This episode of Call the Midwife was a tough one. It was about coping with loss— heartbreaking, soul-crushing loss. Somehow the heart resolves to beat on in the face of losing a most-cherished dream, and one finds the perseverance to try again (or, at least, to put one foot in front of the other), setting that first foot out onto the high wire again, knowing there’s no net.
We, none of us, get to realize all our dreams. Yet when a dream feels so deceptively attainable that its disappearance cuts to the quick, how do you make peace with the world, and within yourself, after it’s been snatched away? When your life is suddenly a wide-open expanse, how do you rebuild? These are the questions swirling through Call the Midwife on PBS this week, and the beat goes on with these thirteen essentials of Call the Midwife, Season 6, Episode 4…
- Do you believe in magic? Pregnant Shelagh is still hanging on.
Pregnant Shelagh is still in the hospital on bed rest, having gone in last week after she began to spot. There, she meets Gloria, another woman in the same boat. Gloria has already lost two babies and is amazed to have gotten so far this time around. She is 6 months in, cautiously optimistic and hanging on. Shelagh is almost 5 months in and hanging on as well. They bond over bad magazines, dismissive medical care, and talk of fetal heartbeats. Shelagh hasn’t felt any kicking yet, but is aware it’s too soon. Gloria hasn’t felt a kick yet either but has sensed her little tadpole swimming around in his maternal bowl. Shelagh has heard more fetal heartbeats than she can count, but concedes that hearing her own come from inside the house would be magical. All of the sudden Shelagh starts spotting again and panics. She puts a Pollyanna spin on it when her hubby arrives for a visit, saying it was enough blood to perhaps indicate the baby is no longer alive, yet not enough to know for sure. And right now she doesn’t want to know more than that because she’s not ready to give up hope just yet.
- Defiant “elder” primagravida: Shelagh is a first-time expectant mother at age 36.
Into this tentatively hopeful scene struts Mr. Arrogant Doctor for an exam (and if I’m not mistaken it’s the same arrogant doctor from last week). He is leading his neophytes on rounds, regaling them with tales of his fabulosity, no doubt. He explains to his posse that Shelagh is an elder primagravida. Yes, elderly at the age of 36. (Thank you very much!) When Shelagh lets him know she’s a midwife by profession and is thus well aware of new developments in obstetrics with ideas of her own on what they should do, he dismisses her out of hand, telling her not to worry her pretty little head. In his estimation, “pregnancies click or they don’t.” (I needed a doctor for this diagnosis?) His prescription: Just watch and wait. (Yo, I can do that at home, bud! What the hell are you here for?)
- Playing God: Gloria loses the baby.
As Shelagh and Gloria wait for Godot, Dr. Arrogant returns (ever-present audience in tow), this time for a matinee performance of The Vagina Monologues. Is this a pelvic exam or is Dr. Arrogant using Gloria (in the stirrups) to work on some kind of weird ventriloquist act? I mean, sheesh! Let the poor woman hit the cymbals already! Hellooo! Then he tries playing Stump the Nurse with Delia and is visibly peeved that she’s got the answers for everything. (Drill Sgt. Nurse Crane’s relentless preps paid off there!)
Anyway, Gloria is diagnosed with Cervical Incompetence. The good news is, there is a treatment for it called Cervical Cerclage, which can’t be that new of a treatment. (Anna Bates had it in 1925.) The bad news is either this putz let his subscription to The Lancet lapse or he’s rationing thread. All he’ll say is, “I’m prepared to give it my consideration”. Great. Another man with commitment issues. Gloria sits watching for the ward doors to swing open, desperately waiting for someone to come save her baby, but it is all for naught. By the time Dr. Arrogant deigns to do the simple procedure it’s too late. Gloria goes into labor and there’s no saving the baby now.
- Sweet Dream Baby: I’ll see you next lifetime.
After the miscarriage, well-meaning nurse Sister Douglas won’t let Gloria see the fetus – for her own good (she says). It is left to Delia to unceremoniously remove it in a towel-covered pan as Gloria lets out a primal scream. From what I’ve heard, this was common for the time, but the not seeing and not knowing has left Gloria haunted by nagging, open-ended questions. As she packs to leave the hospital, Gloria tells Shelagh she has a dream that a year or so from now they’ll run into each other out at the market, each pushing a pram. And in the end of this episode, while Gloria has to leave the maternity home empty-handed, Shelagh leaves with possibilities still intact. Keep hope alive!
- Missing in Action: Former Army Nurse Valerie Dyer is now a Midwife.
Sister Julienne tells Trixie she now has the budget to hire a new Midwife– which is great news because at this point they are so understaffed they are pretty close to having to draft Fred into service. Lovely as he is, that would not be pretty. She places an advert in the Midwives Chronicle. (Who knew there was a Midwives Chronicle?) Trixie brings up the subject of Sister Cynthia, not wanting to replace her. Sister Julienne says of course no one can replace her; she is a special spirit. Then why can’t we find her, Trixie wants to know. Sister Julienne insists Cynthia is not lost. The boss nun at the mother ship says she’s in a far, far better place. Sister Julienne accepts this, but Trixie does not because it fails to account for Cynthia‘s free will. Trixie wants answers and so do we. Where will we find Cynthia? Institutionalized? Working in another order? Working as a waitress at a cocktail bar? One hopes that we all get an answer to Sister Cynthia’s whereabouts before the end of the season.
The first applicants who respond to the help wanted advert leave a bit to be desired. There’s even a man – even though men are not allowed to be midwives – and (perish the thought) an American among them. For her part, Nurse Crane insists on a strict, No Men/No Americans policy. (Do you think they put that ‘no Americans’ bit in there just to amuse us? Shout out to SDPB, the PBS station in South Dakota!) It doesn’t get any better when the applicants start showing up for interviews. Door greeter Sister Monica Joan is nonplussed and Sister Julienne is about ready to eat her wimple in frustration.
Finally! Exasperated Nurse Crane’s treatise on the way the world and the Army uses, then tosses, both nurses and working class women makes the light bulb go on over Sister Julienne’s head. The answer was there all along: Army Nurse Valerie Dyer, the one who helped out after the warehouse explosion. Sister Julienne goes out on a pub crawl to recruit Nurse Dyer, who says all the right things: that she left Army nursing because it had become about efficiency instead of caring, and how much she loves being back home in Poplar. After their recent traumatic experience with Sister Grinch, this is music to Sister Julienne’s ears. She’d hire Nurse Dyer on the spot but she has to go through the formality of applying. Though, Sister Julienne reasons, maybe Valerie needs time to think about it? She does not need to think about it. She’ll be applying tonight. She does, and in due course receives a letter congratulating her that she’s won the Nonnatus Clearing House Sweepstakes, with a little card inserted that reads ‘BYOC’ (bring your own cake).
FYI: There really was a publication by the Royal College of Midwives called Midwives Chronicle. First published in 1881 as Nursing Notes, then (during the time frame depicted in Call the Midwife) it was called Midwives Chronicle. It is now a magazine called Midwives with a circulation of about 42,000. That’s a lot of pushing!
FYI: Regarding men being midwives: Men have been involved in birthing babies as far back as the 16th century, but in the UK a law was passed in 1952 prohibiting them from becoming midwives. Male nurses began challenging the law in the late 1960’s. In the 70’s a bill barring sex discrimination was passed and men began training. However, it wasn’t until 1983 that male midwives were finally allowed back in the saddle. No word about prohibiting Americans.
- Not So Tiny Tim: Shelagh and Dr. Turner’s son wants answers.
Tim Turner is a bit out of sorts at the moment. He fully understands what’s going on with Shelagh and the baby and doesn’t much like being treated like a kid who has to be shielded from the truth. He tells his dad, “You don’t have to pretend to be jolly all the time!” Tim doesn’t understand why his dad won’t speak to him about it. He reasons that maybe when he turns 18 they can go out to the pub together for a pint and a proper conversation – because that’s what men do, innit? Instead, Dr. Turner cuts yet another conversation short when he gets called out on an emergency. Tim goes to the hospital to visit Shelagh for a heart-to-heart. She explains that it’s not as easy as Tim might think for Dr. Turner to talk about his feelings; he is a man, after all. Tim doesn’t get why this is. He idealizes both his Dad and doctors in general. Shelagh explains that being a doctor makes it even tougher because he knows everything that can go wrong. In the internal struggle of man vs doctor, most often the doctor wins.
Later, after hearing that Tim had made the house call to Shelagh, Dr. Turner comes home with a couple of beers and pork scratchings to have some serious male bonding time with his son. If Ward Cleaver had ever gotten the Beaver a little bit drunk, I dare say the scene would have played out in just the same way. Smiles and resolution all around.
FYI: In case you were wondering (I was.), pork scratchings are a snack made from deep fried pig skin, lard, and salt— a trifecta of healthy eating. Just what the doctor ordered!
- Whistler’s Mother
After some hesitancy, Nurse Crane agrees to take command of Patsy’s old Cub Scout Troop. She employs Clyde Beatty’s whip and chair method to tame the wild pack and prevent any new Krays from springing up from their East End midst. She’s a tough taskmaster. Another tough taskmaster? Trixie! She is back leading her Keep Fit ladies through their paces.
- It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: A new playground requires a celebration.
This week’s comic relief comes in the form of preparations for a new playground opening in the neighborhood. There is to be a community celebration, and it looks like Fred is spearheading the planning. The main event is a Ben-Hur style chariot race employing anything pushable on wheels. The celebrations also include ice cream, a maypole, Trixie’s Keep Fit group doing exercises in their leotards, and assorted Cub Scouts and Brownies running roughshod across Poplar, the horror of which will be remembered for decades.
FYI: The Leotard was invented by Victorian-era French acrobat Jules Leotard. He, however, called it a ‘maillot’. It wasn’t until about sixteen years after he died that they were renamed ‘leotards’ in his honor.
- Not So Great Expectations: Expectant mother Marnie Wallace is in trouble.
Trixie shows up for the home inspection of expectant mother Marnie Wallace and finds her at the end of her tether. She is late for an appointment at magistrates’ court because her husband left her up the duff with nothing in her pocket but rye. Now the court has saddled her with her departed husband’s defaulted debts. She’s got no blackbirds to bake in any pies. She can barely manage with the two kids she has already. Trixie, knowing that Marnie is a church member, gets Curate Tom involved. Marnie admits to Tom that she’s got no sixpence because her husband wouldn’t give her permission for a bank account. (This is what Suze Orman warned us about!) She is desperate and ashamed.
- Money Can’t Buy You Love: Marnie’s cousins offer their help.
Wealthy cousins Dot and Eugene are offering to help by adopting the baby– and Marnie does not want that kind of help. Later, Marnie gets an eviction notice. She’s got two weeks to get out of her flat. Now she feels she has no choice but to accept that ‘help’. Dot has no problem carelessly rubbing her affluence in Marnie’s face. When Marnie swallows her pride to show up for help, Cousin Dot makes her stand on the front step listening to the fancy doorbell before letting her in. As they sit in the parlour eating bread and honey, Marnie breaks the news of her decision. She wants to make sure Eugene is on board with this. Dot confirms she is barren. (Isn’t this yet another word we are glad has been retired from the lexicon?) And even though Eugene doesn’t want to raise ‘a stranger’s baby’, this is different. This isn’t just a transaction. They will love this baby like it is their own. Marnie tells her it will be her own.
When Marnie relays her news to Tom, he is a bit shocked. As he shares the news around the table at Nonnatus House, we discover Curate Tom was adopted himself at two months. With the way Barbara froze mid-serve, this must have been news to her. But he doesn’t question it; he had a perfect childhood with his parents. What perplexes me is that he later says there were no pictures of him as a child. Why would that be if he was adopted at two months? One thinks this is a story that may play out further in the future. But for now, they’ve all agreed they will support Marnie’s choice without question.
- Push Me, Pull You: Marnie goes into labor and her cousins come to collect the baby.
As Eugene is in Marnie’s house, counting out his money to pay her landlord, she goes into labor. Nevertheless, it seems this baby does not want to come out into the world. (Who can blame it?) Reinforcements are required. Dr. Turner uses the forceps and really has to put his back into it to deliver. It’s a boy! But when he moves to introduce the baby to his mother, Marnie turns her back and says to hand the bundle of joy right to Dot. Sadness all around, except Dot, who is thrilled. She’ll be back the next morning to pick him up in the car. While Marnie won’t feed the baby, she wants him christened before handing him over to her non-believing cousins. During the ceremony Marnie, at Sister Winifred’s request, holds the baby. He is christened Andrew Thomas after the Prince and the Curate. ( It occurs to me I type this– doesn’t that sound like the name of some cheesy movie?) Then, just like that, Dot shows up to take him home and he is gone. Sobs all around.
- Sophie’s Second Choice: Baby’s back in Marnie’s arms.
Tom doesn’t want doubting Marnie to question herself when the choice she made was the only thing she could do. When Eugene requests a formal, legally binding private adoption, meaning there would be no going back, Marnie goes to the town hall to register the birth and changes her mind. Now they must go retrieve the baby from his new home. Dot is heartbroken. This wasn’t just a transaction. Cousin Dot says the love for him is spilling out of her like water. Check. Marnie replies it’s spilling out of her like milk. Check mate. Dot reluctantly hands the little prince back to Marnie, who leaves her with a hanky as a lovely parting gift. Still there is hope; Eugene has relented and will now look into adoption via an agency.
- Where Do Broken Hearts Go?
The last scene we see of Marnie and family is that of domestic bliss. On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder, what happens to them after the scene goes dark? How will she manage? Then again, I suppose it’s the same for all the characters who cross paths with our Nonnatus House midwives. Will Dot and Eugene find another baby to adopt? Will Gloria have a successful pregnancy? Every week, in short order, we begin to care about these people and then they move along as quickly as they came. It would be nice if, once in a while, we ran into them in the market and passed the time of day.
What did you think of this episode? Join the conversation below or tweet using the hashtag #MidwifePBS.