Book Review: The Birth House

The Birth House is author Ami McKay’s first novel and it reads well with a strong, interesting sense of place and storyline. Very pregnant with my third child, I found the subject matter – the story of a midwife living in rural Nova Scotia during the first years of World War I – personal and relevant. The novel proved an interesting travel through the clash of midwifery and science, and the choices women were/are not allowed to make when it comes to their own bodies. The medicalization of the female form and the increased pressure on women to conform to scientific standards when other forms of natural healing, and a belief in the power of the human body, might serve better is an overarching theme touched on time and again as Dora discovers and builds her talent as a born healer. I found myself completely swallowed up in Dora’s world, here in this novel it is not the writing (though it is powerful), nor the storyline (though there is one and it is intriguing) but the world of Dora that was the most engaging. I ponder feminist issues including patriarchal control of the female body (literally in medicalizing reproductive processes) and hope to explore these further in a Doctoral programme. This novel set my mind racing on possible angles and left me feeling a bit breathless at the end. Admittedly, I read this novel quickly and without coming up many times for air and when it was done I had the sinking feeling of almost sadness; I wanted to live longer in that world. I wanted to situate myself in Dora’s space and witness and ponder life at a time when the power of natural healing was better, and yet not better, regarded.
This novel connected nicely for me to other issues I have read about; those timeless issues that never seem to evaporate or come to adequate resolution; issues that relate to freedom of choice and giving women, mothers, the power to decide what is best for themselves and for their families. New Yorkers are concerned about a new regulation that situates formula as a substance that must be tracked and recorded if offered in a hospital after delivery, with the nurse who offers access to it necessarily also offering a “breast is best” chat with the new mom. Other timely news includes “are you mom enough” to breastfeed your child for an extended length of time and again and again the whole debate about working women vs women who stay at home. Have confidence in your own choices and leave the bullying behind as you situate yourself forward-looking ignoring the tiny voices of others, they are tiny listen closely, as they aren’t what matters. What really matters, what will always matter, are those tiny little faces, those small little mouths and everything they need (not what you need, not what society needs) to grow strong, healthy and confident. I have a daughter, and she is smart and gorgeous, and if I can say one thing I hope to teach her in life is to have faith in her own strength and the strength of her own personal convictions. With that, and a strong sense of what is right, she will go many places.