The Birth House

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Birth House book coverby Ami McKay

I requested Ami McKay's The Birth House from the library at the recommendation of my friend Trudi, a Nova Scotian. The book takes place in Nova Scotia and is written by a Canadian radio journalist. Reportedly, McKay lives in a house that was formerly owned by a midwife, and her curiosity about and investigation into that woman's life led her to write the novel.

The Birth House takes place mostly during World War II (though it does travel back in time some and the final chapter takes place during World War II). It is the story of a shipbuilder's daughter, Dora Rare, who is taken under the wing of the town's Cajun midwife and taught her trade. The bulk of the book centers around the conflict between the new, hospital-driven male model of medical care for birthing women and the traditional, home and midwife-based female model, but it also branches into other conflicts between men and women, and the ways in which Dora and the rural women around her asserted their independence and agency. Issues including women's suffrage (in the U.S.), temperance, education, and spousal abuse are all addressed.

The book is a quick and interesting read (it took me two evenings). While it is probably not something I will go out of my way to force all of my friends to read, or read again, it is definitely worth reading and I enjoyed it very much.

3 Comments

Have you ever read Midwives by Chris Bojalian? (Hopefully I spelled his name correctly!) I read Midwives as part of a women's studies class in college and loved it, but I love his book Trans-Sister Radio even more. It is amazing the way he writes female characters.

I have read "Midwives," and liked it very much. I have his older book, "Water Witches" at home to read as well, and I'll put "Tran-Sister Radio" on my list.

Water Witches is one of my favorite books.

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