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The Birth House a novel by Ami McKay.

The Birth House, Ami McKay's first novel, is a historical trip into pre-industrial Scots Bay, a small town in rural Nova Scotia. Protagonist Dora Rare is a young woman struggling to find her place in a rapidly modernizing world. On the cusp of being forced out of her house she is embraced by Miss Babineau, the local midwife. Fondly calling herself a "spinster midwife in training," Dora soon realizes her natural ability to support women through childbirth. Dora and Miss Babineau work together in helping the women who come knocking on Miss Babineau's front door looking for support through infertility, difficult labors, breech births, unwanted pregnancies, and unfulfilling sex lives.

When medical doctor, Gilbert Thomas comes to town the women of Scots Bay are faced with the advent of the medicalization of childbirth. Dr. Thomas threatens Miss Babineau and Dora's practice when he opens a Maternity Home, described by him as "a place where women can come and have their babies in a clean, sterile environment, with the finest obstetrical care." Defensive towards the doctor's attempts at dismantling the traditions of childbirth, Miss Babineau calls the Maternity Home "one of those butcher shops they calls a hospital." The women of Scots Bay become more convinced by the doctor's persuasions, forcing Dora to advocate for the birthing traditions that Miss Babineau has passed down to her. The story becomes a metaphoric struggle between nature and technology, illuminating the moment when women's bodies became something to be acted upon instead of active and strong.

Author Ami Mckay effectively tells a story that speaks to women's loss of control over their own bodies in a medically modernizing world. After moving into a former Birth House in Nova Scotia, McKay was inspired to learn more about the history of midwifery and natural childbirth. In a recent interview Mckay explained that "society is caught up in the notion that childbirth is something that needs to be feared. It's portrayed as always being a life and death situation. We expect the pain to be unbearable, we expect something to go wrong, we willingly accept interventions that lead to more aggressive measures. Women are joining the 'too posh to push' club because they are scared." This negative portrayal of childbirth in society encouraged her to act subversively and have a home birth. For Mckay, this experience validated the importance of community as well as the notion that "midwives are individuals who are both highly trained and embrace tradition." (Mckay)

Ami McKay's eloquent portrayal of one community's struggle to retain agency over natural childbirth continues in modern society. Though it takes place many years ago, the women of Scots Bay honestly represent the strong and resilient tradition of women helping women that lives on today in contemporary doula and midwifery practices. Birth House elegantly acts as a mirror placing the reader within struggles of the past while tying them to present concerns. This engaging story, ultimately leaves the reader with hope for greater balance among societies values in childbirth.

Reviewed by Liz Tenaglia, ALACE trained Labor Assistant
COPYRIGHT 2006 Association of Labor Assistants & Childbirth Educators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Tenaglia, Liz
Publication:Special Delivery
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2006
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