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The Birth House by Ami McKay

The Birth House (2006)

by Ami McKay

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,7401016,185 (3.96)259
  1. 10
    The Reluctant Midwife by Patricia Harman (4leschats)
    4leschats: Also looks at historical issues within the context of women, births, and midwifery
  2. 10
    The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman (vancouverdeb)
    vancouverdeb: Both books are about midwifery in the early 1920's ,1930's. Both also tackles social issues.
  3. 00
    Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife by Peggy Vincent (infiniteletters)
  4. 00
    Sex Wars by Marge Piercy (tangledthread)
    tangledthread: also deals with the historical issues of gender politics.
  5. 12
    Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman (JolieLouise)
    JolieLouise: Has a similar "feel" to The Birth House. The difference being that the "remedies" used in The Birth House are more passed down folklore/wisdom whereas the "remedies, etc..." in Practical Magic are more magic/witchcraft. Both books have females as the main characters and the females have the power of healing/magic . . .… (more)

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» See also 259 mentions

English (99)  Lithuanian (2)  All languages (101)
Showing 1-5 of 99 (next | show all)
Loved this book! Set right around the time doctors began medicalizing birth in really horrible ways. The book was particularly interesting to read at this time in my life, days away from labour. Also, incredibly well written and so very, beautifully Canadian. ( )
  Wordbrarian | Mar 5, 2019 |
The first girl child born in five generations of Rare male children, Dora Rare is viewed with some caution by the locals in her small Nova Scotia town. In her isolation, she is drawn to and becomes apprentice to the eccentric Miss B, the local midwife. WWI is changing everything and Dr. Thomas arrives in the area determined to move the community into the next phase of medical practice. He charges that midwifery is out of date and offers painless childbirth through the administration of new medicines. The women of the community begin to question the age-old practices of Miss B and transfer this skepticism to Dora when she takes over the practice after Miss B's death. Dora, however, carries the spirit and wisdom of Miss B within her; her care and compassion fuel her determination to protect women's ownership of the birthing process and all that surrounds it, including acceptance of its pain and risk. This is a compelling story written in deceptively straightforward prose. The characters are richly developed, the plot engaging, the setting palpable. Definitely a worthwhile read. ( )
  EBT1002 | Apr 11, 2018 |
Phenomenal from the first page to the last. After giving birth for the first time this past year, it was fascinating to read about midwifery at the time when the medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth was happening. ( )
  munchie13 | Jan 3, 2018 |
3.25 stars

It is 1917 in small town Nova Scotia. Dora is 17 and learning from the local midwife. A doctor arrives in town and declares that a hospital is being built for local women to get modern medical care.

This book varied for me. Some parts were more interesting than others. The entire first half was o.k., but not all that exciting for me. I found it more interesting after Dora got married, but the part where she was in Boston, I found boring. There was an interesting backdrop including WWI, the Halifax Explosion in 1917, the flu in 1918, and women's suffrage, but all this was mostly in the background and only for a short time. The medical stuff was interesting, to see what was "modern" at the time vs. the midwives "old wives tales" and such. I did like the old advertisements in the book. ( )
  LibraryCin | Oct 1, 2017 |
The story is not so much a story about birthing as it is one of the evolution of becoming re-born. There is character development—and then there are characters that already have everything they need to engage you with ease, curiosity, nostalgia, and a little spunk.

This book is about a number of struggles…a tension between choosing and ultimately accepting the dichotomies of our lives: what it means to be a woman embedded in the rural roots of the Bay of Fundy, Maritimes and what it could mean to be a woman witnessing the narrow streets filled with heavy brick buildings of a modernizing city called Boston; to the struggle of keeping the sentimentality, spirituality, and instinctive old wisdom of traditional midwifery versus the collision it faces with the sterility of new and upcoming science, technology, and modern medicine.

This is a story about women, for women—the empowerment needed to realize autonomy over choices, especially of those choices having to do with a woman’s body—her fertility, her pregnancy, her labour, her sex life, and the secrets of her desires. It’s also about community, home, and the special relationship women can and do have with one another, exclusive of their partners, the male-dominated assumptions that can be imposed on them, and the circumstances of a changing world.

In the face of fierce opposition, women in this novel bond, grow, and struggle together as fiercely as labour itself, to not reclaim themselves— but to proclaim themselves according to an identity that is acceptable to each of them personally.

It’s a tribute to the female struggle and the glorious gift we have been given as women: the tolerance and endurance to suffer pain and tragedy in order to make a life, carry it, save it, and also live it. Generation by generation. One moon, one prayer, one knit, and one choice at a time. ( )
  ZaraD.Garcia-Alvarez | Jun 6, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 99 (next | show all)
As with Water for Elephants, this book sat on my 'to-read' list way too long. After finally picking it up from the library, I almost returned it without reading because it just didn't appeal to me. However, I am so happy that I opted to read rather than return.

I loved how the author, Ami McKay, wrote this story. It amazes me to think that the story actually takes place in the early 1900's and during WWI. Other than when the story actually mentioned the war or the fact that there wasn't electricity, you wouldn't have known that it wasn't a modern day story.

Also, I really enjoyed reading about midwifery. I chose to have a 'modern' birth when I had my son (ie. hospital with doctors) but have heard of so many wonderful stories of the 'midwife experience'. By the end of The Birth House, midwifes were becoming extinct and doctors becoming the way of the world... nowadays, it seems as if things are moving back in the other direction as more and more people chose to use a midwife over a doctor for their birthing experience. If only the people of Scots Bay knew this, it would have saved so much trouble

Overall, The Birth House was a wonderful debut novel by a Canadian author. It is a must-read for anyone who enjoys a story about a mother struggle to choose between what everyone says is right and what she feels is right in her heart
McKay sets The Birth House against the historical backdrop of war, influenza, the Halifax Explosion, and the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. Issues of women’s rights and freedoms are never far from the novel’s surface. Gradually Dora becomes the guardian of age-old female knowledge under threat from modern technology. She is forced into the fray when Dr. Gilbert Thomas, an ambitious, unscrupulous obstetrician, arrives in Scots Bay with promises of safe, painless childbirth. Young though she is, Dora knows that pain and danger are inseparable from life. With the staunch support of the Occasional Knitters Society, she fights Thomas’s hostile takeover. He counters with charges of malpractice, precipitating her flight to Boston....Intelligent, quirky, passionate, and funny, it deserves a wide readership and a long shelf life.

The miracle of birth and the struggle to live a good life; the miracle of a good life and the struggle to be born -- these are just a few of the themes explored in Ami McKay's poignant debut novel, The Birth House.

The novel is set in a small Nova Scotia community during a period of great change: in Europe, the First World War is raging. In North America advances in medicine and social organization are radically altering they way people live. It's an era charged with tumult, destruction and social revolution.
A national bestseller, The Birth House won the Ontario Library Association's 2007 Evergreen Award and was named one of the best books of the decade by Chapters Indigo

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ami McKayprimary authorall editionscalculated
Diéz Pérez, María JoséTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my husband, Ian, My heart, my love, my home
First words
My house stands at the edge of the earth.
Ever since I can remember, people have had more than enough to say about me.
A rumour is about as hard to unspread as butter.
No matter what you do, someone always knew you would.
Throw an onion after a bride and you'll throw away her tears.
The most horrible curse you can put on a woman is to kiss her on the cheeks and tells her that things couldn't get any worse. The minute you say it, they surely does.
Our little village, perched on the crook of God's finger, has always been ruled by storm and season.
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Book description
Haiku summary
An awkward talent

Becomes a treasured gift.

Women share and support.

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061135879, Paperback)

An arresting portrait of the struggles that women faced for control of their own bodies, The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare—the first daughter in five generations of Rares.

As apprentice to the outspoken Acadian midwife Miss Babineau, Dora learns to assist the women of an isolated Nova Scotian village through infertility, difficult labors, breech births, unwanted pregnancies, and unfulfilling sex lives. During the turbulent World War I era, uncertainty and upheaval accompany the arrival of a brash new medical doctor and his promises of progress and fast, painless childbirth. In a clash between tradition and science, Dora finds herself fighting to protect the rights of women as well as the wisdom that has been put into her care.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:27 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

The first daughter in five generations of her Nova Scotia family, Dora Rare becomes an apprentice to a gifted midwife and storyteller before their home is threatened by the arrival of a brash medical doctor who promises sterile and painless births.

» see all 5 descriptions

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Average: (3.96)
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