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The Birth House

really liked it 4.0  ·  Rating details ·  35,278 Ratings  ·  2,536 Reviews
An arresting portrait of the struggles that women faced for control of their own bodies, The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare—the first daughter in five generations of Rares.

As apprentice to the outspoken Acadian midwife Miss Babineau, Dora learns to assist the women of an isolated Nova Scotian village through infertility, difficult labors, breech births, unwanted pre
Paperback, 385 pages
Published October 9th 2007 by Harper Perennial (first published February 14th 2006)
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ELLEN C STEVENSON Miss B. was an Acadian by descent, and based on her physical description in the book, she was probably of mixed heritage. When the The French…moreMiss B. was an Acadian by descent, and based on her physical description in the book, she was probably of mixed heritage. When the The French colonists (almost all men) arrived in Canada, they intermarried with the Native Americans, as did their children, resulting in a significant proportion of mixed-race people known as "Métis." I would not consider Miss Babineau "black," because of the cultural differences between African-Americans and the French Canadians/Creoles.

Aprilwright722003 I wouldn't call her a radical but I definitely believe she is a liberal feminist. Radicals think they're above the law. I don't think she's like that…moreI wouldn't call her a radical but I definitely believe she is a liberal feminist. Radicals think they're above the law. I don't think she's like that at all. I think she believes in a woman's ability to make a choice when it comes to her body and what she feels is right for herself. That just makes her a liberal feminist and I loved her character. (less)

Community Reviews

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Megan Baxter
May 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement.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
May 20, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 13, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008-reads
"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
This book is a bit of a departure from my usual reading, but after reading a blurb on Goodreads about it, I was intrigued. Luckily, my local small-town library had this book available, so I checked it out. I'm glad I did. It is an enjoyable story.

Dora Rare is special. She's the first girl born in the Rare family in five generations, and she has the gift of healing. A local midwife, Miss Babineau, begins to teach the young girl what she knows so that Dora can continue the tradition of folk medic
May 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Christi by: Maryann
Shelves: 2008-reads
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
Sep 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 14, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 22, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 20, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Rebecca McNutt
The Birth House is one of the most unique and moving pieces of Nova Scotian literature I've ever read. The story of midwives and their struggles in a rural Canadian community, it's not only historical but also brilliant and imaginative.
I enjoyed this book. Mostly about a young woman, Dora, who is the only girl in a long line of all males in her dad's family. She is deemed "special" for a few reasons upon her birth.
It takes place in a small village in Nova Scotia around the time of WWI & the life of the people in the town was quite interesting. Dora is friends with the town's medicine town/midwife. Through this relationship Dora also starts to "catch babies".
I found some parts of the book a little far fetched but it is fic
The world will know and understand me someday. But if that day does not arrive, it does not greatly matter. I shall have opened the way for other women.

-Amantine Aurore Dupin
Some historical fiction is inspired to the level of meant to be, whether due to quality or the issues it raises or both. Others reek of the "let a history book open to a random page and point to the subject of one's future novel" syndrome, something that additional research and family history and touching upon topical
Jan 22, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Chris Godwaldt
Jan 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, cdn-fiction
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
Sharon Huether
Jul 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical-novel
The Birth House .Ami McKay.. The author was inspired to write this story from the home she lives in. Located in Nova Scotia; which was a birth house many years before. In that period of time between 1910 - 1920 women preferred a mid wife to a male Dr. The midwife used many holistic remedies where as the Dr. used chloroform and forcepts in his deliveries. Dora the midwife had to crusade for the rights of women. At the end of the story they ran the male Dr. out of town, and Dora's home becam ...more
SoManyBooks SoLittleTime (Aven Shore)
Once again, a visit to how incredibly awful and proscribed women's lives used to be, with the obvious reminder that it's not all peachy these days, either. Sweeping, powerful themes (maternal love, isolation, community, sorority, power, spirituality....). Amazing that this is a debut novel. It's quite the opus. I didn't realize that it was about Nova Scotia, now my home.
Elisabeth Stones
Jun 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nova Scotians, mother, knitters, and lovers of herbal woo
What a book! I can see why it made the ripples it did in the Canadian fiction scene a few years back. For whatever reason I ended up reading a different McKay novel first -- the Virgin Cure -- and that book was so compelling that I found myself hiding in a bedroom at a holiday party reading, unable to put it down.

This book is obviously a sister to that one, and McKay's enthusiasm for the women of early 20th century North America again shines through. Being a transplant to Nova Scotia since 2005,
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
This is a solid 3-stars, and I would recommend this to certain people.

This is not a masterpiece and it does not have an amazing storyline (See below), but it is a nice read for a rainy day, and it has enough going for it that I enjoyed it (and finished it within 24hours of starting). I won't say that I couldn't put it down, just that I was happy to keep reading.

The storyline is basic and typical of this style of book. Take a beautiful and intelligent woman in a backward-township. Give her some k
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
Feb 06, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I liked the setting of the book and the interspersed newspaper advertisements of the time but wasn't so keen on the storytelling. To me it felt as though the author had thrown everything she knew about the era into the book without much feeling for whether it actually needed it. So we find the First World War, the Halifax Explosion, Spanish Flu and the Boston molasses disaster all featuring, but curiously briefly and without full engagement with any of them.

Dora seemed anachronistic: a woman of
Dec 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
May 01, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
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
Mar 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2018
This book is a so wonderful to read. It is so realistic and well researched that it reads like a true story of the lives of real people during the first world war. Being from the Maritimes, I loved the local references, places, and the recounting of the Halifax Disaster. The history of the Region, the expulsion of the Acadiens in 1755 etc. was also of interest as I have read several other books that talk about this, and the Cajun medicines (gris gris). I will definitely read more from this autho ...more
Allison ༻hikes the bookwoods༺
I went into this book wanting to love it, but something held me back. Whether it was the exaggerated incompetence of the doctor, or how there wasn’t one husband in the Bay respecting his pregnant wife’s desire for a home birth, something about the storyline just didn’t ring true for me.
Beth Sponzilli
Dec 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
I liked this book quite a bit. The story is centered around Scots Bay in the Northeast. I liked the history of the area. The introduction of doctors into the rural town over the traditional midwife was the issue in this story, and how midwifery was preferred. All the natural remedies used were very interesting to read about.
Jul 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would even say 4.5. It took me a while to fully connect with the main character, Dora Rare, but once I did, I couldn't put the book down. Now that I'm finished it, I feel like holding onto her for a little bit, before starting a new book. I just came back from Nova Scotia so I quite enjoyed the setting of the book. I found myself astounded by the practices in women's health that were done during this time period (early 1900s) and it left me wanting to learn more. This book was an easy read. It ...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 about Ami McKay

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“No matter what you do, someone always knew you would.” 125 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.” 20 likes
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