The Next Chapter

Lily Frost on The Birth House and a turning point in modern medicine

The Toronto singer/songwriter shares why Ami McKay's The Birth House has pride of place on her bedside table.
For singer/songwriter Lily Frost, The Birth House pinpointed the moment when medicine changed in Nova Scotia. (Lily Frost)

Musician Lily Frost is one half of the hip-hop/retro swing duo Dreamspeed, and she keeps The Birth House by Ami McKay on her bedside table. She tells Shelagh why she finds the historical novel about a young midwife so powerful.

There are two amazing things about this book. First of all, the story. Secondly, the fact that Ami McKay moved into a house that was owned by a midwife at the turn of the century. When she tore apart the walls of the house to renovate, she found newspaper clippings and recipes that the midwife had used, and that's what inspired her to write the book.

The main character's name is Dora Rare. She is a young girl who is apprenticing to be a midwife. She is learning from Miss B., an Acadian who is very outspoken. When Miss B. passes away, Dora Rare steps into her shoes.

What's really interesting is in the course of the book, when modern medicine was introduced to Nova Scotia, they set up in the village just next to the one Dora Rare was living in. They bring in this sterile, cold, clinical, medical way of dealing with births that contrasts with the home births. There's a conflict amongst the villagers; some are all for it and some are very resistant. Of course, Dora Rare is facing losing her job.

It also touches on how women during that time dealt with domestic abuse. They have a "tea time," which is an acceptable way for women to meet with their friends and discuss their exit plans.

I love it. I've bought the book for a bunch of other people. I read it while I was pregnant, and I couldn't put it down.

Lily Frost's comments have been edited. 

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