I am a woman who never wanted children. I don’t coo at babies, I don’t desire to interact with them until they are about 2-years old when we can communicate and giggle together; but admittedly I marvel at their soft skin unmoved by time’s implacable hand, reminding me how, as a young girl, I would intentionally bump into women wearing glistening black, silky fur coats on the streets of NYC, covertly trailing my hand along the velvety down, for a fleeting caress. So when my sister, among others, told me to watch CALL THE MIDWIFE a BBC series on Netflix I scoffed at the idea.
But I was mistaken - this series is not only about babies brought into the world assisted by nurse and nun midwives working in the poverty-stricken East End of London (Poplar) in the 1950’s and 1960’s - an area that was beginning to recover from the devastation of World War II, which still cast a long shadow on the lives of the people at a critical time of historical change - each episode chronicles a pressing issue that impacted women then and even today.
Every conceivable birthing situation is addressed along with a diverse group of expectant mothers who come to the bustling clinic with toddlers, teens, and family in tow. Movingly the women are seen as individuals many of whom are struggling with poverty, abuse, and often unwelcome pregnancies at a time when contraception was not available. Women stayed home and had babies the choices made for them by society’s strictures. Some critics might regard CALL THE MIDWIFE as a sentimental look at the status of women in the mid-20th century, but the bleak realities of economic and spiritual deprivation are spotlighted with a penetrating lens.
The nuns and nurse/midwives live at Nonnatus House which is a convent dedicated to interacting with the Poplar community; a place that salvages the neighborhood’s wounds and is a sanctuary for the populace to escape their hardship and engage with one another. I embraced each of the extraordinary kind and generous caregivers. Despite being idealized we see the flaws, insecurities, and childhoods imprinted on their psyches. Every person has a story that is shunted into darkness; many have secrets that could not be revealed for fear of isolation and expulsion. There is a breadth to the scope of this series’ view of humanity which is not often brought to light. CALL THE MIDWIFE addresses the goodness in society —even if that goodness is just a kernel dreamily floating in the universe.