Monday, February 11, 2008

Inching Along

When pain is one's constant companion, you find out things about yourself - like how bitchy you can be, how little things your kids do never used to bother you but now they seem like mountains to be overcome, how you HATE to be dependent on others and not just jump into the car and head off to do whatever...

However, it also makes you pesevere and if I'm anything, perseverance is my middle name (to anyone who really knows me, that is!). I can now lift two coffee mugs out of the dishwasher at a time, but I can't raise a full coffee mug to my lips. I can balance myself again with my right arm, but I can't carry anything of much weight. I can get dressed myself again, but can't quite reach across my body to scratch my left arm. These are small victories! It makes me realize that as a writer, I should've been keeping some kind of computer journal all along, as I can't think of the words to describe the initial pain and experience. When you're IN the experience, it's far easier to put in to words that are visceral and evocative.

As you can imagine, I've had lots of time for reading! My SIL sent me two books, my MIL sent me one, and another SIL lent me the above book, THE BIRTH HOUSE. It's available on and you can read all about it at it's website THE BIRTH HOUSE.

I couldn't put this novel down, and if you're looking for a change from romance or genre reading, this book is for you. It's about the turn of the century village of Scots Bay in Nova Scotia (Canada), which still exists today. The heroine is Dora Rare, who becomes a midwife by default, and the story deals with all facets of her life; her reluctant midwifery, failed marriage, family relationships. The history of the change in obstetrics from women having babies at home as a matter of course, to being "made" to have them in hospitals via a patriarchal medical profession is dealt with through various women's eyes.

The book recounts the use of home remedies mixed with some superstition, as well as the real worth of herbal medicine. McKay even includes some of the herbal recipes at the back of the book, as well as the recipe for "Groaning Cake" which was traditionally made by a woman's friends during her labour. It's part of the story, and when you read the ingredients you can see how it would benefit a woman after childbirth - lots of sugar and carbs to rebuild your strengh!

The book is set against the backdrop of WWI, the suffragette movement, and the Halifax Explosion disaster, as seen through Dora's eyes and as a part of her life. McKay uses just enough historical references to let you know where you are, but they never take over Dora's story.

I highly recommend it for anyone who's had children, wants to have children, or like myself and Dora - can't have children. It's a universal story of women caught up in giving life and living with whatever dice life has thrown them. It's bigger than "women's fiction". McKay's nearly finished her second book, and is now writing a novel based on her grandmother's experiences as a female doctor at the turn of the century. I can't wait for them, and will be trolling her website above for more news
of their availability.

Hope all of you who're busy writing can take some time to grab this book. Written in "scrapbook" fashion, with the judicious use of the magical and superstitious, it's a treat to see how an author can create a straight-forward story with these techniques. Let me know if you do read it, and what you think!

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