(The Midwife Trilogy #1)
Review copy provided by publisher
Hachette, September 2012
Synopsis- Jennifer Worth was just twenty-two when she volunteered to spend her early years of midwifery training in London’s East End in the 1950s. Coming from a sheltered background there were tough lessons to be learned. The conditions in which many women gave birth just half a century ago were horrifying.
Review- My review copy of Call the Midwife arrived well after I commenced watching the six-episode series on television. I fell in love with this show immediately and I enjoyed discussing it with some of my colleagues who have previously worked as midwives. Usually, I prefer to read a book prior to watching the adaptation but in this instance, I really liked having a picture of the characters in my mind and a visual hint of the East End setting.
The author, Jennifer Worth worked as a midwife during the 1950’s and developed a bestselling books series on her experiences. She died in May 2011 after a brief illness.
Call the Midwife is not your typical memoir; in fact I don’t feel I got to know Jennifer Worth very well at all, as a person outside of her profession. Instead, she became the eyes, the ears and the nose for me as a reader and provided the looking glass into the people of London’s East End in the 1950’s. Nurse Jenny Lee (the author) was obviously brought up in a wealthy family and she is shocked by the patients she is allocated when she accepts a position at Nonnatus House a convent run by nuns. The nuns are also midwives and provide antenatal care to pregnant women in the area and oversee home births.
Worth’s account of her experience is both fascinating and authentic, she’s not afraid to admit there were times she felt naïve, disgusted or scared. Nurse Jenny found her initial revulsion of working with women residing in poverty evolved into admiration of the strength they possess in the face of adversity. There were pregnant women with Rickets, Syphilis and even a woman due to have her twenty-fourth child. She delivered her first breech baby and her first premature baby and in those moments I felt completely drawn into each of these emotionally charged scenes.
I was particularly fascinated by the alternate care provided by a mother of a baby born at twenty-eight weeks. She refused Hospital care and this baby thrived with its mother’s love. Nowadays, if a baby was born that early, the mother would have no choice in how a baby would be treated. I really enjoyed reading about how situations like this were managed in the 50’s before our society became so medicalised. Worth portrays the speech of the times extremely well too, with the Cockney accent in its element in the East End.
Now having watched the TV series and read the book I can say I love them both just as much as each other. I think the TV adaptation kept very closely to the book and closely examined the lives of the women the midwives have contact with. The TV series probably just organised the stories within the novel in a sequential way, which makes sense for easier viewing. I think the way each character portrayed on TV was kept true to Worth’s voice, even so much as the narrator feeling like it was Worth herself telling the story.
I laughed when I read the description of Chummy in the book who is one of my favourite characters on the show:
“The first time I saw Camilla Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne (“just call me Chummy”), I thought it was a bloke in drag. Six foot two inches tall, with shoulders like a front-row forward and size eleven feet, her parents had spent a fortune trying to make her more feminine, but to no effect.” (pg. 41).
If you’ve watched the show, I’m sure you’ll have a giggle too!
Call the Midwife is a deeply engrossing story about the role of a midwife in the East End in the 50’s, it’s a story that will make you laugh, move you and make you want to watch the series- or in my case, want to watch it again! I believe a series two is on the horizon in 2013- very excited!
I intend to read more of the Midwife series by Worth, starting with book two Shadows of the Workhouse.
The trailer for Call the Midwife series 1:
Call the Miwife can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers
Call the Midwife, Season One is also available at Fishpond for pre-order.