The Birth House

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The Birth House

by Ami Mckay

Knopf Canada | March 6, 2007 | Trade Paperback

The Birth House is rated 4.4835 out of 5 by 91.
The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of Rares. 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. Dora becomes Miss B.’s apprentice, and together they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labours, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives. Filled with details as compelling as they are surprising, The Birth House is an unforgettable tale 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.


From the Hardcover edition.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 408 pages, 8 × 5.34 × 1.02 in

Published: March 6, 2007

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0676977731

ISBN - 13: 9780676977738

Found in: Fiction and Literature
The Birth House will draw you in to a time and place now long forgotten. Set in a small, isolated fishing village in Nova Scotia in the early 1900's, The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter in five generations of Rares. Dora is drawn early in life to become an apprentice to the town's respected and cherished mid-wife, Miss Babineau. It is Dora's destiny to take over for Miss Babineau when the old woman dies, but not before Miss Babineau has taught her all that she knows about the process of birthing, including traditions passed on from the natives who came before her. We learn of everything important that happens in the town through the tales of the mothers who pass through Dora's birthing house: the fancies of young couples, the broken dreams, the marriages and sex lives of women, even Dora's own ill-fated romance. And amidst all this is the arrival of a new doctor in town – an obstetrician set on educating the town on the advantages of hospital births and their clinical, sterile, "new age" environments. Dora's position is challenged and she is up to the challenge. This book, by first-time author Ami McKay, is a read to savour. Beautifully written, unique in voice, and passionate.

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Reviews

Rated 1 out of 5 by from BORING!!!! I've tried so hard to give this book a chance, but it just bores me to tears .I have no idea why are all the people excited about this book. maybe it's just good for house wives.
Date published: 2014-07-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Boring! so how many pages I have to get through to get into the story??? it's a common story and really dull. I don't think I can get through this book.
Date published: 2014-07-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply fantastic I loved everything about this book from the moment I picked it up. I loved the story, the characters, and I love how well it was written. I felt like I had been taken back in time. It's very descriptive an excellent read. Highly recommended
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Powerful Portrait of 20th Century Nova Scotia This rich Canadian novel brings readers to twentieth century Nova Scotia. Through the powerful prose, readers are brought into this world created by Ami McKay to peer at that house "at the edge of the earth" and follow her main character, Dora Rare, in and out of women's homes. The domestic stories, at the fore of this novel, create a dynamic view of motherhood. The Birth House is an essential read. You'll arrive at the end of the novel, alongside the midwife Dora Rare, both satisfied and ready to read more of McKay's work. I highly recommend this beautifully written page-turner!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautifully written Set around the Women's Suffrage movement, The Birth House describes the lives of those around Dora Rare in a small fishing village in rural Nova Scotia. Through the heartbreaking circumstances the women find themselves in, the readers are taken to a community in which women are treated as inferior counterparts to their men. Although the stories are often sad and devastating, The Birth House is ultimately about women's triumphs, their understated value and their fight towards equal rights. Beautiful and subtle, this book was a joy to read.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic! I couldn't put this book down and was disappointed when it was over. Loved the historical aspect and certainly the references to Nova Scotia. I will certainly be reading Amy McKay's new book - The Virgin Cure.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful If you're a Canadian woman, there is no possible way you could not like this book. "The Birth House" is a heartbreaking story told by Dora Rare of her life in a small, rural community in Nova Scotia during the first world war. I loved the book, but there were a few aspects that stood out to me. It was almost frustrating to read about how men had so much control over a woman's life. Being able to make a decision on their own, seemed to be a luxury most woman weren't fortunate enough to experience. It was particularly frustrating reading how "modern" medicine was being practiced and how these woman were forced by their husbands to undergo procedures that we know now would be detrimental to a woman's health and the health of her child. Reading the comparison between the apparently outdated midwife herbal methods, and the "modern" medicine practiced, was really interesting seeing as, if given a choice, woman today would likely run away from the modern doctor and beg for Miss. B or Dora's help. Ami McKay is a talented writer, who tells a must-read story, whether you're Canadian, a woman, or none of the above.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Book I tried this out due to my love of Canadian historical fiction and interest in midwifery and am glad I did. It's very interesting historically but is also beautifully written, filled with love and warmth and vivid imagery. It's a compelling read as well. Can't wait to read The Virgin Cure!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Vivid and Captivating Couldn't put it down. Vivivd setting in Nova Scotia- McKay captures every detail with a poetic conviction.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic!! I loved this book & couldn't put it down! Being from Nova Scotia, I loved learning about how babies were born in small communities in the early 1900s. Mrs.B is great & I really fell in love with the characters.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! I did not want this book to end!!!! I want more Miss B!!!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from This book varied for me. 3.25 stars It is 1917 in small town Nova Scotia. Dora is 17 and learning from the local midwife. A doctor arrives in town and declares that a hospital is being built for local women to get modern medical care. This book varied for me. Some parts were more interesting than others. The entire first half was o.k., but not all that exciting for me. I found it more interesting after Dora got married, but the part where she was in Boston, I found boring. There was an interesting backdrop including WWI, the Halifax Explosion in 1917, the flu in 1918, and women's suffrage, but all this was mostly in the background and only for a short time. The medical stuff was interesting, to see what was "modern" at the time vs. the midwives "old wives tales" and such. I did like the old advertisements in the book.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Smells like Nova Scotia! I really fell for this one. Characters with substance, true grit and a sense of humour. Felt like I was in the remote Nova Scotia town with the women, their children and their lovers. Also nice review of old cures and beliefs.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Recommended to all women! Adored the story & characters Oh Miss B., if only we could all be as humble and wise as she. Sorry couldn’t resist the rhyme once it was in my head! I absolutely ADORE this book and its characters. I recommend it to all women. Pregnant, already mothers or not - it doesn’t matter. Considering a midwife or not – you’ll still gain a renewed sense of the miracle of birth. To be honest, I don’t know if it would make you lean towards midwifery or scare you away from both it and medicine! Some of the old medical/health practices make you wonder how we survived at all, and what we will think of our current ones in the future! I wonder if my health plan covers this vibratory treatment for hysteria? ;) The history of medicine and midwifery is fascinating and is quite relevant today considering the great resurgence of midwives. The characters are endearing and so well developed you feel like they are real. By the end I was honestly wondering if I was mistaken in thinking this book was fiction! Showcases the strength of women, and what it means to play our many roles (wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend,...), as well as the importance of social support to get us through. Moreover, reminds us of the often forgotten role of women in history and how strong they had to be. Anyways, I’m off to make myself some “tea with mitts” … :)
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Worth Reading This is a quick read. It highlights a certain aspect of feminist, Canadian history--the transition to the malecentric medicalization of the female body and childbirth. It is a thought provoking, endearing, heartbreaking, and entertaining book. However, there was something about Dora Rare that left me less than totally invested in her story. And at times the book seamed more politically oriented that a naturally flowing story. It was decently researched but excluded certain prevalent social norms that would have been prevalent during that era.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent! This book has it all. A strong female protagonist, excellent and entertaining sub-characters, rich settings, informative narrative and a darned good yarn to boot. Dora Rare is a fantastic character -- I especially liked how she could be so strong and assertive as a midwife, and yet so inexperienced as a wife. It showed her as truly human, with strengths and weaknesses. I am pretty sure I would have wanted to be in Dora's Occasional Knitters Society if I had lived in Scots Bay in 1915. Excellent!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Canadian Novel A wonderful story of a young girl who becomes a midwife in rural Nova Scotia in the early 1900s. Not only about catching babies, this novel takes details what life was like at this time in Canadian history and the struggles that women had to face. I especially enjoyed learning about the archaic and somewhat humourous methods of 'treatment' that these so-called professional women's doctors promoted while they tried to eradicate midwifery. I love a novel with a strong female protagonist and that is exactly what Ms. Rare is! A great read that I definitely recommend!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Spectacular Read! Strong female character who will capture your heart. Such a great read! I loved it so much I emailed the author, Ami Mckay (never done THAT before!) and she emailed me back. :) Highly recommended!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Tale of Sex, Birth, Love and Pain “Everything I’ve learned from Mother, every bit of her truth, has been said while her hands were moving.” Ami Mckay: “The Birth House”What started out as a fun summer read turned into an enlightening, nostalgic walk back in time. Ami Makay’s The Birth House is a phenomenal piece of literature. Each sentence explodes with detail, emotion and history. Reading this book was like stepping into a journal, the narration is passionate and told by a young feminist who captures her audience with her charms, naivety, and wit. Humorous, and delightful, this colourful account of life and the collection of scrapbook type newspaper clippings to provide proof of her accounts of life leave the reader in awe of the main character: Dora.Set in the early 1900’s Nova Scotia in a time when women were not considered persons and feminism was an ideology away Dora Rare dares to become an independent female. An elderly midwife, Marie, takes Dora under her wing and trains her in her field of work only to leave Dora to deal with a loveless and burdensome marriage, a child left in her care after being abandoned by her parents and a university educated doctor that claims he can deliver babies “pain free.” Through birth, love, sex, and pain we see the development of a young naive child grow into a passionate feminist woman, a woman who first discovers what an orgasm is in the medical chair, a woman who joins in with the suffragette movement and a woman who had she have been living in the 21st century would probably choose the same path of life that she had lived. With unforgettable characters, illusive descriptive writing and historical value, Mckay’s Birth House is a priceless read. She has written a Canadian masterpiece that is likely to enlighten and entertain readers for years to come.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from excellent book This was a book club pick and not one I would normally gravitate to but I really enjoyed it. It was a bit slow going to begin with - it took me up to about page 70 to get into it. Also, I thought some of the dialogue between the women in her occasional knitters club was not likely for the period. Definitely worth a read.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from LIked it I am sitting on the fence with this book. I found it very slow in the beginning, but when it took off it became very interesting. In a small town from Nova Scotia, a young girl grows up to become a midwife, not only catching babies but taking care of all sort of woman's problems. Enter a doctor who advocates a more safe and sterile environment. at a nominal fee in his new facility. The story shows woman's struggles to have control over their own bodies as science versus compassion.It also gives great insight into living in small towns with the cliques, gossiping and also the great relationships that one can form over a lifetime. While not the best book I have ever read, it certainly is a book that you will discuss. In conversation I found out my mother, was delivered from a midwife, as well as her other 9 brothers & sisters.. I never would have thought to ask if I had not read this book. ...Great cover!! t
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from WOW ~ Very cool read! This book sparked a few debates between me and my husband! It brought forth the argument that not all those lovely big families of our past were derived from women who may have wanted them! They had no choice! This book brought to light an interesting education about old wive's tales and how women throughout history have valued the ability to control their bodies and destinies... I found this a fascinating read and couldn't put it down. A book that'll make you think... and think... (I've thought about this book alot since putting it down) It'll spark the feminist in you!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating This was a captivating book about midwifery. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Having lived for some time in the Annapolis Valley, I really could picture the landscape and environment as she described it. I also felt for the main character, Dora, as she struggled with the society she lived in and the restrictions and limitations facing women at that time. A very good read and a well written book.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Fantastic Read! I really liked this book. Though a little slow starting, it was an enjoyable and enlightening read! I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good writing all around The Birth House is an absolutely brilliant book. The writing is so wonderful and what I like about it is that it triggers various emotions. It makes you angry and it makes you sad. It makes you happy and it makes you want to bite your lip because you're just so attached to the characters. I rate it right up there with The Crimson Petal and the White for fictional quality as well as a thought provoking story that will stay with you after you've placed it back onto your bookshelf.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Couldn't out it down This is absolutely one of my favourite books. I read it awhile ago while I was pregnant and loved it. I just read it again for the second time for a book club. I have never reread a book but this one was easy to read it again. Please read it if you get a chance. Not only will you enjoy it, you will also get a bit on insight into a midwife's world.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from "Every birth's a lesson." Miss Dora Rare learns many lessons in this finely crafted novel. Paramount among them: her worth as the only girl born of generations of males ("Rare men always have boys"), what love should never be, and as a newly apprenticed midwife, how best to assist the women of Scots Bay, Nova Scotia during the early twentieth century. I love when an author so artfully marries fact and fiction! The Halifax Explosion–as seen and experienced by Dora–is a midwife's nightmare. Haunting images of multiple still births, and mothers dying of shock are added to the agonizing aftermath that this historical disaster created. There are lovely moments too. Moments of truth, bravery and kindness; moments of self discovery, of friendship and of love. "Notes from the Willow Book", found at the end of this novel, is a treasure trove of old wives tales and herbal remedies; an interesting and entertaining read in and of itself.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from wonderful! I can see that this book may not appeal to everyone, sometimes it lacked adventure. It was however the perfect book for me and will be a keeper on my shelf. It tells the story of Dora a young girl in the early twentieth century who becomes the village midwife, learning through a village elder. Dora's life is tragic, traditional and rewarding. It's a fantastic look at the history of healthcare.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tear Jerker A must read for any mother young or old
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Wonderful This book brought me back in time. It was sad, heart wrenching, warm and thoughtful. A pleasure to read.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous Maritime Lit As an East-Coaster I am always looking for great Canadian reads and Ami McKay did not disappoint. You will not want to put it down....Just grab this book, a large cup of tea and hunker down for a lazy Sunday.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from the birth house This is a great piece of Canadian literature. I got it for Christmas and couldn't put it down. The main character is compelling and it's an interesting mixture of fact, folklore and fiction. A great read!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Birth House A thoroughly engaging book by Canadian author Ami McKay. A page turner about Dora Rare, a midwife in Nova Scotia, McKay skillfully weaves historical facts about widwifery, World War I, the Spanish Influenza epidemic and the Halifax Explosion with tales of sex, love, childbirth, infidelity, difficult marriage, and how life was for a woman at that time in history. I couldn't put it down.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! This is my favorite book lately. I had just had a baby and I felt moved by this book. I found it to be very well written as she pulled me right into the story. I am just getting into a more natural lifestyle and I love that midwifes had such knowledge of herbs and such. I felt I was 'learning' from her as well. I loved how at the end she has the lists of herbs and their uses. Some of them are quite funny and useless now! I would recommend this book to anyone! I really hope the author comes out with another book!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great story First I borrowed it from the library... then I bought the book. What more can I say? I just had to add it to my library. I will no doubt read it again someday. Amy McKay was real kind to send me an authographed bookplate.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fantastic Read Having grown up in this area, I enjoyed reading about familiar places. My grandmother was born in Canning about 5 years before this story took place and I wish I was able to discuss it with her. I laughed out loud at certain parts and I felt great apathy for the central character. The way women were viewed at this time is laughable!! I would definitely recommend this. I hope Ami writes another book soon.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Wonderful book for an afternoon read One of the first books I read this year and easily the best novel I encountered in 2006, this account of a midwife in turn-of-the-(20th)-century Nova Scotia is everything a novel should be: funny and tragic, joyful and sorrowful, filled with rich, carefully drawn characters and experiences that linger long in the mind. The Birth House spent most of the year on bestseller lists and marked the arrival of a splendid new talent. I can't wait to see what Ami McKay does next. - Robert Wiersema, for the Vancouver Sun. Ami McKay's book The Birth House is a natural selection for book clubs. Set in rural Nova Scotia circa the First World War, it tells the story of Dora Rare, the "only daughter in five generations of Rares." Dora is a smart girl who spends much of her time with Miss B, the area midwife. Miss B is part-healer and part-witch and Dora learns much under her tutelage. Truthfully, it took me a while to get settled into Dora's quiet world, but the book's charms are undeniable. For one thing, Dora is utterly likable. She is kind and sensible and although she is young, she is no shrinking violet. McKay does a wonderful job of creating a world far removed from technology and the horrors of the war, but certainly not immune to either. For example, Dora's faith in midwifery is tested (as is the faith of all the women of her community) when Dr. Thomas arrives in the area and sets up a hospital, offering women pain-free births. And when the Halifax Explosion of 1917 happens, Dora rushes off to help and is forever changed by the experience. Scots Bay isn't modern and McKay paints a riveting picture of poverty and backwoods thinking. But the book isn't without a sense of humour either. Dora's marriage to town hunk, Archer, necessitates a visit to Dr. Thomas where he diagnoses her with "neurasthenia" and prescribes treatment using the Swedish Movement Health Generator. I dare you to keep a straight face. The Birth House isn't a flashy book, but it's a book that will resonate with readers, particularly women, and I heartily recommend it.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A tale from home Having recently moved from Ami McKay's neck of the woods to the nation's capital, I was aching to read something from home. Remarkable research went into this one, given that Ami is a relatively new resident of Nova Scotia. Having been a resident for 30 years, this book took me home again, even if only for the duration of the read. SUPER book!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interestingly nice... This book gives a great insight on the early years of Canada when midwifery was dying out. It gives a good demonstration of technology taking over in an old fashioned town. Its really interesting and pretty good. Nice plot and everything!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beatifully Written, Unique in Voice, and Passionate The Birth House will draw you in to a time and place now long forgotten. Set in a small, isolated fishing village in Nova Scotia in the early 1900's, The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter in five generations of Rares. Dora is drawn early in life to become an apprentice to the town's respected and cherished mid-wife, Miss Babineau. It is Dora's destiny to take over for Miss Babineau when the old woman dies, but not before Miss Babineau has taught her all that she knows about the process of birthing, including traditions passed on from the natives who came before her. We learn of everything important that happens in the town through the tales of the mothers who pass through Dora's birthing house: the fancies of young couples, the broken dreams, the marriages and sex lives of women, even Dora's own ill-fated romance. And amidst all this is the arrival of a new doctor in town – an obstetrician set on educating the town on the advantages of hospital births and their clinical, sterile, "new age" environments. Dora's position is challenged and she is up to the challenge. This book, by first-time author Ami McKay, is a read to savour. Beautifully written, unique in voice, and passionate.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a Fantastic Book I felt empowered when I read this outstanding work by Ami McKay! The book showed that there are different ways of seeing a situation and different methods of doing things that change the impact of the event. The writing was bold and exciting and I didn't want the book to end. I identified with the characters and there was a good portrayal of life in Canada at war time. I would definitely recommend this book.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from exquisite read I borrowed this book from a friend and immediately could not put it down. The author draws you in with her wonderful writing. I immediately felt as if I understood Dora Rare as much as I understand myself. I recommend this book to all readers!!!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Super Fantastic! I picked up this book before heading to Cuba for a week as it seemed long enough to carry me through my trip, but I found I wasn't able to put it down. I was down to the last chapter in less than 2 days!!! I fell in love with Dora and cheered her on throughout the entire book. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to read a great story - but make sure you have the time to devote to it because it is very hard to put down!!! I wish I had brought a second book with me to read on my trip!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Read!! I loved this book! It is a fantastic read. You just can't put it down, you need to know what is going to happen next. I thought Dora was a great character-strong and smart! I highly recommend this book!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Un-put-downable! Read this book in 2 days because I couldn't bear to put it down. Every page urges you on to the next and the next. Old and tested folklore versus modern sterile stupidities leave the reader informed, opinionated and enthralled. I recommend you read this book if you have an interest in birthing methods of the old days (village midwife), but also if you are keen to see advancement in modern healthcare and technology.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I would still choose the epidural, but... I truly enjoyed the book and loved seeing how women from small villages could either stick together through painful times, or try to bring each other down out of jealousy and vanity. Great Read.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Yawn It was not a bad book, but the writing was not great and the story was not gripping. Not a book with haunting passages that I wanted to reread. An OK but implausible story that was not a compelling read. This was not the way it was or is in Nova Scotia.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredible This was, by far, one of the best books I've read in the past five years. Being from Nova Scotia, I could relate to some of the things these families were doing after hearing about my family doing the same things. I couldn't believe how much I enjoyed this book! Ami McKay is a down-to-earth person, and her writing reflects this.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Read! The author Ami McKay kept the reader intrigued throughout. Her writing was so descriptive I could feel myself being there. Loved it!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Really good read I usually don't read this type of book as I'm quite entrenched in the fiction/suspense genre, however I was totally engrossed in this novel. I love the local nova scotian history that's developed throughout the novel and characters were wonderful. I highly recommend this book and may suggest it for my next book club gathering.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Nice Read I can without a doubt recommend this book as an intriguing and interesting read. I completely enjoyed reading this book. I think being from Nova Scotia definitely enhanced the draw to the book but the writing and the storyline are also wonderful.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from NOVE SCOTIA LOVE STORY In her 1st book Ami nails it. Her portrayal of DORA RARE is empapthetic and touching. She spares none of the ''gritty'' under belly of life on the shore. Cast includes drunken wife-abusers, kindly eccentric midwife, selfish wealthy aunt and an incredible ''against all odds'' love story.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Canadian Read If all Canadian books were as divine as this one, I would forever choose Canadian authors. This book is simply a great read, not too complex, not too detailed....just the perfect book to curl up in a comfy chair with a great cuppa tea! From the first few pages I was hooked and totally invested in the characters of this book. I found myself wishing I too lived in this small town and could share the same experiences as these ladies. I devoured this novel in under two days....I couldn't put it down. Canada really needs more storytellers like this one.... Buy this novel and you will not be sorry!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A rare find! In my experience, it's rare to find a book that the characters and location live in your imagination after putting it down. This is THE best book I have read in a very long time. The characters, particularly Miss B. and the ladies from the Occasional Knitters Club, are well developed and well-written. It's refreshing to read creative and satisfying Can-lit. And to think I was preparing myself for a disapointing ending. The entire book is just as it should be. Perfect!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Poignant and Compelling! Congratulations, Ami, on a fabulous first novel. A young girl, Dora Rare, moves in with an elderly small town midwife or 'traiteur' who claims that Dora will take over her birthing business. Marie Babineau trains the young girl in the ways that only tradition can teach. The story takes place over a number of years, seeing the main character married, giving birth to her own children and raising someone else's child. Dora is caught between the old ways and new, modern birthing practices. The story evolves slowly, deeply and emotionally. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to delve into the emotions and lives of small town Nova Scotia. But warning...bring Kleenex! Cheryl Kaye Tardif, author of Whale Song (2007 Kunati Book Publishers)
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Semi-historical and very interesting The basis of the story, being focused on the history of most of rural North America but rooted in Atlantic Canada, is realistic and interesting. I am somewhat biased in my love for this book, since I have a serious interest in reproductive sciences, but this book played on my interests in both sciences and history, while providing gripping characters that keep you glued to the pages.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from NOVA SCOTIA HISTORICAL FICTION What an evocative tale. Ms McKay brings together; Male Female equality struggles; rights of women as mothers; poverty; rich with metaphors and love. I heartily recommend this novel to all lovers of East Coast literature and those who haven't read East Coast Lit will fall under its spell.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Story This was a mesmerizing account of midwifery in Nova Scotia in the early 1900s. The sheer strength Dora Rare posessed is an example to us all. Ami McKay did a wonderful job, and I would (and do) recommend this book to anyone!
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Read I loved this book and had a hard time putting it down. Captivating story about a girl and her struggles with acceptance, 'healing powers', and midwifery life in the early 1900's. It is a great summer read. I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Riveting!!! I absolutely loved this book, and would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history and folklore of midwifery. The main characters, Dora Rare and Miss B., are two of the most entertaining and feisty heroines that you will ever meet in the pages of fiction. There is something for everyone in this book-some plant lore, a glimpse at life in Nova Scotia during the First World War, and the wisdom of women that has been handed down through the ages. The reader really empathizes with the plight of Dora as she struggles to continue to practise as a midwife against the teachings of the new doctor in town who advocates painless childbirth. I could not put this book down!!!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great story I looked forward to picking up this book in my spare time. It told a great story about women, sex, love and life in the 1900's. How frustrating it must have been to put up with the controlling men though! Makes me appreciate how far women have come since then, and how lucky I am to be with a great man! Satisfiying ending, especially about the Arthur incident, haha!
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "Reaching Wisdom And Compassion!" Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers ~ strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength. This story touched my Nova Scotia roots and shared a source of healing and understanding toward woman!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Very Interesting Read I was very impressed with this book. The author's intimate detail creates a very visual read. Definitely a "Curl Up With A Hot One" choice.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderfully written! A great reminder of what's important in life. A great read - couldn't put it down.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Characters come alive! This book was an excellent read. The characters are well developed and I found myself wondering what happens next when I put the book down. Its great to read a good book from a Canadian author. She was honest and realistic with her characters and they had natural reactions to the goings on in the Bay. There was a great connection with the protaganist, Dora. A great book!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Down home story This book is one I can really relate to, and I recognize many of the landmarks. My friend lives in Medford, I go to school in Canning, I drive through Kentville to get to work. Ever since I read that book, every old building I see seems out of place, like it came out of the story, out of the past. It showed me the lives around here from when my grandparents were just small kids, from a time they can barely remember. The farms and midwives, the care you felt for your neighbour since it took a days ride on a horse to get to Kentville from the little cluster of houses where she lived. Sometimes, the progress we've made is not worth what we lost, and thats one of the things this book shows me. This book is absolutely amazing, everyone who's ever read it, even on a whim or because someone in the store suggested it for a filler, has loved this book.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ami McKay is a Wonderfully Refreshing Author! I purchased this book 3 months ago after it caught my eye while browsing the shelves at the local Chapters store! I had heard nothing of it or the author before this but have seen and heard plenty since! Being from the Maritimes, the setting of early 1900's Nova Scotia really intrigued me! The story was so interesting that I read this book more quickly then any other that I can recall! Ami McKay's writing style is unique and captivating--it felt like I was comfortably sitting at home, curled up and listening to my grandmother recant her own experiences!! I was sad to see it end and am left wanting more from Ms. McKay! I can't wait to see what she writes next!!
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Read This book was awesome! Such a good story, it just pulls you in, and I couldn't put it down.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Read in Record Time It has been a while since I read a book this quickly. I loved the characters and the style of Ami McKay's writing; very descriptive yet not wordy and I didn't skip a single paragraph. I loved to "look back" into the lives of women on the East Coast in the early 1900's and see how similar we are today (and of course, at the same time, how very different)! A great book for all of your moms, sisters, aunts and grannies.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from a glimpse at a time unknown to many This novel was a wonderful account of women in NS in the early 1900's. I couldn't put it down. I also found myself laughing out loud at several parts, which is a gift few authors have the ability to do. It was well written and an overall amazing book. I look forward to reading future work by Ami McKay
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing read! One of the best books I have read in awhile. Well worth it. Very interesting subject, loved the characters. I couldn't put it down! (one of the few books that we read for book club that we actually all enjoyed and spoke about, at lenght, instead of just speaking about upcoming babies and weddings... :)
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from women in canada The author Ami McKay invites you into the world of canadian women during WW1 in Nova Scotia. In her very well written novel you really come to appreciate the strength and challenges women faced during that time and the innovative and courageous ways they coped. Wonderful to read
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good Gook I preferred the "Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth" which highlighted many of the risks involved with each intervention. But this book went over many of the regular treatments found in a hospital birth. Overall, well written & excellent information.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from awsome read It's been sometime since I've been as addicted to a book as I was this one! I could not put it down. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Couldn't Put it Down! This was one of the best books I've read in a long time - definitely one I couldn't put down until I had it finished. Being from Newfoundland I also found I could associate with the tales of home remedies and outport life. I'll suggest it to all my friends and my fellow book club members - an excellent choice for a book club pick!
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truth of a Woman's Ability I couldn't put this book down, it was so beautiful in its writing. Being a woman who has had two children, the experiences of Dora and the women she cares for are wonderfully written. Reading this book gave me such a fullfilling feeling inside with the way the women look after each other. Not only during pregnancy and childbirth, but in life's other sometimes trying times. Which is so true then and now. I look forward to more of her works if they to leave me with such a satisfying feeling as this won. Well done.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from WOW Am I ever glad that I wasn't born in the early 1900's. A wonderful tale of what women had to endure just to live, love and give birth. I couldn't put it down and have recommended it to all of my friends - a MUST read for every woman - We've come a long way baby!
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Phenomenal!! Words can't describe how much I loved this book. This Birth House has without a doubt been my favourite read so far, I couldn't put this boook down. I enjoyed Ami McKay's writiing style, and anticipate future novels. My sister is reading the book now and she loves it just as much as I do. I recommed this book to everyone!!
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Read for New Moms I just had a baby and found some time on my hands while my little one was "dining'" and this book was a great choice - hard to put down, it is funny, intelligent and at times heart wrenching (and yes, I am a bit emotional too!) Very informative on birthing at the turn of the century and fun to compare to my recent experiences and feelings.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from absolutely a joy to read I found the Birth House a great and well written book. I like reading books by Canadian authors. I also enjoy reading books of events that happened long ago. It was a book I had a hard time putting down I was anxious to read about the course of events that took place in the time of midwivery. The new doctor who came to town touted about all the lasted techniques he had regarding childbirth, however the characters in this book trusted home births much more. I hope that Ami McKay will write some more facsinating books. I also look to Heather's favorite picks that she has enjoyed reading as this gives some indication that the book will be something I would enjoy reading.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well worth reading I have just finished reading The Birth House and want to highly recommend this book to others. I enjoyed the struggles of the main character, Dora Rare, in her practice of midwifery in a time when "modern" science was trying to outmode tradtional women's health practices. I especially enjoyed hearing the author on a recent CBC Radio One broadcast in which she discussed her novel and its connection to her current home which once served as birth house years ago.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Marvelous reading! This book depicts growth of feminism and individuality in an era when it was not acceptable. It illustrates community strength in overcoming the notion that male doctors know more about childbirth than women. It is a caring, moving novel.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderfully East Coast Canadian Literature This book truly brought me a new understanding of what women endured as "medicine" came to "improve" labour and delivery. How amazing to see into the lives of the women in this book, each and every one of them, and become a part of their world. It was truly captivating and written to draw you into each moment, with a cynical edge that is part of the real world that women deal in every day.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful - Couldn't put it Down! This book is absolutely captivating. I recommend it to anyone, especially to my fellow Nova Scotians.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Beautifully written! I picked up The Birth House on a whim, excited about the idea of a novel set in one of my favourite parts of Canada, and found that putting it back down when I was finished took considerably more of an effort. This novel is easily one of the finest books I have read in the past six months, and the act of reading it was an act of pure pleasure. The Birth House is a very feminine novel. It focusses largely on the ties between the women of a community, illustrates the strength of a midwife's importance to the people she cares for, and explores the fragile majesty of childbirth. I can see how a man would have more difficulty connecting as fully to the characters and themes populating this novel than a woman may, but to call this novel a negative and prejudicial portrayal of men is most certainly a stretch. Both male and female characters are shown in positive and not-so-positive lights. No character is perfect, and flaws abound in members of both genders. I found Dora Rare, the main character, engaging and as appealing as a young heroine should be. Her relationships with her family, with Miss B. -- the town's eccentric but wonderful midwife -- and with the townspeople themselves are shown through events both delightful and tragic, but it is when Miss B. leaves the position of midwife and carer of the community to Dora that Dora is given the opportunity to finally choose who it is she is to be. Ami McKay did a beautiful job of telling a beautiful story, and the result, as they say, is magic.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Story I thought that The Birth House was a wonderful read. There weren't any big twists or surprises, it was just a simple, beautiful story. I think that it's very interesting that Ami McKay got the idea behind her story from the fact that when she moved to Scots Bay, Nova Scotia, she found out that her house used to be an actual birthing house. For me it made the story feel that much more real. It's a great story that I would definitely recommend.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Great First Novel I received this book on a Thursday and finished it on the Sunday night. It was one of those books that grabs you right from the beginning, and you just want to crawl inside the book, and be totally absorbed by it. I really enjoyed the book very much. I liked the characters, especially Dora, the main character, but also enjoyed the author's exploration of other characters, and the ever changing relationship between the townspeople and Dora. I have passed this book along already to a friend, and have recommended it to many. I discovered this book when I read an article in my local paper, and I am so glad I took the time to read that article, or I would have missed out on this terrific read. This would be a great gift for Mother's Day, considering the topics in the book.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Beautiful Bigotry Its at least possible that the Catholic priesthood is more bigotted in terms of gender that midwifery, but not likely. The name of the profession, like the name "feminism" itself, may be your first clue as to its unwavering perspective and what might charitably be called its blindside. In this respect, as in most others, the book is descriptive of the profession. It is beautiful to read, and moving and magical in covering its emotional territory. However, if there is a modern novel anywhere that divides good and evil more clearly along gender lines, I have not yet had the misfortune to come across it. Those female reviewers who have not mentioned this aspect of the novel are likely as gender-bigotted as the author, but unaware of it. I can just hear them saying "What me? A gender bigot? But I love men. Some of my best friends are men!" Reminds me of male chauvinists in the 60's and 70's. Its testimony to the author's abilities that I nevertheless recommend the novel. Even bigots can do good work.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Book! I read this book in one sitting as it really held me. This turn of the century, set in Nova Scotia story had all the elements of an excellent novel and I encourage those interested in history and/or childbirth to read it. Please tell the author to hurry up and write another book!
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing! Amazing! I read it in one day! It really drew me in-it felt like I was there. The best book I've read these past two years.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Storytelling at its' finest! I read this one in a weekend, I just couldn't put it down! You'll love this book! I can't say it better than the reviews by the big guys on the main page except to say that what they write is true! This book is going to be big!
Date published: 2013-10-24

– More About This Product –

The Birth House

by Ami Mckay

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 408 pages, 8 × 5.34 × 1.02 in

Published: March 6, 2007

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0676977731

ISBN - 13: 9780676977738

Read from the Book

Prologue My house stands at the edge of the earth. Together, the house and I have held strong against the churning tides of Fundy. Two sisters, stubborn in our bones. My father, Judah Rare, built this farmhouse in 1917. It was my wedding gift. A strong house for a Rare woman , he said. I was eighteen. He and his five brothers, shipbuilders by trade, raised her worthy from timbers born on my grand­father’s land. Oak for stability and certainty, yellow birch for new life and change, spruce for protection from the world outside. Father was an intuitive carpenter, carrying out his work like holy ritual. His callused hands, veined with pride, had a memory for measure and a knowing of what it takes to withstand the sea. Strength and a sense of knowing, that’s what you have to have to live in the Bay. Each morning you set your sights on the tasks ahead and hope that when the day is done you’re farther along than when you started. Our little village, perched on the crook of God’s finger, has always been ruled by storm and season. The men did whatever they had to do to get by. They joked with one another in fire-warmed kitchens after sunset, smoking their pipes, someone bringing out a fiddle . . . laughing as they chorused, no matter how rough, we can take it . The seasons were reflected in their faces, and in the movement of their bodies. When it was time for the shad, herring and cod to come in, they were fishermen, dark with tiresome wet from the sea. W
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From the Publisher

The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of Rares. 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. Dora becomes Miss B.’s apprentice, and together they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labours, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives. Filled with details as compelling as they are surprising, The Birth House is an unforgettable tale 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.


From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Ami McKay''s work has aired on CBC radio''s Maritime Magazine, This Morning, OutFront, and The Sunday Edition. Her documentary, Daughter of Family G, won an Excellence in Journalism Meallion at the 2003 Atlantic Journalism Awarsd. When she moved with her family to Scots Bay, Nova Scotia, she learned that their new home was once known as the birth house.


From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

" The Birth House is a poignant, compassionate, bittersweet and nostalgic look at early 20th-century Nova Scotia…. Reading McKay’s novel is like dipping into a saner, more intimate, past; a past that’s long gone…. McKay is not only a new author to note, but one to look forward to with anticipation." — National Post "From the beginning of Ami McKay’s debut novel, The Birth House , we know we’re in for a bit of magic…. The Birth House is compelling and lively, beautifully conjuring a close-knit community and reminding us, as Dora notes, that the miracle happens not in birth but in the love that follows." — The Globe and Mail " The Birth House is filled with charming detail.… McKay has a quiet and lyrical style that suits her subject.… [It is] a story of individual human tenderness and endurance…. McKay is clearly a talented writer with a subtle sense of story, one that readers will look forward to hearing from, again and again." — The Gazette (Montreal) "She’s dug deep into Maritime history to tell a story that rips right along…. You can tell that McKay’s got the goods." — NOW (Toronto) " The Birth House is bound to be one of the most read novels of 2006…. Authentic, gripping and totally compassionate … The Birth House will be there next fall when they hand out the literary nominations." — The Sun Times (Owen S
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Bookclub Guide

1. Early in the novel, Dora’s Aunt Fran quotes from The Science of a New Life: "It is almost impossible for a woman to read the current ''love and murder'' literature of the day and have pure thoughts, and when the reading of such literature is associated with idleness – as it almost invariably is – a woman’s thoughts and feelings cannot be other than impure and sensual." How does reading shape Dora’s view of the world? How does her love of books play into her relationship with her father? With Miss B.? With Archer?

2. Dora makes the following observation after attending her first birth: "How a mother comes to love her child, her caring at all for this thing that’s made her heavy, lopsided and slow, this thing that made her wish she were dead … that’s the miracle." What do you think she meant? Do you feel this is true?

3. Folklore, home remedies, women’s traditions, herbalism, and a belief in the divine feminine are all part of Miss B.’s way of life. She is determined to pass these things along to Dora. Does Dora try hard enough to preserve them? Should she let them go? In your own life, what traditions matter most to you (and why)?

4. According to medical texts and advertisements of the early 1900’s, women who were prone to "emotional behaviour" were often labeled as hysterical. A poster in Dr. Thomas''s office reads:

Feeling Anxious? Tired? Weepy? You are not alone. The modernization of society has brought about an increase in neurasthenia, greensickness and hysteria. Symptoms of Neurasthenia include: Weeping, melancholy, anxiety, irritability, depression, outrageousness, insomnia, mental and physical weariness, idle talking, sudden fevers, morbid fears, frequent titillation, forgetfulness, palpitations of the heart, headaches, writing cramps, mental confusion, constant worry and fear of impending insanity. Talk to your physician. He can help.

Do we see this kind of questioning today?
Are women''s emotions still targeted by advertisers?

5. When Archer asks Dora to marry him, he tells her that "love takes care of herself." Dora chooses to say yes. What does Dora’s decision say about her situation and station in life? Do you think she should have chosen to follow in Miss B.''s footsteps instead?

6. Through a visit to Dr. Thomas’s office, Dora discovers that women’s sexual pleasure (specifically orgasm) is considered to be a medical function (or dysfunction). Ads of the time, such as the one for the White Cross Vibrator, reinforced this notion. How does Dora come to terms with these ideas? What kinds of taboos, if any, surround women’s sexuality today?

7. Miss B. says this about Mabel’s home birth: “The scent of a good groanin’ cake, a cuppa hot Mother’s Tea and time. Most times that’s all a mama needs on the day her baby comes.” She later says this to Dr. Thomas: "Science don’t know kindness. It don’t know kindness from cabbage." Dr. Thomas replies, "Science is neither kind nor unkind, Miss Babineau. Science is exact." How do these statements show the differences between Miss B. and Dr. Thomas? In moving the birthing experience from homes and birth houses to hospitals, what have women lost? What have they gained?

8. After Dora discovers Aunt Fran’s affair with Reverend Norton, she writes: "He’s been seeing her. He''s noticed her so much that now she''s his." Why do you think Dora decided to keep it a secret? Should she have told someone? What would you have done?

9. Dora says this about her mother: "Everything I’ve learned from Mother, every bit of her truth, has been said while her hands were moving." What does this say about her relationship with her mother? Is this kind of communication still an important part of women’s lives?

10. The author includes ephemera from Dora''s life (invitations, news articles, sections from The Willow Book, folk tales, advertisements, etc.) throughout the novel. How did this affect your reading experience? Do you have a favourite from them?

11. There are many mentions of birthing folklore and techniques, from groaning cake to mother''s tea, from Miss B. turning Ginny''s breech baby to quilling. What wives'' tales about pregnancy and birth have you heard? Are there any that you''d swear by?

12. The sisters of the Occasional Knitters Society support Dora throughout the book (keeping the secret of Wrennie''s birth, taking care of Wrennie when Dora goes to Boston, meeting together for conversations and sisterhood). What makes their friendship so strong? Do you think friendships like that are still possible today?

13. Mrs. Ketch comes to her house for help, Dora feels conflicted. Given Dora''s history with Mrs. Ketch, why do you think she chose to assist her in helping her "lose" her baby?

14. Maxine is unlike anyone Dora has ever met before. Boston is very different from Scots Bay. What do Maxine and Boston bring to Dora''s life? Have you ever made a change in location or met someone who immediately changed your life?

15. In both the prologue and the epilogue, we see how, over time, life has changed in Scots Bay. Other towns in other places have changed too – some have disappeared forever. What do you think we have gained with these changes? What have we lost?

16. After Dora and Hart become lovers, he talks of marriage and she refuses. Why do you think she is so determined not to marry him?

17. In the epilogue, Dora reflects on her past and what the birth house has meant to her and to the community. There is a sense of change, but also a sense of traditions preserved and lessons learned. What thoughts will you take away from The Birth House?

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