shows how ignorance of the birth process, even of female anatomy, has never been a bar to men’s attempt to wrest control from the practiced hand of midwives: Some of the early treatises on women’s health were written by, of all people, monks.” –Liza Mundy, Slate (Read full review)

“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. . . . [A] fascinating and powerful recounting of conception and childbirth.” –Science News (Read full review)

“I found Randi Hutter Epstein’s Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank utterly fascinating…. she weaves a colorful narrative out of scientific facts and the larger-than-life characters who made history (and often achieved infamy) for advancing revolutionary (and/or really bizarre) ideas about babymaking…. Get Me Out covers a lot of ground and provides a wealth of information in under 300 pages….A great read for women and men—and parents and the childfree— alike.” –The Book Lady’s Blog (Read full review)

“Medical Journalist Randi Hutter Epstein presents an easy-to-understand, yet not patronizing, overview of childbirth across time. Each of the book’s five parts features some aspect of the cold, unvarnished reality faced by pregnant women and the subsequent delivery of their babies. The time frame discussed in the book spans the ages; however, the 19th and 20th centuries are Epstein’s primary focus…. There does not seem to be an intended audience for Get Me Out. Rather, most anyone can benefit from the book.” –Joseph’s Reviews Blog (Read full review)

“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…. What really makes this book stand out is the author’s own voice… 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…. 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. Interview with Randi Hutter Epstein–History and Women (Read full review)

“Get Me Out… accurately tracks the history of humans’ attempts to control childbirth, particularly in the United States: from early pregnancy advice manuals (which date all the way back to antiquity!) to the latest trends in sperm and egg banking. And Epstein documents these attempts at control with humor, curiosity, and the occasional shock and horror….. a book intriguing enough for me to recommend to you, whether you are a parent, a birth professional, or even just someone slightly interested in the strange and curious history of childbirth. Q&A With Randi Hutter Epstein–BirthingBeautifulIdeas (Read full review)

“For pregnant women or anyone who wants to learn about childbirth, reading Epstein’s book is a welcome distraction from the standard advice books. While Epstein begins with a discussion of midwifery and Biblical influences, she moves through 18th century Europe and into the United Kingdom, however, much of her focus is on trends and advancements made in the United States during the 19th through the 21st centuries…. Epstein’s book shows the gynecological advancements by women, for women and babies, and the reader is left with a profound message about the power of what women want concerning our health care and childbirth.” her circle ezine (Read full review)

“[S]urprisingly funny. . . . for anyone embarking or thinking about pregnancy, or just interested in women’s history, Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank is a short, well-written and entertaining book, and recommended.” –Elizabeth’s Books (Read full review)

“Author Randi Hutter Epstein sets out to explore this premise in her book Get me Out, a History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Banks. The result is a fascinating collection of anecdotes ranging from funny to sad, from beautiful to gross that illustrate how complex such a natural thing actually is. Factor in the industries created around all things baby and the result is perplexing.” –The Orlando Sentinel (Read full review)

“Get Me Out stands alone as a unique and interesting contribution to books of this genre. . . . fresh and engaging. . . .Get Me Out is a fascinating tale focusing on our collective, cultural story about birth in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as dip into the story that continues being written today.” –Talk Birth, Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE (Read full review)

“I’m fascinated with the new book Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank. 5 Crazy Things People Used to Believe About Childbirth and Babymaking.Glamour magazine, Vitamin G: Daily Health & Fitness Blog

“There are too few times when I read a book and realize I will miss the voice of the author in my head when I’m done. It’s like I’ve lost a good friend. I will miss this book and I will miss Randi Hutter Epstein. . . .The great fun of the book is found in Dr. Epstein’s writing style and the richness of her research. While she sings the praises of the amazing ovum, the largest and most complicated single cell in the human body, she unrelentingly reveals the less than impressive performance of the sperm. . . . It’s not hard to fall in love with this book. It’s personal and historical. I learned as much about my own body as I did about the medical practice at the turn of the century. How many books can do that?” –, Reviewed by Shelby Burns (Read full review)

“Lively, slightly saucy and nowhere near a how-to advice book, Get Me Out is a great read that’s purely for the curious, whether a parent or not. Author Epstein looks closely at the entire baby industry in this book, moving easily between the Middle Ages and modern times, in the laboratory and in the bedroom, from “aha!” moments to plenty of major oopses. I liked that she dusted out the corners of reproductive history and made me smile while she did it. If the doctor just said “congratulations!” to you, if you’re a grandparent-to-be or if you don’t know nuthin’ ’bout birthin’ no babies, you’ll enjoy this book. Get Me Out is one to push for.” – by Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm (Read full review)

“Birth is a fact of life. But as Randi Hutter Epstein shows in this breezy but enlightening little book, it’s a fact that’s been subject to endless interpretation. In a survey that spans from antiquity to the reproductive technologies of the 21st century, Epstein traces the power struggles among men and women to cast birth in their own image of the way life should be. . . . Get Me Out is a fast read because Epstein is a terrific writer. Trained as a journalist, she conveys a sense of joy in her research to accompany an often wicked wit, as chapter titles like “Men with Tools” and “Womb with a View” suggests. . . . Get Me Out is a quintessential work of pop history: light, funny, provocative. Yet it’s got enough depth and resonance to function as a highly effective teaching tool in any number of classes that range from medical schools to gender studies programs. Think of it as a brainchild with DNA from Barbara Ehrenreich and Gail Collins. And then appreciate it on its own terms.” History News Network by Jim Cullen (Read full review)

“The book is a fascinating tour through childbirth through the ages, focusing on various key moments, advancements, and personalities. Some of the information she uncovers is rather horrifying and even shocking—from antiquated, mind-boggling beliefs about pregnancy and childbirth, the use of crude instruments and ineffective pain medicine, to painful medical experiments that were conducted on slaves. But it’s also nice to see how finally, throughout the end of the 20th century, women have been able to harness both the best that medicine has to offer in terms of fertility challenges and labor pain relief, as well as take as much control as possible over their labor process.” –Simply Stated, A Blog from (Read full review)

“Medical journalist Epstein provides a sharp, sassy history of childbirth. The book is as much a study in sociology as historical snapshot of human birthing practices and gynecological advances, with particular emphasis on developments in the late 19th- and 20th-century United States. Beginning with Eve, who “started the whole birth-is-painful thing,” and concluding in the present with couples “who sperm-shop and freeze eggs for one reason or another,” Epstein convincingly demonstrates that the human desire to control all aspects of birth has been “a goal since antiquity.” The author covers several centuries’-worth of wildly divergent birthing customs and practices. From the earliest books on women’s health, written by monks, to childbed fever being spread by health practitioners and birthing wards, to early-20th-century feminists arguing that upper-class women had weaker physiologies than their working-class sisters, to the staggering statistic that C-section rates in America have risen 46 percent in the past ten years with no corresponding drop in maternal mortality, Epstein ably investigates the charged, ever-evolving scientific and social perspectives on birth. The author’s engaging sarcasm, evident even in a caption of an illustration of an absurd obstetric contraption — “Nineteenth-century Italian do-it-yourself forceps. The fad never took off”) —- lends this chronicle a welcome punch and vitality often absent from medical histories. Roll over, Dr. Lamaze, and make room for Epstein’s eyebrow-raising history.” –Kirkus Reviews

A Must Read for Everyone: Get Me Out: Every once in a while I come across one of those books that I can absolutely not put down…. Though I have come across several books about birth which I have found very informative, I had never felt the extreme urge to carry such a book with me everywhere I went till I finished its 300 pages in one weekend. That changed this weekend…. This book will empower you to ask questions that you may have never even thought to ask and answer some questions that have been lingering for generations…. Epstein, a medical journalist for the New York Times, Washington Post, and more, has a refreshing talent for conveying weighty facts in a humorous digestible manner. She will also leave you with your jaw on the floor as a side effect of disbelief. Next time you walk by the Who Knew Section at Barnes and Nobles or are browsing on, pick up this compelling, powerful thought provoking must read.–The Green Doula (Read full review)

“Epstein, Randi Hutter, M.D. Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank. Norton. Jan. 2010. c.320p. bibliog. ISBN 978-0-393-06458-2. $24.95. MED?Medical journalist Epstein (Columbia Univ.) presents a concise and entertaining summary of changes in conception, gestation, and birth from ancient times through the 20th century. Most of the focus is on the period beginning around 1900 to the present. As she investigates how myths, fads, superstitions, fraud, emotion, and science have intertwined through the ages, she posits that much of the history of childbirth in the last 100 years involves the swings between the embrace of and the distancing from science and technology. Among the questions Epstein tackles are: Is infertility psychological, or is a pill the answer? Is the best choice natural childbirth or a quick and painlessly anesthetized one? Or maybe a quick and not-so-painless C-section? Added to the debate today are the possibilities of predesigned babies, sperm banks, and frozen embryos.Verdict: Epstein presents the history and the current controversies of child birth clearly and with a liberal use of humor. As a result, both general and professional readers will enjoy the book.” –Dick Maxwell, Porter Adventist Hosp. Medical Lib., Denver

“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.” –Erin Schowalter, Feminist Review (Read full review)

“Randi Hutter Epstein is an MD. (That’s cool.) Randi Hutter Epstein is a journalist. (That’s cooler). Randi Hutter Epstein and I were classmates in medical school. (And that’s the coolest thing in the world – well at least for me.) So imagine my surprise and delight when I recently discovered her book, Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank, published by WW Norton and Company in 2010. So I’m a little behind on my reading. After looking at her picture to confirm that it was indeed the same Randi Hutter that I knew back in the day (she had yet to pick up the Epstein part), I turned to Notes (24 pages) and Bibliography (19 pages). Yep, Randi had done her homework.” –Sonya Erickson, (Read full review)