Jul 3, 2011

The Birth House by Ami McKay

When I was in university, I took a class called History of Medicine, which I ended up hating. The only time women were mentioned was when it came to what problems they need to have treated. Nothing about women who treated other women or even the whole village. You'd think that the women in the class would bring it up or write papers on this though, right? No, we learned our lesson very early on. Everytime a woman would ask a question or put forth an opinion, the prof would diagnose us with hysteria and suggest a treatment depending on the time period we had been discussing.

I want to buy a copy of this book and send it to him.

This is the story of Dora Rare, a midwife in a small town in Nova Scotia in the first half of the 20th century, as well as the townspeople of Scots Bay and Boston. She is an engaging protagonist, one who grows in strength throughout the book due to the hardships she experiences and witnesses. The over-bearing temperance advocate who is also Dora's aunt and an adulteress and the doctor with his ridiculous ideas are easy to hate although at times they border on caricature.

I especially liked the brides from Newfoundland. They remind me so much of the island girls in my neighbourhood, who have embraced me despite the fact that I'm so different. My neighbours come from different islands around the prefecture, but all speak a different dialect, and about the only thing they have in common is generosity of spirit. So much like Dora's friends 'from away'.

I think that this is one of the books that is coloured by your own perception. Mine was destined to be favourable, as I gave birth to Domba at home with a midwife in attendance after Spinky was born due to an induction for the doctor's convenience and I was looking for better options. I am a natural birth advocate, and of course I found the doctor's assertions that he could control childbirth to be laughable. That being said, I do favour science and would choose a safety-tested drug over a herbal remedy any day of the week, but that choice wasn't available for anyone in Dora's time.

The prose was delightful, and McKay has a knack for bringing the characters to life through their dialogue. That being said, this wasn't a five-star book for me. Sometimes it went a little too far in pushing the message. It felt kind of like a season of Degrassi to me, trying to fit in all issues! That being said, a midwife does see so much more than a regular person would, I'm sure my own midwife knows more about me than she'd care to, so it makes sense that Dora would see what is hidden. 4/5 stars from me!

The Birth House by Ami McKay (CN/JP)
5th Canadian Book Challenge 2/13


  1. My daughter was born to a midwife as well, in Nunavut, and I'd swear by midwives after that experience. But it still doesn't sell me on this book!

  2. Congrats on finishing...I hear so many opinions on this one, either vehemently for it, or strongly against. Great that it stirs up so much discussion! But...I still haven't read it myself ;)

  3. I was a bit scared about this book prior to reading it, but, although I'm not a mother, I enjoyed it.
    I agree with you, not a five-star, but certainly a good, entertaining read that will make you think.

  4. John- that's wonderful to hear you had such a good midwife experience! Sorry the book didn't live up to your experience.

    Melwyk- I'd say you have to pick it up and decide if you are a lover or a hater!

    Emeire- glad to hear I'm not alone in liking it. ;)

  5. I loved the "Notes from the Willow Book", at the end of the novel. I also gave 'The Birth House' 4 stars.


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