I joined the party almost a decade late, but Call the Midwife is a BBC TV Series that you can begin now without feeling behind. The show is based on Jennifer Worth’s best-selling memoirs, a woman who wrote about her real life work in midwifery and serving families in London’s East End town of Poplar during the 1950s.
The Real Life History of Call the Midwife
Poplar was heavily bombed during World War II and many were left without food or shelter. Throughout each episode you will catch glimpses of what life was like for the nurses, midwives, and nuns who provided care for all those living in the impoverished district of Poplar. Worth was motivated to write her memoirs out of her desire to share the legacy of the community she served. Thanks to her diligent record keeping, every episode in the first three seasons is based on real events! Worth’s character appears as the main protagonist of the first three seasons as Nurse Jenny Lee.
While the show depicts the Anglican Nuns as belonging to the Order of St. Raymond Nonnatus and living in Nonnatus House along with the midwives, the real Sisters were the Anglican Religious Sisters of Saint John the Divine. The St. Frideswide’s Mission House where these sisters lived can still be standing on Poplar’s Lodore Street. A place they called home since being called to in 1880.
Key Characters in Call the Midwife
There are many characters to love in CTMW, but here are a few who play key roles.
Nurse Jenny Lee
Nurse Jenny Lee is the narrator of the series, and she plays the real-life Jennifer Worth. She moved to Poplar with the hopes of forgetting the married man with whom she fell in love.
Sister Julienne is a middle-aged woman with a deep faith and serves as the leading Sister of Nonnatus House. She is steadfast, practical, and respectful, always assuming the best of people. Her wisdom and peaceful demeanor hold the convent together.
Dr. Turner is a widower, a father, and Poplar’s main doctor. He holds a strong and respectful relationship with the midwives and nurses of Nonnatus House.
The show is made so much brighter by Fred’s joyful character! He is the Nonnatus House handyman and also works as a Civil Defence Volunteer. He’s always ready to lend a hand!
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While I find each episode of CTMW captivating, this doesn’t make every episode easy to watch.
The Risk of Love
There are episodes when babies are stillborn and mothers die in childbirth. In one episode a husband and father loses both his newborn child and his wife. As Nurse Jenny Lee grapples with this tragedy, her peer, Nurse Cynthia tries to bring her comfort saying:
You have to be brave to be in love, knowing that your heart may get broken at some point along the way….We mustn’t let fear stop us.
This quotation reminds me of what C.S. Lewis talks about in his book The Four Loves:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one.
Later on in the season, Nurse Lee will experience her own devastating loss. One of the nuns at Nonnatus House will come to her aid with the words of wisdom:
You will feel better than this, maybe not yet, but you will. You just keep living until you are alive again.
These words don’t erase the pain, nor the continuity of the pain, but they do offer the comfort of an honest friend, as well as a way forward.
Selflessness + Generosity
In another episode, there are young children who were abandoned by their mother and have been brought to Nonnatus House to be both fed and bathed. Three of the siblings are covered with fleas and lice, and the suggestion is made to shave their heads. At the sound of this the always glamorous and fashion-forward Nurse Trixie Franklin hurries to their defense saying:
There is nothing the matter with these children’s heads that a bit of time and attention can’t cure. We have plenty of the former and the latter costs nothing.
I was struck by this comment because the midwives and nuns of Nonnatus House are constantly busy. They are running from home to home on medical calls (sometimes in the middle of the night), working in the clinic, or simply trying to get some rest at the end of the day. Yet they always seem to find more room in their heart to love and more time to offer.
Another example of this is an episode when Nurse Barbara willingly makes more work for herself by offering to bring expressed breast milk from a mother to her baby who was in the NICU which was a bike-ride away.
A Shift In Agenda
While I wholeheartedly recommend Call the Midwife to friends and family (it’s become a show I love watching with both my mom and mother-in-law!), I do have to say that I noticed a significant shift in the content of the show after the end of season 3, and am currently towards the end of watching season 4.
Political agendas become much more apparent including graphically-portrayed controversial topics such as homosexual relationships, contraception, and abortion (with one abortion appearing in season 2, episode 5).
With this in mind, I would say that if you continue watching past the third season you will still find moments of laughter and love, but there is also a lot more in the show that may challenge a Christian worldview, so my recommendations for this series stand mainly with seasons 1-3.
Words of Wisdom
Call the Midwife isn’t just a television show about women having babies and nurses coming to their aid. The episodes also depict both the richness and the struggles of love—romantic love and the kind of love needed when living in community. It shows the very real and relatable joys and challenges involved with friendship, faith, family, and motherhood. The characters in this series are single, newly married, widowers, celibate… the list goes on. Whatever stage of life you find yourself in, I do not doubt there is an episode with an uplifting message you can apply to your life.
In the words of Jennifer Worth:
We stumble on cracks, are faced with imperfection, bonds tested and tightened. And our landscapes shift in sunshine and in shade. There is light. There is. Look for it.
Where do you find light in your life?
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