East Enders: Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

midwife

This edition of Call the Midwife is kind of a cheat- it’s the television tie-in version. Still, I cannot think of a better review to post on Thanksgiving than this celebration of life.

Jennifer Worth’s full memoir is three volumes accounting her years as a midwife in post- WWII London’s working poor East End. The stories in this edition are all as she wrote them in the original text, but selected based on their use in the excellent BBC/PBS series. I went with this version for the new book club I formed so we could discuss the themes without intimidating members with three volumes.

Call the Midwife is nothing short of wonderful. Literally. Filled with wonder. Jenny’s experiences are full of so much joy, mixed with pain and loss. As a young, privileged woman from a middle class family, Jenny’s training has not prepared her for the reality of the East End. Jenny, and a few other midwives, work with the nuns of Nonnatus House serving the neighborhood. The religious base of her work heightens the spiritual sense running through her accounts. That is not to say this is a preachy, religious book, but Jenny goes through a lot transition with her experiences. There are also a lot of facts about current medical practices that she brings in to contrast the still limited options they had as midwives. Particularly interesting were Jenny’s reflections on the women they lost to preeclampsia- which was untreatable then- but can be managed now. Also, the astounding drop in births once birth control and family planning were available in the East End was almost unbelievable.

Jenny is joined on this journey by Trixie and Cynthia, both young midwives from similar backgrounds as herself. They are later joined by Chummy, a woman from a more affluent background who surprises many with her hard work and ability. Rounding out the crew of Nonnatus House are stern Sister Evangelina, Sister Julienne, and (my favorite of the whole group) Sister Monica Joan.

I did listen to the audiobook and have to give credit to Nicola Barber’s pitch perfect narration. She captured Jenny’s joy, awe, heartbreak, and frustration perfectly.

Call the Midwife is ultimately about life. Not every family has a happy ending. Jenny’s life itself does not go as planned. It is not a “downer” though. This memoir is the only book I have honestly ever felt the phrase “heart warming” could truly be applied. I am now seeking out the full three volumes to read the full range of her experience and spend more time with these amazing women.

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