A History of Childbirth
by Randi Hutter Epstein
One of the most interesting birth-related books I\’ve read yet, Get Me Out is about the cultural history of childbirth, from ancient times up to today. Each chapter takes a subject through its evolution- the one about cesarean sections begins in the 1400\’s when they were done only after both mother and child had died in childbirth, in order to baptize the baby before burial; eventually the operations became more successful (at least the baby lived) but were done only in extrememe emergencies; today some women request the surgery for convenience! Quite a change. Other parts of the book explore the advancement of birthing tools (like forceps), how women have moved from birthing at home to using hospitals (and back into the home again), the use of drugs (whether for pain relief or supposed prenatal benefits- often going awry), the first use of x-rays and then later ultrasound, and sperm banking. Some of the stories from the past can be quite horrific- as when a doctor in the 1800\’s did repeated experimental surgeries on slave women to learn how to repair fistulas. Lots of things in the book opened my eyes but probably the most surprising was when I read about twilight sleep. For some reason I had assumed that twilight sleep was pressed upon women by doctors who wanted complete control over unconscious patients during birth (from something I read before?) but this book tells the opposite: doctors were reluctant to use a drug they didn\’t know all the side-effects of, and feminists of the day demanded a pain-free birth when they saw it was possible.
There\’s a lot to learn in Get Me Out, not only about how medical science has advanced over the decades but also how societal attitidues towards birth have changed, often drastically so! There\’s enough disturbing details about what women suffered in childbirth in times past that I\’m not sure I would recommend this for pregnant women to read (I probably shouldn\’t have read it at the time, myself!) but otherwise, it\’s pretty intriguing.
Rating: 4/5 …….. 302 pages, 2010
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