In addition to the faculty of the Vanderbilt School of Nursing guest blogging for us each Monday morning about the previous night’s episode of Call the Midwife — airing on Sundays on NPT and PBS Stations nationwide at 7:00 p.m. Central, March 30-May 18 — we are thrilled to have a bonus blogger. Rachel Sykes, who did a practicum at the Vanderbilt School of Nursing in the summer 0f 2013, is a registered midwife and graduate from the University of Manchester, United Kingdom. She’s watched the show on the BBC and will provide a unique UK-perspective. She currently practices in a busy maternity unit in the Northwest of England. Read this week’s post by Michelle Collins of Vanderbilt here.
SPOILER ALERT: Some posts may contain spoilers, so please be aware of that.
By Rachel Sykes
With the classic opening one-liner of ‘here we bloody go again,’ the old chestnut midwives hear time and time again (I am sure there are many expert labourers reading this that will have blurted it out once or twice), the new series of Call the Midwife is upon us. The women of Great Britain batten down the hatches on the cold winter weather, with their cups of tea in hand and cookie at the ready … to dunk of course! Men are banished to the garden shed for an hour, or escape to watch the latest Manchester United v Liverpool game (please excuse the stereotyping). It’s once again raining babies in London’s East End.
For those of you who are new to this sweet, nostalgic drama, Call the Midwife paints a rather romantic picture of cake-loving, bicycle-riding London midwives who work alongside a group of nuns at Nonnatus House, Poplar. As my mother would say in her broadest Lancashire accent ‘life was more simple back then, love.’ She agrees that the series depicts a true representation of life in 1950’s Britain. My Grandma would often leave my mother alone outside a grocery store in her pram (stroller) and children would get up to mischief, playing in the streets without a parent in sight. Vintage Britain was generally a simpler and all round, safer place to live.
The Nonnatus midwives provide a model of care known as ‘caseload midwifery.’ This is becoming popular again in Britain, as continuity of care has been proven to have a positive effect on women and has been associated with good birth outcomes. Caseload midwifery means that midwives really get to know the women and their families they care for, in a truly holistic sense. As we see in the show, the midwives are known figures in the Poplar community and are often acknowledged in the street (ever so typical of polite Britain!). The midwives really get to know about the families and lives of the women they care for. Sometimes the way forward, is to look back.
The wildly eccentric and ever hilarious Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt) is true to form this week. The feisty silver haired nun diagnoses the child’s mystery illness as Cystic Fibrosis (CF), quick to be dismissed by Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter). The lesson to be learned here … always consider the opinion of those who have been around a lot longer than you. Experienced midwives are a personal pocket bible for the newly qualified midwives. As a new midwife myself, I often find myself asking for advice and opinions from my peers, as their knowledge and intuition is often worth its weight in gold. Nowadays the diagnosis of CF is more conclusive, all parents are offered screening for their babies at 5 days old, which is usually done by taking a small amount of blood from the baby’s heel. (Ed. note from Vanderbilt University School of Nursing’s Michelle Collins: In the US, pregnant women are offered screening for CF during pregnancy).
Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) shows increasing concern for Merle (Gemma Salter), the mother of the two children with CF, as she suspects Merle is suffering from postnatal depression (PND). During my early twenties, I experienced severe depression and cannot imagine what it would be like to care for a newborn baby when the darkness descends. Back in the 1950s, it is likely that many health professionals were less aware of PND as they are now. Years ago, British people would fear being sent away to a psychiatric hospital only to be pumped with sedating medication and labelled ‘round the bend,’ should they find themselves in the grip of a mental disorder. I am pleased to say it is very different now. I am hopeful that in the UK, midwives and doctors are successful in detecting PND early and that woman are not fearful of expressing how they feel.
‘Bally, Bally Botherations’ Chummy (Miranda Hart) is clearly driving herself crazy with botched home cooking and cross-stitched scatter cushions. She longs to return to work as a Poplar midwife. As many a midwife would agree, the job often becomes a fundamental part of you. A midwife’s day to day work is both truly unpredictable and privileged at the same time. The expression on Chummy’s face as she resolves the difficult delivery known as a ‘shoulder dystocia,’ probably struck a chord with many a midwife, nurse, paramedic or anyone who has ever helped anyone in a moment of need. A feeling of pride, courage and exhilaration (and relief!). It is moments like that which make you take great pride in your profession.
The desire to return to work may be stronger for some women than for others. Women should never feel guilty about wanting to go back to work or to stay at home, they should simply do what is best for themselves and their family. The UK seems to take a family-centered approach, with women able to take up to one year’s maternity leave and fathers allowed 2 weeks paid paternity leave after the birth of their child.
Rachel Sykes is a registered midwife and graduate from the University of Manchester, United Kingdom.
Missed our analysis of the Previous Season’s Episodes? Read them here.