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The Birth House: A Novel by Ami Mckay

The Birth House: A Novel (original 2006; edition 2006)

by Ami Mckay

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1,6551014,354 (3.96)237
Title:The Birth House: A Novel
Authors:Ami Mckay
Info:William Morrow (2006), Hardcover, 400 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Birth House by Ami McKay (2006)

  1. 10
    The Reluctant Midwife: A Hope River Novel 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: A Novel of an American Midwife 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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Showing 1-5 of 98 (next | show all)
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 |
After buying this book years ago and not recalling why (other than it was on sale) I finally got around to reading it. I was pleasantly surprised!!

The story revolves around one main character, Dora Rare. The reader is introduced to her while she is a teenager and progresses to fill us in on her journey into adulthood, including training to be a midwife. Given the focus of the story was around midwifery during the early 1900s, I thought it might be depressing or filled with never ending stories of pregnancy and home deliveries. Yes, the story certainly touched on those elements but there were also many instances of humor, loyalty, love of literature, family and friendship.

Noting there are references to mysticism, herbal remedies, sexism and women's rights, so it is suggested to read with an open mind while taking into account the time period and setting of the novel. I personally did not find these subjects to be offputting but instead found it interesting how ideas come full circle, with some physicians of the current era incorporating certain aspects of holistic medicine into their practices.

After completing the book, I did a little research about the historical aspects of The Birth House. Interestingly, the house that the book is based on actually still exists in Nova Scotia and was once owned by a midwife named Mrs. Rebecca Steele. Although the book was predominantly a work of fiction, it was nice to know that some aspects were historically accurate.

I would recommend this to readers who have an interest in historical fiction, midwifery and the evolution of obstetrics in modern medicine, both the good and the bad. ( )
  Lisa805 | Sep 3, 2016 |
Review: The Birth House by Ami McKay.

I’m a little disappointed. The book was interesting but not captivating. The story seemed flat, no emotional development through the characters to invite the reader into the people’s lives. I liked the setting which was a mountain environment or some would say a back woods scenario, the main subject was midwifery, that was interesting but I feel like the author left out the best part, the creativity of character, traits, and emotions.

The story is about Dora Rare, who was born with a caul over her face which is a superstition of witch foretelling among her people in the small village of Nova Scotia called Scots Bay. The caul was removed at birth but not the myth. Also, among five generations of Rare’s she was the only girl born which was another strike against her.

Being the only girl in her family she became isolated, lonely and a misfit until one day she meets a mysterious old women who lived back in the woods in a one room shack known as Marie Babineau. The people called her a midwife and herbal witch healer around that area. Even though people snubbed, gossiped and treated her awful they still turned to her for delivering babies and curing different ailments throughout the mountain and villages. Dora became friends with her and after some time Marie started teaching Dora her medical ways of healing and delivering babies. Dora sort of became Marie’s apprentice.

Than one day a real physician, Dr. Gilbert Thomas moved to the small village and built a common hospitality place, that he called a hospital for the birthing mothers at Scot’s Bay. He was never really liked by the people but some did give him a chance but within a couple years the hospital shut down and the doctor moved on.

Dora kept using her skills but she wanted a husband and children of her own. Soon, she backed away from most of her medical calls to get married to an ungrateful man and had children. Her family built her a beautiful home on the mountain and she survived the disorder of a bad marriage, raised her children after her husband was killed in a terrible accident and started once again helping mother’s through births and the ailments of her people in her own home whenever possible….and she secretly found love…I feel Dora was happy at the end but the author didn’t create that scene….THE END!

The author weaved within the story other events such as; data about WWI, The Halifax Explosion, the Boston Molasses Flood, the Flu Epidemic, the Suffragettes, the Women’s Sexuality Movement which, really had nothing to do with the birthing and midwifery topic but why so many topics…? The material was interesting but I don’t believe she did enough research on those topics and just made the story more blah…..blah… blah…

( )
  Juan-banjo | May 31, 2016 |
I loved this book. It's an awesome story, and the setting is local, so it was really cool reading about places I know. Couldn't put it down, an excellent read! ( )
  junepearl | Mar 4, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 98 (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
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For my husband, Ian, My heart, my love, my home
First words
[Prologue] 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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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.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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