Call The Midwife: A Memoir Of Birth, Joy, And Hard Times

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Call The Midwife: A Memoir Of Birth, Joy, And Hard Times

by Jennifer Worth

Penguin Publishing Group | August 29, 2012 | Trade Paperback

Call The Midwife: A Memoir Of Birth, Joy, And Hard Times is rated 5 out of 5 by 1.
The highest-rated drama in BBC history, Call the Midwife will delight fans of Downton Abbey

Viewers everywhere have fallen in love with this candid look at post-war London. In the 1950s, twenty-two-year-old Jenny Lee leaves her comfortable home to move into a convent and become a midwife in London''s East End slums. While delivering babies all over the city, Jenny encounters a colorful cast of women—from the plucky, warm-hearted nuns with whom she lives, to the woman with twenty-four children who can''t speak English, to the prostitutes of the city''s seedier side.

           
Based on Jennifer Worth''s bestselling memoirs, Call the Midwife is the true story behind the beloved PBS series.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 352 pages, 7.97 × 5.27 × 0.7 in

Published: August 29, 2012

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0143123254

ISBN - 13: 9780143123255

Found in: Social Science

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superbly Written Memoir! Story Description: Penguin Books USA|September 4, 2012|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-14-312325-5 Jennifer Worth was just twenty-two when she volunteered to spend her early years of midwifery training in London’s East End in the 1950’s. 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. My Review: At Nonnatus House lived a long list of midwives and was situated in the heart of the London Docklands. The practice covered a wide area from Stephney to Limehouse to Millwall to the Isle of Dogs and beyond. Family life was lived in close quarters and children brought up by a widely extended family of aunts, grandparents, cousins, and older siblings, all living with a few houses of each other. Often families of up to nineteen lived in 3 rooms and the conditions were deplorable. Fleas and lice were common pests. There was no transportation in those days so the midwives rode bicycles to the homes of their patients to deliver babies. Riding a bicycle through rain, thick fog, and freezing temperatures at two or three in the morning was no picnic I’m sure. Children were everywhere, and streets were their playgrounds. In the 1950’s there were no cars on the back streets, because no one had a car, so it was safe to play there. In some very overcrowded houses, domestic violence was expected. But gratuitous violence was never heard of towards the elderly. People worked hard for their money, working long eighteen hour days unloading crates at the docks. Employment was high, but wages were low. Early marriage was the norm and most families had fourteen to nineteen children until the introduction of the pill in the 1960’s and the modern woman was born. Women were no longer tied to the cycle of endless babies. In the late 1950’s there were 80-100 deliveries per month and in 1963 that number dropped to 4 or 5 a month! Nursing and midwifery were in a deplorable state and was not considered a respectable occupation for any educated woman. In the nineteenth century no poor woman could afford to pay the fee required by a doctor for the delivery of her baby. So she was forced to rely on the services of an un-trained, self-taught midwife, or “handywoman.” Finally in 1902 the first Midwives Act was passed and the Royal College of Midwives was born. The work of the Midwives of St. Raymund Nonnatus was based upon a foundation of religious discipline. Jennifer Worth first met with the Midwives of St. Raymund Nonnatus in the 1950’s and it turned out to be the best experience of her life. At first, Jennifer wondered why she’d ever started this midwifery thing – she could have been anything: a model, air hostess, or a ship’s stewardess but there she is at 2:30 in the morning riding her bicycle through the rain soaked streets on her way to a delivery after a 17-hour work day and only 3 hours sleep. As she arrives at the home of her patient, she is greeted by a congregation of women –the patient’s mother, two grandmothers, two or three aunts, sisters, best friends, and a neighbour. In the middle of this gaggle of women is a solitary man. The patient is, Muriel, a girl of twenty-five who is having her fourth baby. Jennifer realizes quickly that Muriel is nearing the end of her second stage of labour. As Jennifer prepares to conduct an internal exam, she sees another pain come upon her – you can see it building in strength until it seems her poor body will break apart. Jennifer readies her tray of equipment – scissors, cord clamps, cord tape, fetal stethoscope, kidney dishes, gauze, cotton swabs and artery forceps. Muriel’s pains are coming every 3 minutes now and suddenly her water breaks and floods the bed. With the next contraction Jennifer can see the head. More and more contractions come and the head is coming fast, too fast! She tells Muriel to pant, the head is out and she is just delivering the shoulders. Finally the baby slides out and it’s a boy! Jennifer is excited, she now understands why she does this job. She steps outside in the bright morning sunlight with plans to return to see the new mother again at noon hour and once more in the evening. However, as you will read, not all her deliveries go quite so well. Jennifer’s life developed from a childhood disrupted by war, a passionate love affair at only age sixteen, and the knowledge three years later that she had to get away. So, for “purely pragmatic reasons, my choice was nursing.” Does she regret it? “Never, never, never. I wouldn’t swap my job for anything on earth.” Call the Midwife is an honest look at midwifery in the 1950’s and 1960’s and the deplorable conditions that these women were forced to bear their children under. Without Midwives, I don’t know what these women would have done. I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir and read it in one sitting.
Date published: 2012-10-19

– More About This Product –

Call The Midwife: A Memoir Of Birth, Joy, And Hard Times

by Jennifer Worth

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 352 pages, 7.97 × 5.27 × 0.7 in

Published: August 29, 2012

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0143123254

ISBN - 13: 9780143123255

From the Publisher

The highest-rated drama in BBC history, Call the Midwife will delight fans of Downton Abbey

Viewers everywhere have fallen in love with this candid look at post-war London. In the 1950s, twenty-two-year-old Jenny Lee leaves her comfortable home to move into a convent and become a midwife in London''s East End slums. While delivering babies all over the city, Jenny encounters a colorful cast of women—from the plucky, warm-hearted nuns with whom she lives, to the woman with twenty-four children who can''t speak English, to the prostitutes of the city''s seedier side.

           
Based on Jennifer Worth''s bestselling memoirs, Call the Midwife is the true story behind the beloved PBS series.

About the Author

Jennifer Worth trained as a nurse at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading. She then moved to London to train as a midwife. She later became a staff nurse at the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, and then ward sister and sister at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in Euston. Music had always been her passion, and in 1973 Jennifer left nursing in order to study music intensively. She gained the Licentiate of the London College of Music in 1974 and was awarded a Fellowship ten years later. Jennifer married Philip Worth in 1963 and they lived together in Hertfordshire. Jennifer died in May 2011, leaving her husband, two daughters and three grandchildren.

Bookclub Guide

INTRODUCTION
“Whoever heard of a midwife as a literary heroine? Yet midwifery is in itself the very stuff of drama and melodrama” (p. xi).

In the early 1950s, Jennifer Worth became a nurse. After her general training, she found herself in the convent of the Midwives of St. Raymund Nonnatus, an order of Anglican nuns devoted to delivering babies in the slums of the London Docklands. An agnostic, she little expected that she would eventually spend two and a half years with the sisters that would transform her life forever.

Although a mere fifty years distant, the world of Call the Midwife is profoundly different from our own. The Pill was yet to be introduced, and the average nuclear family was several times larger than it is today. Parents with a dozen or more children regularly shared two or three rooms, counting themselves lucky to have an indoor cold–water tap with which to manage the cooking, cleaning, and endless piles of laundry. Equally astonishing is Worth’s recollection that she and her colleagues—unlike the area’s policemen—could safely traverse the East End’s unlit roads at night, alone. “So deep is the respect, even reverence, of the roughest, toughest docker for the district midwives that we can go anywhere alone, day or night, without fear” (p. 10).

It is within this milieu that young Worth encounters the vastness of the human drama and a cast of characters worthy of Dickens. Her antenatal rounds bring her into intimate contact with the women of London’s working class—from Brenda, physically bowed by Rickets but possessed of indomitable good spirits, to Molly, a teenage bride whose brutal husband forces her into prostitution and imperils the lives of their three children, to Conchita, a native Spaniard who does not speak the same language as her doting husband but is about to deliver their twenty–fourth child. Worth relates their stories and more with compassion and affection in equal measure.

Working side–by–side among the sisters, Worth soon learns that they, too, possess compelling histories. Sister Monica Joan is a mischievous and slightly dotty octogenarian when Worth meets her at Nonnatus House but in her youth, the sister defied her aristocratic family to become a nun and midwife, eventually delivering thousands of babies in London through the worst bombings of the Blitz. However, it is Sister Evangelina who most surprises Worth. After accompanying the abrupt and seemingly humorless nun on her rounds, Worth discovers that the sister is a war heroine who is beloved by her patients for her scatological tales and ability to emit a fart of Chaucerian proportions. Wise and saintly Sister Julienne is the stability of the convent, and clever Sister Bernadette is the perfect midwife.

Written in response to an article in The Midwives Journal lamenting the notable absence of midwives in literature, Call the Midwife offers a riveting look behind the scenes at one of the world’s earliest and most little–known professions. Worth’s memoir of her early years at Nonnatus House is alternately heartwarming and heart–wrenching and the stories she shares will fascinate anyone who enjoys a good yarn—but especially anyone who has ever had or plans to have a child.

 


ABOUT JENNIFER WORTH

Jennifer Worth is a former midwife as well as a writer and musician. She lives in London.

 


A CONVERSATION WITH JENNIFER WORTH

Q. Why do you think midwifery is cloaked in mystery?

Mystery and magic have always surrounded childbirth, mostly due to ignorance. Likewise midwives have been reviled and ridiculed, even feared as witches. Sex, birth, and death are still taboo subjects in varying degrees in different cultures.

Q. Why do you think this is?

Fear, perhaps. Fear of the power these things have over human life. Knowing that we don’t control everything, maybe. I’m not quite sure. Perhaps an anthropologist could tell you, or a philosopher.

Q. Were you ever reviled or ridiculed?

Oh, no, we were valued and respected. But it was not until the beginning of the last century that midwifery as a profession came to be taken seriously. That’s only a hundred years ago, in thousands of years of human history.

Q. What are the characteristics of a successful midwife?

Well, in my day it was said that it took seven years to make a good midwife, so obviously experience counts a good deal. I think the innate ability to inspire confidence in a woman in travail must be high on the list. Training, knowledge, judgment, patience all come into it, and the capacity for hard work.

Q. That sounds like a formidable list. What was the attrition rate among young midwives you have worked with?

Almost nil, I would say.

Q. You mean no one dropped out? No one found they couldn’t take it?

No, not in my experience, and that was because the work was so fulfilling. Job satisfaction is the term we would use today. It is a lovely profession. A midwife is in the thick of life. She is the key figure in the most intense and intimate time of a woman’s life.

Q. Can you relate your favorite experiences as a midwife?

Every new birth was my favorite experience, just the joy, the thrill, the privilege of bringing a new life into the world. I’ve had hundreds of “favorite experiences.” What a wonderful life.

Q. Is that why you wrote the book?

Yes. And also because, aside from textbooks, there is no book in all American or European literature written by a midwife about midwifery. Given the enormity of the subject, that’s extraordinary!

Q. What changes have you seen since you started midwifery fifty years ago?

Well, half a century is a long time and everything has changed. I would say there is more anxiety attending childbirth these days; more caesarian sections, more inductions, more drugs, more drips, more medicine in other words. Childbirth has drifted away from being a natural event into a medical condition requiring medical treatment.

Q. The tide seems to be turning back towards a more natural approach, and many women are choosing a midwife. Do you think this is good?

Yes, but perhaps not for everyone.

Q. What advice would you give to a woman planning her delivery?

Stick to what you think is right for you. If you think a home birth attended by a midwife is best for you, don’t be deflected. But if you would feel safer in a hospital environment, that’s all right too.

Q. What advice would you give to a woman training to be a midwife today?

Always remember you are part of the most wonderful, the most important, and the most privileged calling in the world. Nursing and midwifery are a vocation, not just a job.

Q. You went to Nonnatus House an agnostic, but you found God. Did you contemplate becoming a nun?

That is a very deep question, and I do not readily wear my heart or my faith on my sleeve. Call the Midwife

is the first of a trilogy and the three books together depict a spiritual journey. My life was transformed forever by the sisters. They are still a religious order, and I have ongoing contact and communion with them and lean heavily on them for prayer and guidance.

 


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • Even though the Docklands were notoriously dangerous, the midwives and district nurses were able to walk unaccompanied without fear. Is there a comparable profession today?

  • How many children in a family do you think is ideal? Why?

  • Discuss the Church’s decision to take away Mary’s baby. Would she have been able to provide for it without turning to prostitution?

  • Worth asks, “What woman worthy of the name Mother would stand on a high moral platform about selling her body if her child were dying of hunger and exposure? Not I” (p. 162). Is it biology or psychology that drives women to extreme measures to protect their children while fathers often deny either paternity or their paternal responsibilities?

  • Should Doris have allowed Cyril to send away the baby she bore illegitimately? Did she have a choice?

  • Ted became a loving and wonderful father to Edward without actually being his biological father. How important is biology in the parent–child relationship?

  • Babies as premature as Conchita’s twenty–fifth child are never allowed to stay home today. Do you think he would he have survived if he had been taken to the hospital?

  • After learning their respective histories, Worth radically changes her opinion of both Sister Evangelina and Mrs. Jenkins. Share an episode in your own life when your initial dislike for a person was transformed once you got to know him or her better.

  • During the time that Worth recounts, most women delivered their babies at home and were deeply suspicious of hospitals. Today, the opposite is true. How do you think such a dramatic change came about and is it for better or for worse?

  • If you already have children, did you use a midwife? If you don’t but are planning to have children, would you? Why or why not?