Call The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

11 Jan


From the minute I saw the trailer of ‘Call The Midwife’, a new BBC drama, I was swayed to watch it as it appeared to be a sweet and sentimental journey down memory lane. It was only on seeing the credits, that I saw that it was based on the same titled book by Jennifer Worth  ( published by Orion House ISBN 978-1-4072-2804-4)

So, I managed to find a copy in my local charity shop and couldn’t wait to read it, expecting it to be as whimsical or nostalgic as it appeared on the screen. How wrong I was!

The paperback version of  ‘Call The Midwife’ states on the front cover that it is “A true story of the East End in the 1950’s”. I didn’t realise that although the television series comes across in a slight dewy-eyed , soft focussed light, the elements of certain scenes in the book are written with  much more explicit detail and real-life characters are depicted as being more practical, robust, naive, ignorant, cruel and needy in the cold harsh light of reality.

Jennifer starts by questionning her decisions or reasons as to why she chose to become a midwife, and immediately you can almost hear the warmth and good nature of her being in her voice. She then describes the landscape, her workshift with a soon-to-be mum and the eventual birth. This then leads to how she came to Nonnatus House,  a private hospital run by nuns, her introductions to the Sisters and other trainee midwives…

Most of the people Jennifer wrote about appeared to have have “heart and soul” and as a reader, you feel for their plight or situation. Each chapter introduces you to either the members of staff she worked and lived with, her patients and her working relationship with them. Jennifer writes with passion and sincerity. She has the ability to draw you in and then, just when you wonder what happened to the person, like a good medical practitioner, she fills in the outcome of each individual story with as much information she can provide before moving onto the next segue.

Each chapter gripped my imagination and fired my thirst to read more. The style of writing is not sentimental, and does not hold back on  describing birth scenes, the stench and decay of homes and the inhabitants, the sordidness of brothels, the exposure of one young girl named Mary to prostitution, the social stigma associated with unmarried or single mums and racial tensions of the time. Discrimination rears its ugly head in many guises and the author does not gloss over the issue. There is dry humour as well as drama and tragedy in some cases.

Her observations of life in the East End of London accurately described the poverty, the conditions of living in tenement blocks, the home and work life of individuals. As well as interspersing the story telling with timely, professional information and how midwifery has changed since then, Ms Worth also wryly observed how bureaucracy, medical advances, technology has either improved the way in which hospitals and medical staff relate to one another and their patients  or seemed to have reduced the kindly, friendly, compassionate caring nature of the medical profession.

What started off as reading a book about one womans’  journey into the realms of training to becoming a midwife, became a wonderfully engaging piece of social history.  An evocative, thought-provoking book which led me to re-assess my own professional aspirations and my place in the caring profession.

I can only hope that if I were to write about my own experiences, it would be as worthy as ‘Call the Midwife’ by Jennifer Worth.


The Learned Kat


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