Way, way back,
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.