By Danielle Gorman
I’m a sucker for a well-made period drama (particularly if it’s made by the BBC). So when Call the Midwife first aired a few years ago, I had high hopes; I expected myself to devour every episode.
The first episode took me by surprise. I knew little about childbirth and the way the series is filmed can shock you with its realistic birthing scenes, props, historical accuracy, and characters. I’ll never forget my temporary horror when they angled the camera under a woman’s leg and I saw a head coming out. It’s not graphic, but it gets as close to that line as possible without crossing over. Once I got over the shock of it, I was drawn into the life of Nurse Jenny Lee and the nuns and midwives of Nonnatus House.
The show isn’t just brainless entertainment, though. Based on actual events and published in Jennifer Worth’s memoirs Call the Midwife, there are so many interesting things to learn from the show. Here are 8 things I’ve learned from Call the Midwife:
1. The Traits and Skills that Accompany Midwifery
I wasn’t sure to even include this, because I haven’t learned about midwifery in the sense that I could go out and deliver a baby by myself today, but I have learned an awful lot about the lifestyle and skills a midwife needs to have. They are, first and foremost, trained medical professionals. They do not only deliver babies, but perform check-ups on the mother throughout the pregnancy, help with the delivery, and perform all the necessary tasks like clearing mucus from a baby’s nose to rubbing its back to get breathing going after the delivery. Additionally, they act as nurses to the entire community, treating illness and injury in people of all ages.
2. Birth/Babies/Pregnancy 101
Again, watching a television show isn’t going to make me a midwife overnight, but I’ve learned so much about birth and pregnancy in general. For example, I was unaware that a mother had to deliver the placenta minutes after the baby, or that the midwife clamps the umbilical cord to cut off the blood supply before cutting it. I also didn’t know that the baby continued to have a small piece of umbilical cord attached until it fell off a few weeks later. All this I learned from Nurse Jenny Lee.
3. The Horror of Poverty
I grew up in a middle class home in the 90s and 2000s. My family wasn’t wealthy like the Rockefellers, but we had plenty to meet our needs and have the occasional treat. I had rarely seen poverty in real life, so I didn’t realize how sheltered I’d been raised until watching this series. London’s East End in the 1950s was extremely poor; families lived in tenement housing and scrimped and saved to pay for simple amenities like groceries. Disease was rampant—hygiene just the opposite. Seeing it recreated on my screen made me realize how lucky I was, and am, to have grown up apart from such poverty.
4. The Power of Spunk
The midwives are put in many situations that shock them. Most of them, like me, came from middle-class households where they were sheltered from poverty, violence, disease, etc. However, once they’ve lived in the East End for a bit they develop bravery and spunk—you have to in order to survive with people who act crassly due to their poor upbringing.
5. The Importance of Femininity
During World War II, women sacrificed femininity for the sake of dealing with difficult situations war brings. Appearances were all but forgotten; clothing went utilitarian, and makeup was practically nonexistent. What was so beautiful about the 1950s was that it allowed women to access their femininity again, without the strain of war. Trixie, one of the other midwives, is often seen in a pretty dress, hair and makeup done, and pretty as a flower. Her work as a midwife is hard, but she makes an effort to take care of herself and look her best when not on call.
6. The Strengthening Bonds of Friendship
Jenny Lee makes friends with the other midwives (Trixie, Cynthia, and Chummy) and the nuns (Sister Julienne, Sister Bernadette, Sister Monica Joan, and Sister Evangelina) and creates bonds of friendship so strong that it lasts throughout their lives. It is because she stays such close friends with her colleagues of the East End that led her to write her memoirs about her life there in the first place, which, of course, led to the creation of the show. The fact that the show is based on real events gives authenticity to the situations and people portrayed.
7. Realistic Married Life
I’m not married, so the only thing I can compare this to are the marriages of friends and family. From what I can tell, Call the Midwife got it spot on. Because the show is based on true events, the marriages are realistic in the way that they depict marital arguments, love, heartbreak, and loss.
8. Being Passionate About Your Work
This is perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned from Call the Midwife. Jenny Lee was a young woman during a time when young women were expected to marry, not have careers. However, she defied society by eschewing marriage as the only option for her and rose up to become a successful midwife and nurse. Indeed, she had opportunities to marry but because she loved her work more than the man, she chose work. I applaud her for not settling; it allowed her to grow as a nurse and a person.
Call the Midwife taught me these lessons, but what has it taught you? Have you learned about friendship? Childbirth? Debilitating poverty? Let us know in the comments.