First aired on The Next Chapter (11/27/10)
The Birth House takes place in rural Nova Scotia nearly a hundred years ago, but this remarkable story didn't find its way onto the page until a young American moved to Nova Scotia and became entranced by its beauty and history a mere decade ago. It also helped that her home had a very interesting story hiding within its walls...
Ami McKay moved from Chicago to Scots Bay, Nova Scotia, to be with her husband and to start a family. She became pregnant shortly after settling in and the community rallied around the new Nova Scotian, sharing with her tales of her new home and her new town. When she discovered that the house she moved into with her family was originally the community's birth house, this tidbit of information became the backbone of the fictional tale that would become The Birth House.
Originally published in 2006, The Birth House tells the story of Dora Rare, a young girl born to a large family in Scots Bay in the early 20th century. As the first girl born to the Rares in five generations (and with a caul on her face to boot, which was taken as a sign), Dora was deemed special by the community from the moment she was born.
As a young teenager, Dora is taken under the wing of the local midwife, Miss B. From her, Dora learns how to take care of the sick, catch babies and become the driving force of goodness and health in the community. However, this tradition is jeopardized when an eager young doctor arrives with new ideas and new contraptions that could displace Dora and the generations of knowledge she's acquired. The tensions between new and old, masculine and feminine, and traditional and modern divide the community and spur vengeful gossip, especially about Dora.
"These women [midwives] were vilified as not knowing what they were doing," Ami explained to Shelagh Rogers during a 2006 interview (which was replayed on a recent episode of The Next Chapter). "We saw this mass exodus from these communities from around the birth to the hospitalization and medicalization of birth."
Ami became intrigued by the rich history of her adopted province and much of it makes an appearance in the novel. The Halifax Explosion plays a defining role in Dora's life, but it's the colourful little details, like the descriptions of the maternity home and the groaning cake, that give The Birth House its air of authenticity.
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Decorating maven and reality television star Debbie Travis will be championing The Birth House by Ami McKay in the Canada Reads debates, which will air on CBC Radio One on February 7, 8 and 9 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. (2:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. in Newfoundland).
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