The Birth House by Ami McKay
Dora was the first Rare girl born in a long time, to top that off, she was born with the caul over her head. In a community of superstitious sailors, the caul would have fetched a lot of money, but the local midwife, was told to keep special charge of it. Dora grew up being a bit of an outcast. She was the only girl in an entire family tree of boys. She looked different. She bore more traces of her Micmac ancestors than any of her other family members. She was a strange girl, with her head always in books. Some say she witched a cow.
Time passed, and Dora grew up. She spent more and more time with the local midwife, affectionately referred to as Miss B by those who liked her, others said her entire name with a bit of disdain. She was from away. Some considered her a witch, with all her herbs and potions.
When Dora was a teenager, she assisted with her first birth. The idea was to pass the tradition on to Dora, but times were changing. Doctors wanted to deliver babies. A new maternity home opened up in a nearby town, complete with beds, ether, and forceps. None of this pleased Miss B who thought childbirth was a woman’s thing and a natural thing to top that off.
Dora ends up getting married, but it is not all it has been made out to be. Dora has to practice midwifery, almost as a secret. So called science is encroaching on a world that had been around a lot longer and traditional ways are being outlawed and made suspicious. Dora is determined to continue the traditions she has learned.
What I liked
I like books about midwifery. They are always so interesting. The entire practice of midwifery is fascinating, but has a fraught history. Midwives have been called witches and even burned at the stake. Doctors wanted them gone.
This book is fiction, but catches a very real situation that happened around the time period. Doctors wanted women to have their babies in hospitals and birthing centers, not at home, with the midwife, who used natural herbs for things and, of course, not at home with the midwife who didn’t have a fancy certificate to say that she knew what she was doing.
Dora is an interesting character. Miss B is also an interesting character. How does a Cajun woman end up in Nova Scotia during this time period? There are more mysteries about Miss B that are never answered. The mystery makes her an interesting person.
What I didn’t like
Right, so, I don’t have a lot of faith in western medicine. It’s wonderful for broken bones, but it’s absolutely awful for childbirth and preventative care. This book is a great example of how western medicine is screwed up. Doctors wanted to put women to sleep and cut them open rather than let them take their time with doing something their bodies were made to do. They wanted to charge a lot of money for it to boot. Why let the local midwife deliver a baby in exchange for some eggs and vegetables when you could charge a lot more in actual cash? How do you get people to abandon something they had been doing a long time? You villainize it, that’s how.
It’s so underhanded to poison someone’s profession, but it’s even more underhanded to poison a profession that people need and is relatively safe, compared to what you’re trying to replace it with. This fight is still going on. This book was set close to a hundred years ago now, but this same exact fight still wages in the world. Couldn’t people just accept it and agree to be friends?
Dora, while interesting, seems like your typical headstrong female lead. Young lady, you will do XYZ. Young lady says, “No, I will not.”
This was a great piece of historical fiction about a fight we’ve been waging a long time.
Is it wrong of society and science to replace a technique or tradition that works and people trust, just because it has another way of doing it?
Why do you think traditional methods cannot live alongside modern methods?