Call the Midwife

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

This biography details the lives of brave midwives in London’s East End after WWII.  The story is narrated by Jennifer Worth, a plucky, non-Catholic nurse who decides to undergo midwife training at the prestigious Convent at Nonnatus House. It is in this house that we meet Chummy, a gentle giant of a nun with a royal past, who delights in letting the rough street children teach her to ride a bike.  Other nuns, like the elderly Sister Monica Joan who alternates senility with poetic discourse to please her mood, make cameos as well.

The gems of the book are the diverse patients that Nurse Worth attends to.  The East End after the war was a place of overcrowding, suboptimal sanitation (some tenements had one outdoor privy for a 14 family building), and small mouths going unfed.  The sisters did a tremendous job of providing sterile birth packs to each of their expectant patients, so that the baby would come into the world onto clean, soft linens, and have a skilled midwife with sterilized supplies.  These measures drastically reduced the area’s infant mortality.  More incredibly, these midwives went out on their bicycles to check on the expectant mothers weekly until their deliveries, and then daily after the delivery for two weeks.

Jennifer profiles one spectacular family, the Warrens, and their enormous brood of twenty-four children.  Nurse Worth attends to several of their deliveries and was struck by how excited and caring Len was when there was a new birth, and took on many of the baby chores himself, so that Conchita could take her two weeks in bed, undisturbed.  Nurse Worth had never seen such defiance of the traditional gender roles, nor had she seen a couple so deeply in love.

The book details ministering to the marginalized folks in the East End society- the prostitutes, the unwed mothers, the abused young mothers, and she portrays it in a matter-of-fact way and goes about sensibly administering to them the best she can.

This was a tremendous book, and will appeal to a wide range of readers- those interested in history, post-war England, midwifery, and I’m sure my colleagues in medicine will love it too.

Advertisements