The Birth House

The Birth House

Paperback | March 6, 2007

byAmi Mckay

not yet rated|write a review
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.

Pricing and Purchase Info


In stock online
Ships free on orders over $25
Prices may vary. why?
Please call ahead to confirm inventory.

The Birth House

Paperback | March 6, 2007
In stock online Available in stores

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 infertilit...

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 ...

other books by Ami Mckay

The Witches Of New York
The Witches Of New York

Hardcover|Oct 25 2016

$25.00 online$34.95list price(save 28%)
The Virgin Cure
The Virgin Cure

Paperback|Jun 26 2012

$17.33 online$22.00list price(save 21%)
Jerome: The Historical Spectacle
Jerome: The Historical Spectacle

Paperback|Aug 1 2008

$15.41 online$19.95list price(save 22%)
see all books by Ami Mckay
Format:PaperbackDimensions:408 pages, 7.97 × 5.47 × 1.1 inPublished:March 6, 2007Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0676977731

ISBN - 13:9780676977738

Look for similar items by category:


Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another world I felt as though I was there, living in Scots Bay in the early 20th century, battling for women's rights. A beautiful story, beautifully written, with relatable and loveable characters.
Date published: 2015-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Birth House Fascinating insight into how things were done for women, by women, back in the early part of the last century.
Date published: 2015-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Birth House A fabulous book. Couldnt put it down. Character were wonderful. Easy read about difixult rime in history
Date published: 2015-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Birth House by Ami McKay An excellent read! Set in Nova Scotia, I particularly enjoyed the realism of this book which depicts the life of women & midwives in 1916-1918. I highly recommend this book.
Date published: 2015-06-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Birthing House Excellent read. Well written and researched, interesting and thought provoking. The reader's imagination is constantly creating images as the book easily encourages the reader to identify with the characters and environments it describes. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.
Date published: 2015-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing An amazing book and an author I hope to follow. Best book I haveread this year by far. Her writing style is gripping and fluid. I read this book in a single sitting unable to put it down. Her historical accuracy and the depth of character tethered Dorrie to my heart, mind, body and soul. <3 Cant wait to read The Virgin Cure next
Date published: 2015-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Read I loved this book! It was engaging and educating about the ways of life in the past. Enjoyed that it was set in Canada as well. Couldn't put this down!
Date published: 2015-03-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Birth House. Great book. Well written. I was born in Kentville so was like reading history of home. Knew people in all the places mentioned.
Date published: 2015-01-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Manager Lovely story. Gives a sense of how folks lived a 109 years ago. Lots of common sense!
Date published: 2014-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Good Book I really enjoyed this book. I was encouraged to read it by my mom and my aunt, after we drove through Canning, Nova Scotia. Now that I've read the book, I wish we had looked for The Birthing House.
Date published: 2014-09-06
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: 2014-07-13
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: 2014-07-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent read. What an awesome book, loved that it was set in Canada.
Date published: 2014-03-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent read. Great book, very well written.
Date published: 2014-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent read. This is one of the most beautiful books that I have read. I loved Ami McKay's writing style - she is very graceful in her descriptions. I thought it was nice to read about the transitions that were taking place for material care and how the women were treated.
Date published: 2014-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent read. This is a fantastic book. I loved it!!
Date published: 2014-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent read. This was an amazing book. McKay blends historical fact with fictional characters with ease. This book, like McKay's The Virgin Cure provides important commentary on early feminism and is a must read.
Date published: 2013-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent read. As a Doula helping birthing mothers, I found it a great book. I couldn't put it down
Date published: 2013-10-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent read. I met Ami McKay when she was setting out to do her book launch. She captivated me during our conversation and I knew I had to read this book. It was amazing, well written, and the story kept you enthralled. I told everyone about it for weeks. Proud to support a fellow Nova Scotian.
Date published: 2013-10-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent read. We read it as one of our book club book, and loved it. We especially like the setting in Canada, and the empowerment of women.
Date published: 2013-10-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent read. I really enjoyed this book and found the story very interesting.
Date published: 2013-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent read. Well written book. The author holds your interest, and has you peering around every darkened Old Canadian corner, trying to glimpse at what life is like just around the bend. Definitely worth the read.
Date published: 2013-10-04
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: 2013-03-06
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: 2012-10-06
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: 2012-09-28
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: 2011-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! I did not want this book to end!!!! I want more Miss B!!!
Date published: 2011-07-08
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: 2010-09-24
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: 2010-08-02
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: 2010-07-21
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: 2010-01-08
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: 2009-12-17
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: 2009-10-27
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: 2009-10-18
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: 2009-09-26
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: 2009-08-10
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: 2009-07-20
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: 2009-06-02
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: 2008-10-16
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: 2008-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tear Jerker A must read for any mother young or old
Date published: 2008-05-28
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: 2008-03-27
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: 2008-02-27
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: 2008-02-11
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: 2008-01-15
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: 2008-01-13
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: 2007-11-06
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: 2007-11-02
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: 2007-11-01
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: 2007-10-31
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: 2007-10-10
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: 2007-07-31
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: 2007-05-23
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: 2007-05-21
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: 2007-05-16
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: 2007-05-02
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: 2007-02-23
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: 2006-11-11

Extra Content

Read from the Book

PrologueMy 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. When the deer began to huddle on the back of the mountain, they became hunters and woodsmen. When spring came, they worked the green-scented earth, planting crops that would keep, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, turnips. Summer saw their weathered hands building ships and haying fields, and sunsets that ribboned over the water, daring the skies to turn night. The long days were filled with pride and ceremony as mighty sailing ships were launched from the shore. The Lauretta, The Reward, The Nordica, The Bluebird, The Huntley. My father said he’d scour two hundred acres of forest just to find the perfect trees to build a three-masted schooner. Tall yellow birch, gently arched by northwesterly winds, was highly prized. He could spot the keel in a tree’s curve and shadow, the return of the tide set in the grain.Men wagered their lives with the sea for the honour of these vessels. Each morning they watched for the signs. Red skies in morning, sailors take warning. Each night they looked to the heavens, spotting starry creatures, or the point of a dragon’s tail. They told themselves that these were promises from God, that He would keep the wiry cold fingers of the sea from grabbing at them, from taking their lives. Sometimes men were taken. On those dark days the men who were left behind sat down together and made conversation of every detail, hitching truth to wives’ tales while mending their nets.As the men bargained with the elements, the women tended to matters at home. They bartered with each other to fill their pantries and clothe their children. Grandmothers, aunts and sisters taught one another to stitch and cook and spin. On Sunday mornings mothers bent their knees between the stalwart pews at the Union Church, praying they would have enough. With hymnals clutched against their breasts, they told the Lord they would be ever faithful if their husbands were spared.When husbands, fathers and sons were kept out in the fog longer than was safe, the women stood at their windows, holding their lamps, a chorus of lady moons beckoning their lovers back to shore. Waiting, they hushed their children to sleep and listened for the voice of the moon in the crashing waves. In the secret of the night, mothers whispered to their daughters that only the moon could force the waters to submit. It was the moon’s voice that called the men home, her voice that turned the tides of womanhood, her voice that pulled their babies into the light of birth.My house became the birth house. That’s what the women came to call it, knocking on the door, ripe with child, water breaking on the porch. First-time mothers full of questions, young girls in trouble and seasoned women with a brood already at home. (I called those babies “toesies,” because they were more than their mamas could count on their fingers.) They all came to the house, wailing and keening their babies into the world. I wiped their feverish necks with cool, moist cloths, spooned porridge and hot tea into their tired bodies, talked them back from outside of themselves.Ginny, she had two . . . Sadie Loomer, she had a girl here.Precious, she had twins . . . twice.Celia had six boys, but she was married to my brother Albert . . . Rare men always have boys.Iris Rose, she had Wrennie . . . All I ever wanted was to keep them safe.Part OneAround the year 1760, a ship of Scotch immigrants came to be wrecked on the shores of this place. Although the vessel was lost, her passengers and crew managed to find shelter here. They struggled through the winter – many taking ill, the women losing their children, the men making the difficult journey down North Mountain to the valley below, carrying sacks of potatoes and other goods back to their temporary home, now called Scots Bay.In the spring, when all who had been stranded chose to make their way to more established communities, the daughter of the ship’s captain, Annie MacIssac, stayed behind. She had fallen in love with a Mi’kmaq man she called Silent Rare.On the evening of a full moon in June, Silent went out in his canoe to catch the shad that were spawning around the tip of Cape Split. As the night wore on, Annie began to worry that some ill had befallen her love. She looked across the water for signs of him but found nothing. She walked to the cove where they had first met and began to call out to him, promising her heart, her fidelity and a thousand sons to his name. The moon, seeing Annie’s sadness, began to sing, forcing the waves inland, strong and fast, bringing Silent safely back to his lover.Since that time, every child born from the Rare name has been male, and even now, when the moon is full, you can hear her voice, the voice of the moon, singing the sailors home.–A Rare Family History, 18501Ever since I can remember, people have had more than enough to say about me. As the only daughter in five generations of Rares, most figure I was changed by faeries or not my father’s child. Mother works and prays too hard to have anyone but those with the cruellest of tongues doubt her devotion to my father. When there’s no good explanation for something, people of the Bay find it easier to believe in mermaids and moss babies, to call it witchery and be done with it. Long after the New England Planters’ seed wore the Mi’kmaq out of my family’s blood, I was born with coal black hair, cinnamon skin and a caul over my face. A foretelling. A sign. A gift that supposedly allows me to talk to animals, see people’s deaths and hear the whisperings of spirits. A charm for protection against drowning.When one of Laird Jessup’s Highland heifers gave birth to a three-legged albino calf, talk followed and people tried to guess what could have made such a creature. In the end, most people blamed me for it. I had witnessed the cow bawling her calf onto the ground. I had been the one who ran to the Jessups’ to tell the young farmer about the strange thing that had happened. Dora talked to ghosts, Dora ate bat soup, Dora slit the Devil’s throat and flew over the chicken coop. My classmates chanted that verse between the slats of the garden gate, along with all the other words their parents taught them not to say. Of course, there are plenty of schoolyard stories about Miss B. too, most of them ending with, if your cat or your baby goes missing, you’ll know where to find the bones. It’s talk like that that’s made us such good friends. Miss B. says she’s glad for gossip. “It keep folks from comin’ to places they don’t belong.”Most days I wake up and say a prayer. I want, I wish, I wait for something to happen to me. While I thank God for all good things, I don’t say this verse to Him, or to Jesus or even to Mary. They are far too busy to be worrying about the affairs and wishes of my heart. No, I say my prayer more to the air than anything else, hoping it might catch on the wind and find its way to anything, to something that’s mine. Mother says, a young lady should take care with what she wishes for. I’m beginning to think she’s right.From the Hardcover edition.

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?

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 Sound)"An altogether remarkable work from an impressive new talent."—Ottawa Citizen"An astonishing debut, a book that will break your heart and take your breath away."—Ottawa Citizen"Fresh as a loaf of homemade bread just out of the oven, The Birth House, a tale of sex, birth, love and pain will more than satisfy the hungry reader."—Joan Clark, author of An Audience of Chairs"The moon over Nova Scotia must have extra magic in it to have fostered a writer of Ami McKay’s lyrical sway and grace. She retrieves our social history and lays it out before us in a collage of vivid, compelling detail. In McKay’s depiction of Dora Rare, an early twentieth century midwife, attention is paid to the day-to-day moments of love and tending that enable humans to endure. And we the readers get to witness the emergence of a powerful new voice in Canadian writing."—Marjorie Anderson, co-editor of Dropped Threads I and II"Ami McKay is a marvellous storyteller who writes with a haunting and evocative voice. The novel offers a world of mystery and wisdom, a world where tradition collides with science, where life and death meet under the moon. With a startling sense of time and place The Birth House travels through a landscape that is at once deeply tender and exquisitely harsh. McKay is possessed with a brilliant narrative gift."—Christy Ann Conlin, author of Heave"Reading Ami McKay’s first novel is like rummaging through a sea-chest found in a Nova Scotian attic. Steeped in lore and landscape, peppered with journal entries, newspaper clippings and advertisements, this marvellous ‘literary scrapbook’ captures the harsh realities of the seacoast community of Scots Bay, Nova Scotia during WWI. With meticulous detail and visceral description, McKay weaves a compelling story of a woman who fights to preserve the art of midwifery, reminding us of the need, in changing times, for acts of bravery, kindness, and clear-sightedness."—Beth Powning, author of The Hatbox Letters