Thursday, March 6, 2008

Review: The Birth House

Summary: An arresting portrait of the struggles that women faced for control of their own bodies, The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare—the first daughter in five generations of Rares.

As apprentice to the outspoken Acadian midwife Miss Babineau, Dora learns to assist the women of an isolated Nova Scotian village through infertility, difficult labors, breech births, unwanted pregnancies, and unfulfilling sex lives. During the turbulent World War I era, uncertainty and upheaval accompany the arrival of a brash new medical doctor and his promises of progress and fast, painless childbirth. In a clash between tradition and science, Dora finds herself fighting to protect the rights of women as well as the wisdom that has been put into her care. - Harper Collins

I'm not exactly sure where I first learned about THE BIRTH HOUSE by Ami McKay, but I do know that the description of the novel caught my eye. I finally got around to reading it, and I'm really glad that I did. I thought this book was terrific! I read the entire book in less than 24 hours because I couldn't put it down -- I was hooked from the start.

I should probably mention that I have read a few fictional accounts of midwives and enjoyed these books as well. I beginning to think I might just really be interested in the tradition of midwifery. I also enjoyed reading about all of the natural healing that the characters in the book practiced. At the end of the book. there are lists of herbs and cures for common illnesses that I found fascinating.

I absolutely loved Dora and Miss Babineau because they were such strong, smart and brave female characters. They truly felt that they were put on this earth to help and support other women -- they didn't take money or even charge for their services. When the doctor came into their town and tried to make all women deliver their babies in a clinic, these women stood up for a woman's right to give birth how she chooses. I thought these characters, as well as some of Dora's friends, demonstrated how powerful women can be if they come together for a common cause.

Ms. McKay wrote this book after she learned that the house she purchased once served as a birthing house. It's obvious that she did a great deal of research on the subject matter of midwifes before she set out to write this book. I also like the time period in which the book takes place (during WWI) because it was such a huge time of change for women. She did an incredible job of incorporating current events such as the war, prohibition, disasters, influenza, and the fight of women to vote into the story.

One of my favorite parts of the book occurs right after Dora attends the delivery of her first baby. She says that giving birth isn't the miracle (that's natural and supposed to happen). Rather she says, "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." I found such wisdom about motherhood amazing in the seventeen year old!

There is a great website devoted to the book with lots of resources. You can read an excerpt of the book, learn more about the author, and even read her blog. In addition, there are some fun things to do like take a test to see if you're hysterical or have your tea leaves read! There is also a sneak preview of Ms. McKay's new book THE VIRGIN CURE.

I think every all woman book club should consider reading THE BIRTH HOUSE in the very near future. There are wonderful discussion questions here to get your club talking (as if you'd need much help with this book.) There are so many issues to discuss in the book such as a woman's right over her own body, natural healing, infertility, motherhood, modern medicine versus traditional medicine, and various kinds of relationships (friendship, parental, romantic love, etc.) I highly recommend reading this book -- I loved it!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have eyeballed this book many times at Target. I might just have to pick it up after such a glowing review!