Call the Midwife
Author: Jennifer Worth © 2002
Publisher: Penguin Books
Book received by: Belonged to family
A young nurse in 1950s England embarks on a career move that moves her into a convent for her nurse-midwife training and early career. It takes her to some of the poorest parts in London’s East End and introduces her to a wide range of characters, from the kind-hearted and well-intentioned to the downtrodden and difficult. Worth introduces the reader into a world foreign to most but stories that are heart-warming for mothers and their children alike.
Busy moms (& dads), this is a fascinating look back in time and insight into the world of midwifery medicine and childbirth in 1950s London. Worth delves into the nitty-gritty of her life, her world and the experiences of a midwife in a pre-modern obstetric care, pre-birth control era. In this memoir, she balances judgment about herself and her own actions as well as those for whom she cared with fascinating honesty. We all assess judgments, but not as many of us reflect on those judgments and see the errors we have made or search out opportunities to correct ourselves. Her refreshing honesty about areas in which she was not open-minded or made harsh assessments without knowing all the facts served as a reminder that we should all step back and evaluate our own actions.
The book is divided into chapters by cases or patients. Some of them are fascinating, others gut-wrenching and most heart-warming. All of them stick with you. The exact time frame of the book is a bit unclear, but it is all from Worth’s early midwifery career and time with the nun-midwives of the Nonnatus House convent. She explores the history of midwifery leading up to the 1950s and touches briefly on what would change in the years ahead, but keeps the focus on the stories on pregnancy, childbirth and life for the women of East End London in those years.
It’s a book of personal stories, and personal experiences, so there is a lot of passive voice. Despite this, it’s an easy read. In my experience reading it, I found the material fascinating but often felt like an outsider looking in on Worth’s stories. The action scenes: women laboring and delivering children into the world, Worth interacting with both her fellow nurse-midwives, the nuns and other friends, were more engrossing. There’s a great deal of scene-setting, but for those unfamiliar with London, the areas of the city and life in the fifties, as I was, these are necessary details. The nature of Worth’s story-telling was not so distracting that I had difficulty keeping engaged or interested in the book.
All-in-all, this book should have a place on the shelves of every mother, and perhaps every person who has a mother. Those of us fortunate enough to have entered our child-bearing years in the current era of modern medicine have substantially less risk of complications or death as the result of pregnancy and childbirth. Many may have little knowledge of the dangers that existed, and the realities of everyday life for women from previous generations. This book pays tribute to those who came before us and the sacrifices they made, and serves as a reminder to appreciate many of the things often taken for granted that were not widely available even seventy-five years ago.
Have you read Call the Midwife or is it on your “to-read” shelf? What was your favorite part? Have you read the other medical memoirs? If so, which is your favorite, and why?
I’m always on the lookout for new books to add to the “to-read-and-review” shelf, especially by indie or newly published authors. If you have any to recommend, please share in the comments and many thanks!
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Featured image: Book cover, images from the PBS Series “Call the Midwife”