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The Birth Houseby Ami McKay
Synopses & Reviews
The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of the Rare family. As a child in an isolated village in Nova Scotia, she is drawn to Miss Babineau, an outspoken Acadian midwife with a gift for healing and a kitchen filled with herbs and folk remedies. During the turbulent first years of World War I, Dora becomes the midwife's apprentice. Together, they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labors, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives.
But when Gilbert Thomas, a brash medical doctor, comes to Scots Bay with promises of fast, painless childbirth, some of the women begin to question Miss Babineau's methods — and after Miss Babineau's death, Dora is left to carry on alone. In the face of fierce opposition, she must summon all of her strength to protect the birthing traditions and wisdom that have been passed down to her.
Filled with details that are as compelling as they are surprising — childbirth in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion, the prescribing of vibratory treatments to cure hysteria and a mysterious elixir called Beaver Brew — Ami McKay has created an arresting and unforgettable portrait of the struggles that women faced to have control of their own bodies and to keep the best parts of tradition alive in the world of modern medicine.
"Canadian radiojournalist McKay was unable to ferret out the life story of late midwife Rebecca Steele, who operated a Nova Scotia birthing center out of McKay's Bay of Fundy house in the early 20th century; the result of her unsatisfied curiousity is this debut novel. McKay writes in the voice of shipbuilder's daughter, Dora Rare, 'the only daughter in five generations of Rares,' who as a girl befriends the elderly and estranged Marie Babineau, long the local midwife (or traiteur), who claims to have marked Dora out from birth as her successor. After initial reluctance and increasingly intensive training, 17-year-old Dora moves in with Marie; on the eve of Dora's marriage to Archer Bigelow, Marie disappears, leaving Dora her practice. A difficult marriage, many difficult births, a patient's baby thrust on her to raise without warning and other crises (including WWI and the introduction of 'clinical' birthing methods) ensue. Period advertisments, journal entries and letters to and from various characters give Dora's voice context. The book is more about the texture of Dora's life than plot, and McKay handles the proceedings with winning, unsentimental care. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"This sensitively written novel of women's birthing rituals, strengths, and friendships will appeal to readers who enjoy gentle humor and plenty of homespun wisdom." Booklist
"The plotting leaves a lot to be desired, but McKay is such a wonderful storyteller with a strong sense of place and time that all is forgiven." Library Jounral
"This unclassifiable debut was a bestseller in Canada, helped no doubt by its challenging vision of old-fashioned midwives as feminist pioneers." Kirkus Reviews
Filled with details as compelling as they are surprising, this is an unforgettable novel of the struggles women have faced to have control of their own bodies and to keep the best parts of tradition alive in the world of modern medicine.
About the Author
Ami McKay's work has aired on CBC radio's Maritime Magazine, This Morning, OutFrontand The Sunday Edition. Her documentary, Daughter of Family G, won an Excellence in Journalism Medallion at the 2003 Atlantic Journalism Awards. When she and her family moved to Scots Bay, Nova Scotia, she learned that their new home was once a birth house.
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