Call the Midwife
The BBC series Call the Midwife, with Jessica Raine and Pam Ferris, has been very successful in England and has most recently charmed the American public. The two seasons are based on Jennifer Worth’s Call the Midwife trilogy: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times, Shadows of the Workhouse, and Farewell to the East End.
Jennifer Worth, a former nurse, worked with a religious order of nuns in the most overcrowded and underprivileged district of London in the early 50's. Dedicated to serving the poor, offering prenatal care, and delivering babies in homes, the Anglican sisters hired secular midwives to help them with their duties. In her books, Worth recounts her most memorable and traumatic experiences with warmth and empathy, blending humor and sadness. The BBC television series' nostalgic atmosphere reflects a lost way of life, and its dramatic content conveys the emotional upheavals Worth experienced there.
The Midwife of Hope River
Another former nurse, Patricia Harman, has written about similar underprivileged and destitute mothers living in the Appalachians in the thirties. In her touching novel, The Midwife of Hope River, numerous anecdotes describe the arduous and demanding tasks of the midwives who received no payment most of the time. They were forbidden to perform internal exams or employ drugs by the West Virginia Midwifery Statute, and therefore had to break the law to save lives. The statute also required them to be of "good moral character,” so striving midwife Patience Murphy, the book’s main protagonist, had to behave!
Midwifery in the Amish Community
Amish midwife Abigail Graber, in Mary Ellis' novel Abigail's New Hope, has no choice but to break the law as well in order to assist a patient in distress by administering medication. Although the baby is saved, Abigail ends up behind bars, held responsible for the mother's death. Midwifery is essential in the Amish communities which favor home deliveries: the persona of the midwife is often found in Amish novels such as The Amish Midwife by Mindy Starns Clark.
Midwives Around the World
Drama, adventure, and romance await 16th century Venetian protagonist Hannah in Roberta Rich's novels, The Midwife of Venice and The Harem Midwife. Hannah must not only use the expedients of her times such as herbal potions, birthing spoons and delivery stools, but also ruse and cunning in order to confront religious taboos and superstitions ("djinns sawing wombs closed"). For your entertainment only....
The Midwife of St. Petersburg by Linda Lee Chaikin takes place in the Czarist Russia of 1914. The historical background is inherent to the fate of the heroine, a young Jewish woman who aspires to attend the Imperial College of Medicine and Midwifery. Bravely facing poverty, social ostracism and anti-Semitism, Karen Peshkova assists her mother, the village midwife.
Although from a well-to do American family, the heroine of Robin Oliveira’s My Name is Mary Sutter is also a midwife rejected from the college-level study because of her gender. She works on the front lines during the Civil War in order to learn. This story of a courageous young woman determined to become a surgeon is a well-documented novel with a solid historical background.
Paying Tribute to Midwives
In today's world, almost eighty percent of babies are delivered by midwives. All those stories emphasize their dedication, hard work, and selflessness. Each day is filled with joy and a sense of accomplishment, but also pain, sorrow and drama.
"What we do for a living is like walking on a straight razor: life on one side, death on the other" Patricia Harman.
Jocelyne.C is an extra-help Library Assistant for SMCL, but also a mother of three. She dedicates this blog to the nurses who helped her long ago….