The Birth House: A Novel (P.S.)
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An arresting portrait of the struggles that women faced for control of their own bodies, The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare—the first daughter in five generations of Rares.
As apprentice to the outspoken Acadian midwife Miss Babineau, Dora learns to assist the women of an isolated Nova Scotian village through infertility, difficult labors, breech births, unwanted pregnancies, and unfulfilling sex lives. During the turbulent World War I era, uncertainty and upheaval accompany the arrival of a brash new medical doctor and his promises of progress and fast, painless childbirth. In a clash between tradition and science, Dora finds herself fighting to protect the rights of women as well as the wisdom that has been put into her care.
young girls in trouble and seasoned women with a brood already at home. (I called those babies “toesies,” because they were more than their mamas could count on their fingers.) They all came to the house, wailing and keening their babies into the world. I wiped their feverish necks with cool, moist cloths, spooned porridge and hot tea into their tired bodies, talked them back from outside of themselves. Ginny, she had two… Sadie Loomer, she had a girl here. Precious, she had twins…twice.
Dear Borden (and Albert too), It sounds as if you are looking forward to life on the high seas. Life in the Bay moves along as usual. Last I was at the house, Father was curing venison. I know he missed your help in getting the beast home, as Charlie is no match for the two of you. Mother misses you every hour of every day. You’d think she’d feel she had a son or two to spare, but on the contrary, she thinks of both of you often, and Gord says she still calls your names through the house at
back to Miss B.’s meet. After no time at all, I was shivering. Father always warned against sleeping with my head exposed to the moonlight. Always keep the curtains closed on a full moon, and cover your head when you go out…especially when she’s bright over the water. If it’s light enough to make hay, then you might likely come down with moonstroke. Drives a person mad. Worse than sunstroke by far. Several times I startled, thinking I’d heard footsteps in the road. It was only the wind stirring
on Christmas Eve. Instead, my dreams were filled with the hiss of Gabriel’s whisper bringing the terrible message that heaven had made a mistake and I was to take the Blessed Virgin’s place. With a blanket over my head, I would wait for the dawn, knowing that poor Mary must have suffered more than anyone ever knew. That in that hour, she swallowed the spirit of the Christ Child down into her belly, crying into the night, knowing He would have to die. Aunt Fran, or even Reverend Pineo, might call
looked, the fine new dress she was wearing, the quality of the roast she had chosen, the deliciousness of every bite. (You’d think it was his first decent meal in months.) He’s never that thoughtful during our dinners, even on nights when he’s determined he’ll be having his way later on. I’m just hoping that once I’m expecting a child things will change, that he’ll become attentive and kind, hovering with worry and care. Certainly a first grandchild will give the widow cause enough to wait on me.