Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Phil 4:6-7

Friday, August 02, 2013

Call the Midwife...finally

Way, way back, weeks months ago, several friends here asked me about my opinion of episode 5 of Call The Midwife season 2.

You know, that episode.

Just in case you don't watch Call The Midwife, let me fill in a few gaps. It's a British television series, just finished two seasons, based on the memoirs (which were published into several books) of Jennifer Worth, a real deal nurse and midwife in the East end (slums) of London, post WWII.

Anyway...I was behind in my viewing when several readers asked my opinion, and so I could not give one. And then, once I knew the subject matter of the episode, I put off watching. At that point, I had a vested interest in the show. Firstly, I had practically endorsed it. Secondly, I so enjoyed it.

I still enjoy it.

I finally got around to watching that episode.

I queued it up to watch one night while my husband was in the room. He was reading, but still aware. After a line early in the episode, delivered by the narrator (the text of the memoirs is frequently read by Vanessa Redgrave), describing life difficult for mothers and fathers of Poplar (the East London area) who were really and truly poor, but blessed with many children,

"Somewhere, faraway, scientists were working on a magic pill rumored to make pregnancy a case of choice, not chance,"

my husband perked up and said, "Did you hear what she just said?" in a very disapproving tone.

To which I responded, "Well, it was true."

I decided maybe I was not being completely unbiased about the show.

But then again, it was true (not saying good, but true).

And that fact, dear friends, is what I kept in mind throughout the episode, which I watched later, by myself, and then again to write down the lines of the script. While not every word, nor even character of the program is authentic (the order of Anglican Sisters is not the Order of St. Raymond Nonnatus, though good choice by the writers -- it is the Order of St. John the Divine), the stories are authentic, at least to my knowledge. I have read the first memoir and many of the stories are the same as those which are told in different episodes.

But lets just say, just for argument's sake, that the story line in episode 5 was not true, that it never happened in the life of Jennifer Worth, and thus she never wrote it down. Does that mean it never happened? Of course, it happened, and just the telling of the story does not make it negative, nor does the not telling make it not so.

Know what I mean?

These stories happened. They still happen, all over the world. Women who are mothers of eight children, and pregnant with the ninth get tired and wish they weren't pregnant. My own mother, when she found out she was pregnant for the third time in just over two years cried for the first trimester. That didn't mean she didn't want her baby, nor would she have done anything to destroy his life, but she was tired, and really wasn't mentally ready for pregnancy. It happens.

But back to Call The Midwife. In this episode, this middle-aged British mother of eight young children, Nora,  did want to "get rid" of her baby. She first tried some herbal potion, purchased by a local woman, and after using it, felt the stirrings of her baby one morning.

The narrator says:

"It is tempting to look back and say that all women were courageous and that we met every challenge with courage and candor, but it was not so."

After Nora realized she had not ended the life of the baby with the potion, she told her husband, "If I don't get rid of it I'm gonna get rid of me self." She then tried a hot bath and a lot of gin, then epsom salts, physical trauma to her abdomen, none of which worked. She finally used the services of a butcher abortionist, and almost died. She did, of course, miscarry, and developed septicemia, and came very close to dying. She was in a coma in the hospital and for whatever reason, she lived.

The scene of the actual abortion was quite gruesome. Given a relaxing "potion" she was essentially held down and her uterus was traumatized by any number of "tools" until it "gave up" the baby.

In the episode, the scene of the abortion was juxtaposed to a scene of Nurse Trixie preparing for a date with a American "star." She had made a deal with him to help raise money for Nonnatus House and her part was to go on a date with him. The scene begins with her painting her nails red and the thick red polish drips onto a white table cloth. (No subtlety necessary there.) In the mean time, Nora, crying out in pain, is being held down and her baby is being butchered. She crawls from the table to the bed, back of her skirt smeared with soaked blood, and the abortionist tells her the baby will pass in a day or so. Trixie's date ends in an attempted date rape and she runs home crying, filled with guilt that somehow it was her fault.

Sister Julienne and Nurse Jenny find Nora and fetch the doctor, and Nora is sent to the hospital to be treated for "miscarriage." Nurse Jenny is overcome with guilt as she knew that Nora might be trying to intentionally miscarry her baby. Sister Julienne says, "The world is full of people who want to be rid of children they can not afford to feed and haven't the energy to nurture. We can only give love and encouragement and warning."

To those readers who felt that this episode of Call the Midwife was endorsing abortion, I ask what part of that statement is untrue? The world is full of people who find children inconvenient. Most don't already have eight children. This situation happened during a time when abortion was illegal and the mother could have been jailed. That didn't stop her.

Abortion should be illegal and we should be giving love and encouragement to mothers who, for whatever reason, don't want to have a baby. People should not be in intimate relationships unless they are open to life. But our world is mad, mad, mad, and in too many cases, that situation is just not reality. There should be a loving mother and father eagerly anticipating the birth of every single baby in this world. But our world, this time, is an imperfect world, and imperfect time.

It is my personal opinion that this episode of Call the Midwife was not in any way endorsing legal abortion. In fact, I think it showed just how brutal an act it is. Abortions today are legal in many countries, including our own. Three thousand woman a day, just in the U.S., go through that same act, though maybe not quite so brutal for the mother, at least in appearance (although in many countries it is more brutal). It is still just as brutal to her poor body and the body of her poor unborn baby. It is such an unjust act.

The nurse and midwife Jennifer Worth may have been a feminist. She may later have decided that abortion should be legal, but I don't think that is what this episode was about.

In the final scene of the episode, the Harding children (Nora's children) are running through green fields in their new town 30 miles away from London, they finally escaped the poverty of Poplar. The children are happy and some would say the portrayal is disgusting in light of the fact that their mother intentionally killed the youngest baby in the family. But does any living child of an abortive mother understand what has happened? And does a mother who has aborted her own child stop living afterward? That is the secret of abortion. The parties involved all pretend it didn't happen, or that it's ok that it happened. It's called intellectual dishonesty.

Again, my opinion, but I have never enjoyed a television show more that rejoices in the beauty of the birth of a new baby. With each new baby cry the camera focuses on happy faces, women who are stunned, each and every time, that new life is so beautiful. Maybe I am watching through rose-colored glasses, but that's how I see it.

I will continue to watch, and enjoy the beauty of God-centered, and life-loving television as is almost unavailable anywhere else.

During the episode I wrote about here, the Sisters of Nonnatus House are heard chanting Psalm 51 during the praying of the Hours:

Have mercy upon me, O God, after thy great goodness: according to the multitude of thy mercies do away mine offenses. Wash me throughly from my wickedness: and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my faults : and my sin is ever before me.


  1. I can't watch the show because it's too medical for my tastes so I have no opinion on this episode or any other. But I will say, my MIL, mother of nine has said that she did not greet every positive pregnancy tests with joy. Sometimes she cried. I looked at my husband who was the second half of a set of Irish twins and said, "You know she's talking about you!" :)

  2. I've only seen season 1, but I remember someone saying that all those poor mothers were heroines, which I think is definitely looking through rose-colored glasses! Most of them give birth to their babies and love them while they may not be particularly happy about it. The Missionaries of Charity teach the Indian women (and probably others, now) about the mucus-only method of NFP. I wonder how well-known that was in the 60's, and if it might have been taught at all. That might have been a valuable service for the mums who really couldn't handle any more.

    I like the show, too. I think it shows reality without putting too much spin on it.

  3. I didn't like it. My children have never gone hungry. I could see where someone would or could despair from trying to feed so many. She seemed to just complain about being tired. My grandma had 9 another of my grandmas had 10..my step-mother had 16 in their family..and yes..a lot of the families were poor.

    I know that a lot of people close their hearts to children because of the expense and "too tired".

    Sorry, in my opinion, I thought it was just a horrible episode. true or not.

  4. I was quite tense as I watched this episode, and it's the only one I've erased after recording. I do love the show, however... probably it's my favorite t.v. show of all time. I'm looking forward a LOT to the next season!

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  6. I remember trying to explain this episode to someone (maybe christine?) and saying "It did happen" SO I agree with you.

    That being said, I did not like how they showed her happy and carefree running in the fields afterward, because we all know the pain and loss women who have had abortions feel. I wish they would have ended it more solemnly, with more of a sad ending. (the filming) I think the way they ended it, it OK's the legal abortions now, and how now, abortions are "safe"...I may be reading too much into it though.

    Does that make sense?

  7. Charlotte,
    I think there were a lot of women, and still are today, who spend time after that positive pregnancy test mourning some sort of life they thought they might enjoy without another infant. But God bless those who chose life! Another soul for God!

  8. Sara,
    I agree. I think it's mostly reality back then, although the nurses certainly didn't live the lives of their patients!

  9. Christine,
    You are certainly free to give me your opinion, any time. ;-)

  10. Nancy,
    I am just hoping the next season stays "on-track" with the way the first two seasons were written.

  11. Jamie,
    Only because I watched the episode three times I know that Nora Harding was not skipping through the fields at the end of the episode. The children were, but I addressed that in my post. Nora trailed behind, her husband turned to call out to her. She looked sort of happy, but then women who have had abortions don't wear "scarlet letters," do they? They put on a good face. And I think that is the sad reality of abortion.

  12. I get what you are saying I just wish they would not have portrayed it that way in the show, the filming of it.

  13. It is important to realize the "mental adjustment" every woman goes through with every positive pregnancy test - even those who have prayed for a child. This is not a phenomenon particular to the tired and hungry. As part of the new evangelization we can be a part of changing attitudes toward life.

  14. Thanks for this! I love the show, too, and it was even harder watching this after the (what I considered) life-affirming episode right before, of the baby with spina bifida.
    I love that it affirms NORMAL birth. That issues which are considered automatic c-sections today (breech babies, cord around the neck) are handled with calm aplomb and the wisdom of the older sisters.
    I also couldn't help but notice that the problems of the family are not the children themselves but the poverty they live in - the rat bite, the terrible apartment. I saw that more as a commentary on a society that doesn't support families, the problems of a big city, etc.
    So thank you, I'm glad I found this. I still love the show and am looking forward to season 3

  15. This episode wasn't endorsing abortion, so much as painting a picture of the REAL reasons that women have them. Not because they are "tired" or because it is an "inconvenience" - but because they are destitute or otherwise desperate, terrified and faced with insurmountable odds. The mother in that episode did not seek to abort her baby because she was "tired", she did so because her other eight children would starve if they added another mouth to feed. She begged for contraception, sterilization, she tried preventative herbs, and finally she let a woman stick a dirty hook inside her and scrape out her insides - not because she was "tired". She was terrified and desperate, and saw no other way for her family to survive. She was being a good mother - by having an abortion. And it is disgustingly unfair to write that off as "tired". It is a travesty of justice to call that kind of desperate, horrific, impossible struggle an "inconvenience".

    Pro-life advocates too quickly and easily villify and demonize women who have abortions; seeing these women as somehow less morally upright makes it a black-and-white issue; but the world is almost NEVER black and white. They call such women selfish, lazy, uncaring, irreverent of life and their reproductive ability; this episode was there to show the whole picture - the real face of women who choose abortions. A mother would never choose to sacrifice a child unless she felt she had no other choice. And that is what I would hope this episode, on a show about the wondrous nature of birth, would ram through a few thick, willfully ignorant skulls.

    It also showed what may become of women who are denied access to legal medical abortions; the fear and pain they endure, the danger, the injury and the sickness. I have heard some pro-life people say that women who would choose abortion deserve these things; and to that, I'd have to say, no one deserves those things, and people who think so are not very Christian.

    This episode absolutely endorsed the use of contraception. The opening and closing narration makes that clear:

    Opening: "Somewhere far away 'scientists were working on a magic pill, rumoured to make pregnancy a case of choice, not chance. News of it reached us as from another galaxy. Meanwhile, other scientists were striving to send humans to the moon. To the mothers of Poplar, this goal must have seemed as reachable, and likely."

    Ending: "The butchered termination of Nora Harding's last, unendurable pregnancy gave her septicaemia, and left her in a coma. Nora's life was saved by doctors who asked no questions. She never conceived again. Free, reliable contraception came too late to help her. But, in time, the scientists triumphed. Her daughters' and granddaughters' lives remain transfigured, long after man left fleeting footprints on the moon."

    Any truly pro-life advocate ought to support free, reliable access to contraception as well, because THAT is how you will reduce the number of abortions; not through shaming and villifying and traumatizing women, or making abortion illegal (as it was in this episode and still happened anyway, almost depriving eight children of their mother), but by helping to prevent unwanted or unsupportable pregnancies before they start by educating women and girls about safe sexual practices and contraception.

    1. Jody, I disagree with you on many points. First, Call the Midwife does not go into the many forms of charity and government aid available to poor families in post-war England in the form of food and clothing. Nor does it go into the humility involved in asking for help. The family would not have "starved to death" as you say, but would have had to humble themselves to ask for help. In fact, due to rationing in post-WWII England, the poor were better off after the war than before, not that they were rich by any means, but they would not have starved to death.

      I don't think you will agree, as you don't seem to think it was a an issue of the mother being tired, or worn out or depressed (even though she mentioned throwing herself out the window on at least two occasions), but her crisis was a temporary situation -- the pregnancy. If she and her husband could truly not take care of the baby there were agencies that would place the baby in an adoptive home. Whereas the murder of a child is most permanent.

      As a truly pro-life individual, I do not believe that contraception is the answer. In fact, contraception is more often than not the fault in our society today. The Guttmacher Institute reports that 54% of women seeking abortions were using contraception the month they became pregnant. That doesn't sound like a very good solution, does it? On the contrary, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was able to teach very uneducated and poor women how to use natural family planning with 99% success -- and that means that on some days of the month abstinence in required. Many people, however, think that humans have animal instincts and are incapable of using their brains to abstain from intercourse.

      Legalizing abortion does one thing -- it takes the guilt away from the doctor and the patient who know, absolutely know, in their hearts that they are murdering another human being. Denying that fact is intellectual dishonesty.


I appreciate your comments -- sometimes I feel like I'm talking to myself!