The Birth House
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The Birth House

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  18,809 ratings  ·  1,800 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 years of World War I, Dora becomes the midwife's apprent...more
Paperback, 408 pages
Published March 6th 2007 by Vintage Canada (first published February 14th 2006)
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Megan Baxter
Mark this down as another book that I quite enjoyed, but didn't quite love. Something kept me a bit separated from the story, kept me from falling head over heels for the characters (although the "women from away" stole my heart quite a bit.) It felt at times like I could see the story engine grinding too much behind the scenes, could see the way things were going to go.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read wh...more
I should have known better than to read this. One thing I am not is pro-home birth. I'm not anti- home birth, but the more I read about the "exquisite, spiritual, satisfying" birthing of their babies, the more turned off I am by the usually-not-said-but-rather-implied understanding that any other kind of birth is not.

I know it's not true. Birthing a child is exciting and scary and hard and wonderful and one of the most memorable things any woman will do in her lifetime. But, the variety in whic...more
"What can I do with all this neat feminist lore that women have just GOT to hear, like mercenary doctors wresting childbirth away from women and vibrators being the first electric appliance and Boston suffragettes who were also, get this, lesbians and herbal remedies that people are embracing again? I know, I'll write a novel and set it in the quaint town I just moved to and that I love love love."

Awwww, it was mean of me to pretend Ami McKay actually said that out loud ever, because as far as...more
I found the premise interesting, but the execution flawed. Dora's ostracism from the rest of the town felt like the author telling the audience that she was just too special for the others to understand, and that taken with the slut-shaming of Grace Hutner made it difficult for me to sympathize. Dora was also a very passive character, and while in come circumstances it made sense, she seemed to drift through the novel on other characters' steam. I also felt that McKay tried to cram too much into...more
May 09, 2008 Christi rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Christi by: Maryann
I really loved this book. It was so well-written and a very fast read.

I was a little more than skeptical given the subject matter since I really hated The Red Tent, I don't want children and I'm a believer in hospitals, modern medicine and clinical trials over "natural" remedies.

Luckily, this book wasn't overly preachy or whiny at all. Yes, the author did set up the physician to be a complete villain to better illustrate her good = the old ways, bad = the modern ways. Seriously, given the geog...more
I really enjoyed this book. The writing was so good I found myself wanting to read slowly so I could really pay attention to her descriptions and use of language. The book is set in the early 1900s in Canada during WWI. The main character, Dora is an apprentice midwife during a time when an obstetrical center has just opened nearby and the big push is for the end of home births and midwives. The women of the town fight for their right to be involved in the birthing process. The book also has a s...more
Sep 25, 2007 Cheryl rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: anyone
Shelves: fiction, nonfiction
The Birth House by Ami McKay / William Morrow / 13-978-0-016 / 400pps / $24.95

When Ami McKay and her husband bought an old farm house in Scots Bay, Nova Scotia, she had no idea the history she would peel away from the walls or dig up in her yard. Removing layers of wall paper revealed plastered newspapers, tilling her soil unearthed bottle shards, and becoming pregnant led her to a midwife who related what she knew of the World War 1 village midwife that had once inhabited her very home. Throug...more
I thought this was an interesting light read and I had fun with it.

Now to make myself hated just a little, I have to disagree with the reviewers who complained about the "confusing" combination of narration, letters, and diary entries. I thought that the arrangement was easy enough for a junior high graduate to follow. The letters and diary entries were dated, after all, and with the exception of the first . My apologies to those who disagree, but maybe you should try a book with smaller words i...more
A real treat to read, and an unexpected treat at that. Found it at B & N on the Discover New Authors shelf and took a chance. Glad I did. This is the story of a midwife in Nova Scotia who finds herself in the middle of being part of the old way of doing things vs. the new way when a medical doctor establishes a women's hospital in a nearby town. But more that that, this is also a story of the connection between women in a male-driven society. The author paints the landscape so effectively yo...more
This book definitely has some charms - chiefly the idea of the eponymous birth house itself, which really existed.

However, the writing is heavy handed, and the characters caricatural. The heroine is perfectly modern in attitude and character (feminist! pacifist! rebel against the medical establishment! non-homophobe! respectful of people who engage in sex-work! etc.) despite living in a small town in the early twentieth century. This would be interesting if the book explored how she came by thos...more
Jan 08, 2008 Jennifer rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jennifer by: my book group chose it
Shelves: book-club
What I found interesting about this book it pits science against religion, and I ended up rooting for religion-mainly because it's presented as a refreshing mix of open-mindedness with a splash of mysticism and intuition, instead of the more over used portrayal of religion equaling ignorance. It starts an interesting debate in favor of midwives over doctors, mostly because the doctor in this novel is really just in it for the money, so he can easily be turned into a villain (therefore science in...more
This book was so good that I read it in a single day. I was completely captivated by the story, and even though I pretty much could see where it was going it didn't feel contrived at all. Beautifully told, and very thought-provoking.

The only reason I rated this down is because at times the narrative gets confused with the diary entries that are incorporated into the story; sometimes I got confused about what was going on in the literary present and what had happened in the past, what was actuall...more
Chris Godwaldt
Wow. What did I think indeed!
Thoroughly enjoyed.
McKay weaves a beautiful, haunting story of life on the Bay of Fundy right around the time of WWI. Her ability to carefully craft character development and plot made for an irresistible read that had me feeling a full range of emotion and constantly turning the page for the next bit of story.
Written from the perspective of pre-suffrage women in a small east-coast community, the range of characters were fascinating to observe and even through the g...more
I truly enjoyed this book. It is a great story for introducing the struggles of midwives at the turn of the last century, when "modern" medicine was maneuvering into acceptance. "The Birth House" especially describes the tension between the women and their families well as they struggle with the changing worldview, and their own native intelligence about what is best for their bodies and their unborn children. In the years that have passed, that struggle has dimmed for most women as they have ac...more
Kay Peers
Since I bought this the first month it came out, I have read it multiple times, and I am likely to read it again.
Ami McKay paints a picture of a time when midwives were the most called upon form of doctor, not just for childbirth, but for all of the other everyday medical practices that we now go to a doctor for, but also for relationships, taboos, domestic violence and smaller, but no less interesting things such as food choices, and religious beliefs. She leads us through the life of the first...more
This was a great read! Set in a more remote part of Nova Scotia in the early part of last century. The family of Judah Rare were part of a group of Scottish immigrants who came because of being storm blown off course in the Scots Bay area during the last half of the 19th century, and stayed. The family was known to only have sons, except for Dora who in some ways might have been more like a boy should be at that time (and the story is set with all the mores and issues of that period of time, and...more
When she is very young, Dora Rare who lives in Nova Scotia is introduced to midwifery by the midwife in her community. This woman after teaching Dora all she knows dies. Dora, having married young gathers up she can find of the midwifery knowledge but soon realizes her husband doesn't want her to serve the women of her community. In the meantime a new maternity hospital is set up nearby and Dr. Thomas declares himself a dedicated authority on the hysterical humors of the female.
Then an abusive...more
I don't think there's much I could say about this that hasn't been covered by other reviewers of this book - it's splendid.
The book centers on Dora, a midwife-in-training who learns the old ways of doing things and runs up against the new doctor in town, who wants to not only put her out of business with his new-fangled birthing methods (drugs and forceps)and see all her clients be sent down the mountain for giving birth, he also diagnoses her as histrionic and gives her a vibration treatment (g...more
A wonderful depiction of the gentle arts of midwifery under attack by an outrageously patronizing and paternalistic obstetrician trying to promote his "new modern methods" involving rendering women unconscious at the birth of there own babies and painting that gentle art as medieval witchery. The sad part is that many women buy this fluff.
Full of amazing characters and centered around Dora Hare, the only girl born in their family in five generations, who is apprenticed to Miss B, a loving, wise...more
I have always been fascinated with midwives, herbal healing and such. This novel explores all of those topics. In addition, it explores the animosity between "modern" medicine and the "old" ways. Quite frequently the healers of the community are sought out and shunned at the same time. The Birth House takes place in the early 1900's in Novia Scotia. Old ways and new ways clash with legal ramifications as well. It is also a story of women's rights or the lack thereof during that era.
I've been lost in this beautiful book for two full days. A favourite subject of mine, an intriguing part of the country (Canada) and a pivotal time in history. So well done. Gorgeous writing, with a relatable, strong main character. I was also absolutely enchanted with the seamless weaving of historical events with the personal life of Dora et al. This book has been on my radar for a while and I'm so glad I finally picked it up. Perfect.
I really enjoyed this book. It was a wonderful story mixed with historical facts. It illustrated how the more things change the more they stay the same.
LOVED LOVED LOVED the book! apprentice midwife during WW1, dealing with the onslaught of MEN and MEDICINE into this well aged tradition
Such an enjoyable, interesting book. Dora Rare is rare indeed as she fights to keep midwifery and home remedies in her small, Canadian village. When Dr. Thomas and the Canning Maternity Home breeze into town with promises of improved health and cleaner facilities, most are cautious and skeptical.

"I am gravely concerned and convinced that the women of this community are not getting adequate health care. This is indeed a crime. Why should you ladies continue to suffer, most notably that trials of...more
As a birth worker, I was somewhat excited to find a work of fiction about a midwife. To my surprise and joy this book was not so much a story about midwifery as it was about the coming of age of a young woman at the turn of the 20th century.

But being that it is a book rooted in midwifery and portrays obstetrics in its earliest state, I do feel the need to comment on my thoughts about this aspect of the plot. When I first started reading, I had just found out I was pregnant and interviewing homeb...more
Rules of the birth house:

- No woman or child shall be turned away.
- No payment shall be required.
- No idle gossip or cruel words shall cross the threshold.
- No one may attend a birth unless requested by the mother.
- Mother and child (or children) shall stay in confinement, for at least nine days after the birth, or until the mother's been churched.
- Well-wishers may not enter unless the mother approves.
- The mother's home must be clean and tidy, her household chores looked after, and supper enou...more
Kathleen Valentine
The Birth House was an unexpected delight, not only because of the setting, a remote coastal village in Nova Scotia, but because of two extraordinary characters, Dora Rare, the apprentice midwife, and Madame Babineau, her Acadian teacher. In many ways the book reminded me of Eva Figes' beautiful book, The Seven Ages, which is now just about impossible to find. It deals with the reality of women's lives in a rural area in the early part of the twentieth century. The characters are entirely believ...more
Sarah Kalaitzidis
Review by Cassandra Halikas

'The Birth House' follows the life of Dora Rare, the first girl born in five generations of Rares. Dora is the fourth of seven children (Albert, Borden, Charlie, Dora, Ezekiel, Forest and Gord) and often struggles with being a lady around six brothers. Dora's often called a witch, or changling, due to being the only Rare girl. The book mainly follows Dora between 1916-1918, between her being 17 and 19 but does touch on her childhood and her adult life. She and her fami...more
This debut novel set in a small Nova Scotian community during World War I is one of the most engaging, heart-warming stories I've read in a very long time. McKay's prose is elegant and precise, her characters so colorful and well-developed they practically walk off the page to shake your hand. I fell in love with McKay's heroine, Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of Rares (making her very rare indeed). You will love Dora and her loyal women (and men) friends who stand...more
Oh this book...this beautiful, beautiful book about women and love and babies and so much more.

I read mixed reviews about this book a few months ago, but it was just intriguing enough for me to request it from the library. The negative reviews mostly thought it was philosophically pushy {yay homebirths! boo hospitals!}, but I have never disagreed with the analysis of a book more strongly.

The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, a girl who grows up in a small village in Nova Scotia. She becomes...more
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Ami McKay’s debut novel, The Birth House was a # 1 bestseller in Canada, winner of three CBA Libris Awards, nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and a book club favourite around the world.

Her new novel. The Virgin Cure, is inspired by the life of her great- great grandmother, Dr. Sarah Fonda Mackintosh, a female physician in nineteenth century New York. Born and raised in...more
More about Ami McKay...
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“No matter what you do, someone always knew you would.” 97 likes
“If women lose the right to say where and how they birth their children, then they will have lost something that's as dear to life as breathing.” 12 likes
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