The Birth House by Ami Mckay
I made molasses cookies for the Book Club, on this most recent past Sunday. I thought it would be funny sitting only about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes from where a giant wave of molasses collapsed buildings and carried them away, while the metal canister blew out it’s nails and metal parts like shrapnel, and a giant 35 foot wave of molasses made it’s way through a busy part of the North End. 21 people died. This event makes a cameo in Ami Mckay’s book, The Birth House.
I am a homesteader, so I live a very old fashioned life. I am also an herbalist. But most importantly I am a woman. This might be the most inspirational book I have ever read. It documents a historical way of life women once lived not far from here in Scott’s Bay Nova Scotia, another area by the sea. In many respects where I am and the way I live is quite similar to life in Scott’s Bay. I make most everything myself. I do a little of this and that to get by. I am forever baking, and doing the same or similar work that once was the standard norm for women. So for me, this story is hugely inspirational. In the book often they reflect on my lifestyle as one of poverty. I don’t agree with that perspective. I have lived all over this world. I had the opportunity to do whatever I wanted. What I wanted was this quiet way of life. I have tried to cut the ignorance that sometimes goes with this way of life out of how I practice this way of life. Because it really does not need to be part of the lifestyle and cuz it’s quite honestly icky. But when you subtract that, there is nowhere I would rather be and nothing I would rather be doing than baking pies and bread, harvesting my gardens, and hanging my laundry outside my home, etc…
The Birth House, is about Scott’s Bay, a rural community in Nova Scotia, and a girl born of a long line of ancestors who don’t produce girl children. Because of this, her family doesn’t always seem to know what to do with her. She is also considered a bit of a witch by the community because something has to be off when her family spits out a girl. She ends up becoming deeply involved with the local midwife, and she is trained by the elderly woman to do the job herself, as well as to care for the community’s injured and sick. Ms. B is a bit of a mystery a very religious Cajun woman a traiteur, that somehow wound up in Scott’s Bay. She sees Dora Rare, the girl born to a family that doesn’t have girls, as her successor. She eventually disappears and Dora, is left to care for the women of her community.
We are in the time period of the first world war. When insurance companies were just beginning to rear their ugly over priced heads. Back then they called themselves “assurance companies.” And a one Dr. Thomas, comes round to the bay. They are just beginning to realize women’s bodies are an untapped source of wealth for insurance companies and the medical profession. And thus hysteria is invented and other ridiculous maladies of the mind rooted in the female genitalia somehow…. Dr. Thomas, tries to encourage the women of the bay to spend money they don’t have to go down the mountain, to his office to have their babies. Where he offers them twilight sleep and other medications and things to take from them the experience of becoming mothers. He doesn’t understand what a spiritual and personal moment he is seeking to intrude on. People that ignorant should never be treating women. He tries to pretend and spreads shade surrounding Dora, finally going after her with the arm of the law, over a death that Dora, wasn’t even responsible for. She flees to Boston, leaving the baby she adopts with a close friend. She hopes to return when things calm down.
While in Boston, she goes to visit her favorite brother Charlie, and meets his love the suffragette Maxine, a socialite, that gets off on protecting the arts and getting in trouble in the name of votes for women. It is a very productive and eye opening visit for Dora, who has never learned how to fight for herself and for the women of the bay. And the healer, also becomes a warrior, for women’s voices, being those that matter in women’s reproductive health care.
We decided to read this book, because Texas, just passed a terrible law that is a serious threat to the rights and health and well being of ourselves, our sisters, and our daughters. As a group we wanted to explore the general area of women’s health care, and women’s lives and the roll motherhood takes in it and all the other things surrounding this issue. No two women live the same life. Every situation is different. And the only one who should make these decisions for a woman is herself. Only she knows if she has a situation in which she can take that plunge into motherhood. The tragedy is, there really is no right or wrong on the hardest choice some women have to make. Both sides of the debate have a legitimate position. So to penalize someone for choosing one way or the other seems an abuse. If there is no wrong, and both sides are right it is just messed up to punish someone who chooses to end a pregnancy. It is hubris to punish those around her that support her as she makes the most terrible and tragic choice she may ever make. Some things should be up to women alone. I have never been able to understand why those post menopause, those prepubesant, and those who are male even get to have an opinion on the subject. This choice affects only the woman making the choice.
I loved the way Ami Mckay, explored many different situations from Aunt Fran’s situation, to poor Mrs. Ketch, and all the other women in their own circumstances in the bay and even Iris Rose. I loved the way she wrote about this issue. I am so so grateful for the way she discusses it all in this book.
For some writers, there seems to be a story they are simply meant to tell. For Ami Mckay, this is the story she was put on earth to put on a page. It was truly one of the most beautiful and inspirational stories and it is so very highly relevant today in light of the attack Texas, has made against Roe V Wade. It is my hope, other women take the time to read this book. They will not be sorry. Our entire book club loved it. Which is different because we are all quite different usually with different tastes. This book united us all.
Thank you Ami Mckay, from the Wildflower Farm Book Club. You have written something truly meaningful to all of women kind.
Though I could spend the rest of my life writing about this book I will stop here.
Thank you for reading
Amanda of Wildflower Farm