Metro Mama Reviews: The Birth House
I’ve just finished The Birth House by Amy McKay. What a terrific read. I completely neglected all the other things I should have been doing and read it in two days.
The novel takes place in Nova Scotia in the early 20th century. It tells the story of Dora, a young girl who befriends, then becomes the apprentice of the local midwife, Miss Babineau. Miss B. teaches Dora the many skills she has accumulated, from delivering breech babies to brewing medicines to induce labour or prevent an unwanted pregnancy. In addition to medical assistance, the women provide comfort, support, and encouragement and want nothing in return.
When a self-assured young doctor comes to town, he tries to convince the village women to put their bodies and babies in his hands in his “modern” medical facility. Dora struggles to help the village women keep control of their bodies in the advent of “modern medicine” in the face of growing distrust of traditional methods.
Part of the reason I found this book so interesting is because I have such mixed feelings about the medicalization of childbirth. Birthing babies was, and continues to be, risky business. The novel doesn’t gloss over this fact. Modern medicine has saved the lives of many a mother and child. However, I often wonder how my birth story would have been different had my labour not been induced. Also, I didn’t get the emotional support I needed. There was little interaction with the doctor who delivered Cakes. I loved my OB, but he wasn’t around when it was time to deliver my child. I felt like a product on an assembly line, each worker eager to finish his job in order to meet his quota.
Of course midwifery and modern medicine can coexist--we can take the best from both worlds. I think it’s desirous to have a minimal amount of medical intervention in childbirth if that’s what a woman chooses. If she chooses more intervention, that too is her prerogative. I’m pretty sure I’ll break down and beg for an epidural after five minutes of contractions again.
I’m strongly considering a midwife instead of a doctor if (big IF!) I have another go at this birthing business. I’ll still give birth at a hospital--after what happened last time there’s not a chance I’ll risk being at home. I hope things go better next time, and if they don’t, I want the person calling the shots to have a little more empathy. Scratch that--I want to be the person calling the shots.