Birth House, The

McKay, Ami

  19 Reviews

For the women of Scots Bay, Novia Scotia, the village midwife was a fellow traveller and companion in their unrelentingly hard lives. Apprenticed to the midwife, Dora Rare enters her vocation in the tumultuous World War 1 era as the medical profession turns its sights on revolutionising childbirth. Caught between traditional practices and medical science, Dora champions the rights of the women in her care.

A fascinating and passionate portrayal of the lives of women struggling for control of their circumstances.

Comments from Groups

We all enjoyed this book. Entertaining on lots of levels. An engaging central character and lively narrative. Themes of emerging medical science versus age old midwifery, the war, female suffrage, Canadian history. Some of us thought Dora and her mentor Miss B - in the first half of the book - was the richer part of the novel. Tauranga 016

All enjoyed the story and found it an easy read. Agreed that the conflict between midwives and hospital births continued for many years and isn't over even today. Generally enjoyed the advice of Miss Babineau and horrified at the story of Rosie. Auckland 016

An amazing read - hard to put down. Much discussion on the role / rights of women, suspicion versus old wisdom, World War 1 times and the role of folk at home, hysteria and changes in society. Great content at end of novel. Tokoroa 001

Everybody loved this book. The information gleaned was authentic in detail and delivered in an easy to read style. A lively discussion followed with many people drawing on their own experiences. Ashburton 003

The first few chapters were difficult for some - once past them the book was enjoyed by all - people were glad they had persevered. Another great book, which gave an insight into the lives of courageous, strong women of a previous generation, and how they coped with their surroundings and situations. A very well researched book - well written. Wellington 168

A popular book which everyone enjoyed for its depiction of life in a different place and time. The discussion went well and the questions elicited some good reponses.I'm not sure many of us would really want to go back to that style of birthing all the same! Owaka 001

The group was split on the merits of this book: two felt it was a bit "Mills & Boon", while three others were enthralled with the folklore, and the theme of womens' friendships and the 'magicality' of childbirth. We felt that the section when Dora went to Boston was a weak area - could maybe have been another book. Lots of talk about our own birthing experiences. Auckland 271

An easily read view of being female in Nova Scotia at the beginning of last century. The main character, Dora, became apprenticed to the local midwife and she ultimately took over the local womens' health care from her. She faced local prejudices of long standing when compared with the 'modern' practices of the new modern professionals. All our members enjoyed the book for its historical detail and the personal development of the characters. Upper Hutt 002

Not a taxing read, but fascinating. A nice light one to have between heavier reads. Huntly 001

A map and a bit more information on the historical events would have been good - we had to google feed our interest. We all enjoyed this book - a vibrating read! Auckland 255

Everyone enjoyed the book. We found the history of midwifery interesting, as were the attitudes of the medical fraternity towards midwives. The role of women in that time and place challenged our thinking. We found the history of the vibrator hysterical! Nelson 065



Differing opinions on enjoyability. Some found the book hard to get started but then found it moved on quickly. Some aspects of the lives of women portrayed were difficult to read but we appreciated the way historical details of the time were woven into the storyline well.
AUCK 446
We all enjoyed this book. Well-written, although seemed to end rather abruptly.
NAP 032
We rated it 4.25/5. Intelligent, humour, friendship, strength. A beautiful read.
All who read this really enjoyed it.
CHCH 523
Enjoyed overall. We liked the 'woman power' attitude of the main character and how subversive the woman could be -eg: their knitting club.
TAUP 007
We liked the fact that the author built on the historical records of the house she lived in. The style of writing was good and the characters were convincing. We all thoroughly enjoyed this book.
AUCK 280
Some readers found it difficult to get into the book - others found the conflict between early traditional midwives and the modern doctor interesting. Perhaps not so different from today.
We all loved this book and highly recommend.
We all loved this book - well written and easy to read, it was hard to put down. Incorporating historical fiction made it more interesting and believable. We were so irritated by the attitude of the doctor towards the local midwifery practices, but entertained by his "treatment" of the hysteria of pregnant females! So pleased to have all the advantages of modern medicine! The ending was maybe, too neat, but rounded off a great story.
Our group rated this as one of the best books we've read this year. It prompted a lot of discussion around midwives and the important role they play especially in small communities - bit of a hot topic in our area at the present time. We could all relate to hearing stories from mothers and grandmothers about their experiences of childbirth and how things have changed. Interesting reading about natural remedies.
NAP 005
All were engaged and fascinated by this insight into midwifery and birthing in remote communities and the role of 'white witches'. Sparked conversation about pioneering New Zealanders and the challenges faced by women here. Conversation about this book continued into subsequent meetings!
NAP 021
Our group - all female - had a great discussion about this book. For a first novel, we considered that the author had embarked on a great amount of research which we thoroughly enjoyed. Life in Nova Scotia was certainly harsh in the times when this novel was written and some of the historical events that took place were really well written into the book.The section at the end of the book was so interesting and reminded the older members of our group of hearing our mothers and grandmothers speak of some of the "older" methods to help in childbirth. An interesting book.
THAM 007
All LIKED it, but found it a bit turgid, and thought it defied credibility at times.
CHCH 010
Our group generally enjoyed the book and we had an interesting discussion on midwifery at the time of the novel (WWI), our times (perhaps around forty years ago) and today. The story, though fictional, contained many interesting facts. The style of the book was well written and easy to read.
We all enjoyed this story - interesting topic. We all enjoyed the different setting for this story - Nova Scotia, not a place many of us are familiar with. Beautifully written story.
A light story, with characters not fully developed. An interesting idea to write about the history of a house. We liked the newspaper ads and wondered if they were real or created for the book.
CHCH 318
Everyone in the group loved the book. It was a good mixture of old remedies and the introduction of modern and "better" methods. We were surprised that we were on Dora's side with her caring, rather than with the intervention methods offered by the scientific doctor who appeared uncaring. The book also covered other life changing events like womens' suffrage and womens' rights. We were interested in the natural methods at the back of the book, and this brought back memories of our grandmothers and some of their beliefs...
The group all agreed the book took some getting into, but we all enjoyed the book in the end. The discussion was wide-ranging with many personal stories being recounted.
AUCK 133
Everyone thoroughly enjoyed this. Very good writing and a compelling story. Set in Canada and in WWI, it was a bit of a different take on those times. Small town life certainly has its ups and downs, but the strength and levels of support are invaluable.