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Thoughts on The Birth House by Ami McKay

February 15, 2011
Cover of "The Birth House"

Cover of The Birth House

The Birth House by Ami McKay covers a topic I didn’t think I would typically pick up to read about, but at the same time I thought it sounded fascinating.  This is the concept of home birthing in rural Novia Scotia.  The book essentially depicts the clash between traditional folk medicine and the new modern medicine.

The novel was written well enough that I found myself rooting against the grain of my typical belief system.  I suddenly found myself immensely sympathetic towards the old world religious and spiritualistic beliefs and feeling very anti modern medicinal practice.  Being a scientist at heart I would never recommend someone go for a birth based on spiritual beliefs and old style medicine, but this is not really the nature of the book.

I think the intent of the book was to bring to light the clash of modern versus traditional life that was felt by women in the early 20th century.  It also produced some interesting perspectives on the concept of marriage in a rural environment in the early 1900s and during WWI.  The book does an excellent job at providing insight into the concept of how much control a married woman at those times had over her body.  There was a lot of discussion of the nature of who got say in the birthing process from conception to birth and that person was generally a man, though the main character and her companions begin to try and change this.  This is where a large portion of the clash between modern science and traditional science begin to come to play.  The main character is trained in the traditional sense to care for pregnant women and “catch babies,” whereas a doctor is introduced in the community who tries and performs obstetrics in a very cold and clinical sense.  The men find this aspect appealing, but the women are not comforted by it and want the more traditional birthing process.  This is where the fight for who truly has control over a woman’s body begins to take effect.

This review so far sounds like all this book is about is pregnant women and the birthing process, but I can’t let it end like that.  The book also discusses the small community of Scots Bay, Novia Scotia.  McKay does an excellent job of describing this small town and the people within it.  All of the characters in the town are memorable and play well off of one another.  The character play and community really make this book heartwarming and a great read.  It takes place during WWI, so along with technological changes there are also personal changes going on in the community.  They are losing large numbers of young people and the war is an ever present item in the book, even if it is often part of the background.

The Birth House was a great book and a fast read.  It was one of those books that I couldn’t put down and was able to make me sympathetic towards the main character even if I didn’t believe what she believed.  McKay is an adept writer and produced some fascinating incites on feminism in the early 20th century.  The characters were not perfect, but they were believable.  This is a well written book and one you could finish in a day or two so worth the read.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 15, 2011 12:12 pm

    You’ve been reading some really great books lately! I really loved this book as well though it isn’t something I thought I would like when I first picked it up. So glad you gave it a try 🙂

    • February 15, 2011 12:25 pm

      I’m glad you are liking my reading choices :). I really enjoyed this book and though the topic didn’t sound overwhelmingly appealing at the same time it intrigued me enough to grab the book. I’m very happy I picked it up!

  2. February 18, 2011 4:53 pm

    Good read isn’t it?
    I also recently read it and could not put it down 🙂

    • February 19, 2011 7:36 pm

      It was a very good read. I couldn’t put it down either … it was really well written!

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