Diaries Magazine

What I’m Reading: The Birth House

Posted on the 08 August 2013 by Karaevs @KaraEvs

What I'm Reading

What I’m Reading: The Birth HouseFrom Goodreads.com:
The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of the Rare family. As a child in an isolated village in Nova Scotia, she is drawn to Miss Babineau, an outspoken Acadian midwife with a gift for healing and a kitchen filled with herbs and folk remedies. During the turbulent years of World War I, Dora becomes the midwife’s apprentice. Together, they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labors, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives.

When Gilbert Thomas, a brash medical doctor, comes to Scots Bay with promises of fast, painless childbirth, some of the women begin to question Miss Babineau’s methods – and after Miss Babineau’s death, Dora is left to carry on alone. In the face of fierce opposition, she must summon all of her strength to protect the birthing traditions and wisdom that have been passed down to her.

Filled with details that are as compelling as they are surprising-childbirth in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion, the prescribing of vibratory treatments to cure hysteria and a mysterious elixir called Beaver Brew-The Birth House is an unforgettable tale of the struggles women have faced to maintain control over their own bodies and to keep the best parts of tradition alive in the world of modern medicine.

My review:
Today in Canada, or at least in BC, pregnant women have the option to choose a midwife or a doctor for their pre- and post-natal care. Both are covered through health care and both are fully capable of delivering a baby into the world in a safe and efficient manner. I picked up this book to read not only for the Canadian content, but to maybe understand midwives a little bit more.

Back in the early 1900′s, especially in the rural communities such as Scots Bay, NS, midwives like Dora Rare and Miss. B were the ones who “caught” babies. There was no official schooling, just methods passed down from teacher to student. I really like reading this book and it really opened up my thoughts to midwives. Miss B is a wise lady and is rightfully sceptical of Dr. Thomas. Canada was still a very young country at this time, especially in rural areas, and the change of time was slower. New methods of medicine, in the case of this story, childbirth, were not always welcomed with open arms. The doctor’s “Wham-bam” method of delivering babies leaves Dora and Miss B leery and afraid for the women of their community.

Like the Goodreads description states, there are several tidbits of information that spring true from the time period – The Halifax explosion, the hysteria treatments (which made me laugh a little bit), as well as the influenza outbreak in Boston.

I really enjoyed this book not only for the historical factor, but also for the medical factor. It shows not only how much medicine has changed over the years, but also the roots of some of the herbal medicine you see today. Many of the herbal remedies that were mentioned in The Birth House I’ve heard of today. Dora’s story is also compelling – her journey through midwifing, love, and loss drew me in.

Overall, I give The Birth House 4 stars out of 5.

Reading the book didn’t make me want to ditch my doctor and switch to a midwife for my next pregnancy, because I don’t think doctors today are as radical as they were back then, but like I said, it opened my eyes. Midwives are just as capable of delivering babies as doctors, and tend to show more compassionate care than some doctors (Not that doctors don’t show compassion, because many do).

What are your thoughts on Midwives vs. Doctors? If you’ve had a baby – What made you decide which one to “use?” If you haven’t – which route do you think you’ll go with? Why?

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