Spanning the 20th century, Ami Mckay takes a primitive and superstitious rural community in Nova Scotia and creates a rich tableau of characters to tell the story of childbirth from its most secretive early practices to modern maternity as we know it.
‘The Birth House’ is the story of Dora Rare, the first female to be born in five generations of Rares. As a child in a small village in Nova Scotia, she is befriended by Miss Babineau, an outspoken Acadian midwife with a kitchen filled with herbs and folk remedies, and a talent for telling tales. Dora becomes her apprentice at the outset of World War I, and together they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labour, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling marriages.
When Gilbert Thomas, a brash medical doctor, comes to Scots Bay with promises of sterile, painless childbirth, some of the women begin to question Miss Babineau’s methods. After her death, Dr. Thomas doubles his efforts to eliminate midwifery in the area. He sets out to undermine Dora’s credibility by blaming her for the death of Mrs. Experience Ketch, a woman who had once sought Dora’s care. Gossip follows, the women begin to take sides, and Dora must summon all her strength to protect the birthing traditions and women’s wisdom of her community.
Gripping and alive with the details of times and traditions long past, Ami McKay’s debut is an unforgettable tale of the struggles women faced to have control of their own bodies.
Reviews of The Birth House
- ‘Ami McKay cleverly points out the good and the bad in both old and new attitudes, while contemporary newspaper reports and advertisements illustrate the pace of change.’ Guardian
- ‘Ami McKay’s debut novel vividly captures the apparently quaint world inhabited by the people of Scots Bay, Canada. McKay creates a magical world, and her exquisite descriptions draw the reader further and further from reality.’ Time Out
- ‘This is a truly captivating read, set in early 19th-century Nova Scotia. The story weaves lyrical detail of the natural beauty in which these pioneer families live with the pricklier reality of the First World War era, when centuries-old folk wisdom collides with science. The underlying theme of the shared strength that women give each other in hard circumstances lends this tale a solid bedrock.’ She
- ‘“The Birth House” has a spirited momentum and it is difficult not to be swept along by it. Her writing is often beautiful, with colourful turns of phrase that mirror the earthiness of her setting, and her protagonist.’ Sunday Business Post
- ‘By turns lyrical and gripping, brimming with historical detail and with a touching love story at the core, “The Birth House” brings to life a time, place and traditions long forgotten.’ Irish Post