Ami McKay: the Birth House

By Karolina Bialkowska

This past week, CBC’s Canada Reads hit Toronto with heated debates, namely: Which book should be crowned the must-read of the decade?

Ami McKay’s The Birth Housemade it to the final showdown. Although McKay’s work was not bestowed the coveted title, the author’s first novel has been a resounding success across the country.

The Birth House embodies a plethora of contemporary themes. While the central focus is midwifery, the influx of technology to the East coast that changed community dynamics and women’s positions in new Canadian society are also brought to focus.

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with McKay – a first-time novelist, new Canadian, and mother of two small children – and she surpassed all my expectations. She’s definitely no stodgy, haughty, literary superstar.

McKay moved with her husband to Canada’s East coast from Chicago. Living in a small community with the local history indicative of small-town Canadiana, she found herself being greeted with open arms and good ol’ Canadian hospitality. Her new home held within its wooden heart a bevy of cultural anecdotes and its own seductive past. Inspiration was borne upon coastal winds. What was it exactly for McKay? “The house, the area, the people, the community itself. Getting to know my neighbours; hearing the stories that came out of the people that had live there all of their lives.”

What Ami McKay has accomplished is near unimaginable. With a penchant for the written word, she wrote almost exclusively for herself as a way of making sense of the world around her. Eventually, her husband, the lucky man that he is, was privy to this internal world and encouraged her to start writing for the public.

The Birth House has been a critical and popular success. When asked her thoughts on the novel’s success, McKay provides a surprising answer: “Women’s circles…women in their kitchens, groups of friends, they just loved it and it went flying off the shelves. [It spoke to] women supporting women and really connecting with the story.”

And she credits Canada in her success, too. Musing about the differences between Canada and the US, she reveals, “In Canada it feels a little bit more like you can make your way. Not that it’s any easier, but it feels easier. You have community, friends, neighbours, everyone’s supporting you in your dreams and wishing you the best. They’re there to help and cheer you on.”

I couldn’t agree more. The Canadian ideology is much less individualistic than that of our American counterpart. For those Torontonians who don’t agree, I encourage you to spend a week in a small-town community and learn about Canada away from Bay Street.

For anyone interested in the foundations of our great country, Ami McKay’s The Birth House will leave you mentally and emotionally fulfilled, and transformed.