I had a long post written about Call the Midwife and how it addresses multiple social issues against the backdrop of post-War England, but, gosh, it was dull. Nurse Trixie’s eyes would have glazed over halfway through and Nurse Jenny Lee would have given it a polite smile, then moved on to something more interesting. I shudder to think what Sister Monica Joan’s response would have been.
It’s true, Call the Midwife does address multiple social issues (poverty, classism, racism, abuse, prostitution, obsession, mental illness, neglect, incest, alcoholism, abortion), but it is also utterly charming and optimistic.
Call the Midwife follows several young nurse midwives serving the Poplar neighborhood in London’s East End in the late 1950’s. Partnered with Nonnatus House, a convent run by the Sisters of the Anglican Community of St John the Divine, these young women are part of the new nationwide social healthcare system introduced shortly after World War II. The National Health System (NHS), just a decade old on the show, is committed to providing “comprehensive health and rehabilitation services for prevention and cure of disease” to British citizens (as it still does today).
Although the Sisters and the nurse midwives assigned to Nonnatus House count some of the poorest of London’s population as their patients, in the midst of the challenges they face, we are continuously present for the miracle of birth, the magic of new parents meeting their child for the first time, and the reminder that love prevails in it’s many forms.
The show quickly became a favorite among the women in my family. Between them, my sisters-in-law have 11 children, six of whom were born at home and/or with a midwife assisting and 10 of whom were delivered via natural birth (e.g. no drugs). Both of them are active proponents of home births, so a show not only praising midwifery but presenting the home birth as normal certainly piques our interest. The natural birth focus may have drawn each of us in at the beginning, but it’s the characters who keep us coming back for more.
The cast is almost exclusively female, with the exception of a husband, a handyman, and the occasional father-to-be, patient, or love interest. The nurses and nuns who live at Nonnatus House are joined by the never-ending stream of mothers and mothers-to-be as the baby boom continues. After two seasons, I still can’t decide which character is my favorite – they’re all compelling!
I’m delighted that Chummy is happily married, returned from her rather daring trip to Africa, and expecting her own baby. I’m curious if Sister Monica Joan will be able to continue living at Nonnatus House, or if her increasing dementia will send her elsewhere. Nurses Jenny Lee, Trixi, and Cynthia have all chosen to work rather than marry and set up house, and I can’t help but wonder how this choice will impact them as they get older. And then there’s Jane, the new orderly who is extremely reserved and only just starting to connect with her colleagues.
But as the season finale approaches, I’m most anxious to know what will happen to Sister Bernadette: an increasing connection to Dr. Turner, Poplar’s local physician, and desire to be more like the young, secular nurses living at Nonnatus House have precipitated a crisis of faith for the young nun. Will she recommit to her vows, or will she choose the secular life?
The season finale of Call the Midwife airs tonight at 9/8c on PBS.