Spanning the 20th century Ami McKay takes a primitive and superstitious rural community in Nova Scotia and creates a rich tableau of characters to tell the story of childbirth from its most secretive early practices to modern maternity as we know it.
Epic and enchanting, ‘The Birth House’ is a gripping saga about a midwife's struggles in the wilds of Nova Scotia.
As a child in the small village of Scot's Bay, Dora Rare – the first female in five generations of Rares – is befriended by Miss Babineau, an elderly midwife with a kitchen filled with folk remedies and a talent for telling tales. Dora becomes her apprentice at the outset of World War I, and together they help women through difficult births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling marriages.
But their traditions and methods are threatened when a Doctor comes to town with promises of painless childbirth, and sets about undermining Dora's credibility. Death and deception, accusations and exile follow, as Dora and her friends fight to protect each other and the women's wisdom of their community. Hauntingly written and alive with historical detail, ‘The Birth House’ is an unforgettable, page-turning debut.
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‘Ami McKay cleverly points out the good and the bad in both old and new attitudes, while contemporary newspaper reports and advertisements illustrate the pace of change.’ Guardian
‘Ami McKay’s debut novel vividly captures the apparently quaint world inhabited by the people of Scot’s Bay, Canada. McKay creates a magical world, and her exquisite descriptions draw the reader further and further from reality.’ Time Out
'This is a truly captivating read, set in early 19th-century Novia Scotia. The story weaves lyrical detail of the natural beauty in which these pioneer families live with the pricklier reality of the First World War era, when centuries-old folk wisdom collides with science. The underlying theme of the shared strength that women give each other in hard circumstances lends this tale a solid bedrock.' SHE
‘“The Birth House” has a spirited momentum and it is difficult not to be swept along by it. Her writing is often beautiful, with colourful turns of phrase that mirror the earthiness of her setting, and her protagonist’. Sunday Business Post
‘By turns lyrical and gripping, brimming with historical detail and with a touching love story at the core, “The Birth House” brings to life a time, place and traditions long forgotten.’ Irish PostFrom the Author:
An Interview with Ami McKay, author of The Birth House
Q: How did you become a writer?
A: It all started with a 'Thank-You' note. All through high school, university, and grad school I wrote in secret, keeping all of my thoughts, ideas, short stories and poetry in notebooks under by bed. My New Year's resolution for the year 2000 (after much prodding from my partner) was to start putting my writing out into the world. So, I declared 2000 to be 'the year of sending thank-you notes to people I didn't know.' My first letter led to a guest appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show (and that was just January!) After that whirlwind experience, I kept writing, freelance documentaries for CBC radio, a short story here and there, and eventually my first novel. I still commit random acts of writing thank-you notes from time to time...just to keep the karma flowing.
Q:How did the idea for your book originate?
A: The inspiration for The Birth House came from the place where I live. When my partner and I moved to from Chicago to Nova Scotia we bought an old farmhouse on the Bay of Fundy. While exploring an unfinished room over the kitchen, I discovered the walls had been sealed with seaweed and horsehair plaster and then covered with newspapers. Each layer of paper dated back to a different era. Advertisements for 1930’s appliances were pasted over pictures of the Hupmobile Coupe...cars and washing machines gave way to testimonials for Lydia Pinkhams female toners and home remedies.
We moved to Scots Bay, NS in 2000 (it was a big year for me). By the following spring I was pregnant with my second child. As word spread through the community of my 'condition', my neighbours began telling me tales about the history of my home, which was once a midwife’s house. I was captivated by their stories. Not only had the midwife traveled to other homes in Scots Bay, but she eventually opened her home to the women in the community as a birth house. My neighbour encouraged me to visit a woman who had grown up in my house, the daughter of the midwife. Nearly 90, and living in a nursing home, her mind and words were clear, her eyes bright. While I sat with her, she explained that her biological mother had died three days after her birth and that the midwife had adopted her (when no family could be found to take her in). She spoke of her mother’s calling as a midwife, how she cared for the women, keeping them at the house for a week or more after a birth. She then began to recite the names of all the women who had given birth in the house as well as the names of their children. I was so inspired by her stories that I decided to have a midwife assisted home birth. My son was born at home in the middle of a March snowstorm, another child in the long lineage of babies born in my house. Not long after his birth, I began to make the first scribblings towards what would become The Birth House.
Q What makes this book relevant today?
During the early decades of the 20th century, while the world was at war and women were still struggling for the vote and greater equality in society, the medical establishment set out to eliminate midwifery. Doctors of obstetrics called for precision, speed, and control in childbirth and wasted no time in declaring midwifery 'outdated and dangerous'. Pregnancy became a 'medical condition' rather than a natural state of being.
In the last few years there has been a rebirth of midwifery around the world. Community birth centres (birth houses) are popular in Europe as well as in Quebec. While decision makers are looking for ways to help our overburdened healthcare system, midwives are providing welcome assistance to mothers and their children. Feminists such as Naomi Wolf and Dr. Christiane Northrup have been encouraging women to take back control of their rights and choices in childbirth, and to find a balance between modern medicine and traditional birthing methods.
Who or what inspires you? Is your book modeled on anyone in particular?
When setting out to write The Birth House, I knew that I wanted to bring women's history from the WWI era (specifically the history of midwifery, women's health, and reproductive rights) into a fictional narrative that might reflect the way that women record their own personal histories. I created a 'literary scrapbook' from fictional journal entries, newspaper articles, folk tales, home remedies, letters, etc. These elements of the novel were all based on historical research - research that led me to find many commonalities with the lives of women in the 21st century. (It seems women are now, perhaps more than ever before, trying to find their way to understanding their bodies in all aspects of their lives - from their sexuality to childbirth.) Although I didn't set out to model the novel after any specific writer or work, I did find inspiration in the works of many writers - from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice to Carol Shield's The Stone Diaries. From Ann Marie Macdonald's Fall on Your Knees to the feminist writings of Margaret Sanger and Emma Goldman. As far as contemporary authors with similar novels that explore women's lives and the importance of women's rituals and friendship, Joanne Harris' Chocolat, Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees and Rebecca Wells' Ya Ya Sisters novels come to mind.
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Book Description Paperback. Book Condition: New. Not Signed; Spanning the 20th century Ami McKay takes a primitive and superstitious rural community in Nova Scotia and creates a rich tableau of characters to tell the story of childbirth from its most secretive early practices to modern maternity as we know it. Epic and enchanting, 'The Birth House' is a gripp. book. Bookseller Inventory # ria9780007233304_rkm
Book Description Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # ST0007233302. Bookseller Inventory # ST0007233302
Book Description HarperCollins Publishers, United Kingdom, 2007. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 198 x 129 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. Spanning the 20th century Ami McKay takes a primitive and superstitious rural community in Nova Scotia and creates a rich tableau of characters to tell the story of childbirth from its most secretive early practices to modern maternity as we know it. Epic and enchanting, The Birth House is a gripping saga about a midwife s struggles in the wilds of Nova Scotia. As a child in the small village of Scot s Bay, Dora Rare - the first female in five generations of Rares - is befriended by Miss Babineau, an elderly midwife with a kitchen filled with folk remedies and a talent for telling tales. Dora becomes her apprentice at the outset of World War I, and together they help women through difficult births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling marriages. But their traditions and methods are threatened when a Doctor comes to town with promises of painless childbirth, and sets about undermining Dora s credibility. Death and deception, accusations and exile follow, as Dora and her friends fight to protect each other and the women s wisdom of their community. Hauntingly written and alive with historical detail, The Birth House is an unforgettable, page-turning debut. Bookseller Inventory # AAZ9780007233304
Book Description HarperPerennial, 2007. Print on Demand (Paperback). Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0007233302
Book Description HARPER COLLINS, 2007. Paperback. Book Condition: NEW. 9780007233304 This listing is a new book, a title currently in-print which we order directly and immediately from the publisher. Bookseller Inventory # HTANDREE0982690
Book Description HarperPerennial, 2007. Paperback. Book Condition: Brand New. 352 pages. In Stock. Bookseller Inventory # zk0007233302
Book Description 2007. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 198mm x 129mm x 21mm. Paperback. Spanning the 20th century Ami McKay takes a primitive and superstitious rural community in Nova Scotia and creates a rich tableau of characters to tell the story of childbirth.Shipping may be from our Sydney, NSW warehouse or from our UK or US warehouse, depending on stock availability. 416 pages. 0.406. Bookseller Inventory # 9780007233304