March is Women’s History Month, and while we usually think of women’s history in terms of major figures and events, the medical history of women is an equally fascinating topic. Two recently published books delve into some of the biological mystery and history of women’s bodies and childbirth:
How Women Got Their Curves and Other Just So Stories: Evolutionary Enigmas, by David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton: Since before the Ancient Greeks decided that hysteria was caused by problems with the uterus, science has been trying to make sense of women’s bodies. Interestingly enough, things like menstruation and ovulation are still confounding modern science. This book examines several aspects of women’s bodies that appear to have no clear rhyme or reason for working the way they do, at least from the standpoint of evolutionary biology. Why women menstruate monthly (most other animals don’t) and why ovulation is hidden in humans (most animals have obvious signals) are among the questions addressed in this book. There are no answers to these questions, but theories abound, and anyone with an interest in the science of women’s bodies will find this to be an engaging read.
Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank, by Randi Hutter Epstein: With a focus on childbirth from ancient times to the present, this book was by turns entertaining and horrifying. The history of childbirth is a messy one, and attempts to understand it and to make the process easier and safer have often had tragic results. However, for every gruesome tale there was a hilarious counterpart. (For instance, aren’t you glad that we no longer live in a time when drinking horse urine was thought to help conception?!) The author manages to entertain even while bringing to light the often disturbing history of childbirth in medicine.