First, the good news: you can count on a baby to reunite an estranged family. While tears of reconciliation were a part of Call the Midwife this week, so were choked sobs of grief as the specter of back alley abortions made its second appearance this season.
The Singhs and the WilsonsEnglishwoman Cilla (Hanna Hutch) and Pardeep Singh (Omar Malik), a Sikh immigrant from India, are happily married and expecting their first child. Pardeep works hard at a factory, but can’t seem to get a promotion from his manager. To make ends meet, Cilla and Pardeep share lodging with Pardeep’s male coworkers. Whether it’s because of Pardeep’s race or his disadvantage in London, Cilla’s mother Enid Wilson (Niky Wardley) has spurned the couple. Her own husband is a conductor on the Underground transport system and she believes her daughter has slipped a rung in the class system.
It’s too bad that Enid’s not there for her daughter during her pregnancy, because she could easily provide experienced advice at this point. At age 44, Enid is surprised to find herself “caught out” by her own pregnancy. Mother and daughter are due at approximately the same time.
The Life She’s Planned
Jeannie Tennant (Molly Chesworth) is a woman on a mission, and the life she’s dreamed of is coming together. She’s happily married, and she and her husband Frank (Bryan Parry) have nearly saved enough money to purchase a house for their family of four. Not long after her second child’s birth, she’s toned up while having fun hula-hooping at midwife Trixie’s Keep Fit classes.
The needle goes off the record when Jeannie discovers she’s pregnant. She was using contraception: a Dutch cap, to be exact (a cervical cap or diaphragm).
Why the name? It turns out The Netherlands was at the forefront of birth control as early as the 1870s. In 1914, American social reformer Margaret Sanger went to a clinic at The Hague where alongside midwives, she studied how to do proper fittings of a pessary. Read her interesting diary account on this New York University site.
When Dr. Turner confirms that Jeannie is three months pregnant, he asks if she had her cap refit after her recent pregnancy. She hadn’t.
Jeannie is very upset as she and her husband were not planning on more children. Dr. Turner can only tell her: “Go home, tell your husband, it will soon start feeling like good news.”
Her husband doesn’t mind having another baby, but Jeannie makes a suggestion: “What if I can fix it so there was no ‘this one?'” She means she can arrange for an abortion.
It’s not legal or safe, he says. Abortion won’t be legal in England until 1967. We saw in Episode 1 what happened to Cath Hindman when she had her back-street abortion: she got an infection that nearly killed her, and her lacerated womb was removed during a surgery to save her.
Desperate, Jeannie turns to both Dr. Turner and Trixie for help. Dr. Turner does not think that Jeannie’s health or sanity is at risk: he cannot see a medical reason to terminate her pregnancy.
Jeannie confides to Trixie that she keeps hoping she’ll lose the baby.
“Are women not allowed to want things, or not want things? I thought it was meant to be different for us, that we were going to be able to choose. And what I don’t want, what I would never choose, is to end up like my mother did.”
Jeannie’s mother had seven children in 11 years and more than one nervous breakdown that left Jeannie and her younger siblings in foster homes. She believes that she too could break down, like her mother. She wants what’s best for her two children. As a working person, she doesn’t think she can manage doing what it takes to raise more than two.
Trixie always has a good word of advice: “Jeannie, we never know what we can achieve until we try.”
We see Jeannie walk to a shady side of town and become increasingly gray and ill with fever at home. She tells her husband it’s just a tummy ache. He doesn’t know she’s had an abortion. As in Episode 1, Call the Midwife doesn’t show us the abortion scene and leaves the practitioner’s identity a mystery.
Because both of them are experiencing some difficulty with their pregnancies, Cilla and Enid land across from each other in the small confines of the maternity ward. Their stubborn stand off provides some comic relief.
Enid’s heart returns to her daughter when Cilla is diagnosed with toxemia, a serious condition known today as preeclampsia (it would have been historically inaccurate to hear the term on the episode). Preeclampsia is a sudden increase in blood pressure after the 20th week of pregnancy that can be life-threatening to the mother and the unborn baby. It occurs in five to eight percent of pregnancies, according to the Preeclampsia Foundation.
To induce an early deliver for Cilla, Dr. Turner calls for the “flying squad” in the middle of the night, but an obstetrician isn’t available. Dr. Turner puts Cilla under general anesthesia and delivers the baby himself.
Outside the operating room, Pardeep prays aloud in his native tongue while Cilla’s worried mother sits at a distance apart.
A boy is born, but is unresponsive. As was done for Mrs. Lombardi’s third triplet in episode 2, midwife Val rubs the infant and blows air into his lungs until we hear his cry (and feel our own tears of relief).
Sister Juliette brings the baby out to his father who expresses his deep gratitude to God and to the sister’s skills, as well as his love for his son and wife. Enid witnesses this all and seems pained that she has estranged herself from her son-in-law, and consequently, her grandson.
For the Love of Family
Enid, still pregnant herself, spends the night with her grandson in the nursery while her daughter Cilla recovers.
Cilla is a big-hearted woman. She’s grateful and pleased to learn her mother stayed with the baby. She tells her mother she now understands the maternal instinct to protect one’s child. Enid realizes she’s been foolish and apologizes to her daughter and Pardeep. Cilla’s father looks relieved that his wife has come to her senses, and is Pardeep is gracious about accepting Enid into his family.
After Enid delivers her baby, she laughs at the strangeness of having her little girl born an aunt to Cilla’s baby boy.
We last see the Singhs and Wilsons as the mothers send their husbands off to work together. Pardeep has obviously gotten a job with London’s underground as a conductor, following in his father-in-law’s footsteps.
A Chilling Death
Frank Tennant calls for Dr. Turner to see his severely ill wife at their home. Jeannie is barely responsive and only asks the doctor, “Will I get into trouble?”
“Is she losing the baby?” Mr. Tennant asks, who leaves the room to call an ambulance. It’s then that Jeannie tells the doctor that she had the abortion three days ago. She has a severe infection and Dr. Turner gives her an injection of penicillin.
As the ambulance races Jeannie and Dr. Turner to the hospital, he pleads with her to stay awake, but her heart stops beating and she’s unresponsive to his CPR. She dies en route to the hospital.
Within a hospital hallway, Dr. Turner must inform the husband, who receives two shocks at once: the death of his wife and her decision to get an abortion.
Dr. Turner is pained by his part in Jeannie’s course of action. He didn’t have the grounds to give her an abortion, but he feels guilty. His wife Shelagh tries to reassure him, saying he had no choice in the matter.
The nuns and midwives are mourning Jeannie’s death at Nonnatus House. It’s presumed that the same woman who gave Cath Hindman her abortion performed Jeannie’s. Both Poplar women were left with Streptococcal infections. And we have seen that neither women sought medical treatment when they began feeling ill; we can assume they did not want “their crime” revealed in a doctor’s visit. Val wants to wring the neck of the woman who provided the abortion (it’s interesting that the series presents the gender of the provider as a certainty). Sergeant Woolf interviews Trixie to try and learn more about who Jeannie went to, but she can’t. Like Dr. Turner, she’s upset she couldn’t have helped Jeannie more.
Young sister Frances doesn’t understand how pregnant women know who to ask for an abortion, if it all goes on in secret?
“Necessity finds a way,” the elderly Sister Monica Joan volunteers.
The voiceover’s closing words don’t provide any comfort this episode. Nor do the storyline sidebars provide much in the way of entertainment or insight.
Residents of Nonnatus House admit they haven’t been getting to know young Sister Frances, but all we learn is that she has caught a case of ringworm. Sergeant Woolfe continues trying to woo nurse Crane. We finally get a glimpse of another part of London when he takes her to an avant garde photography exhibition in SoHo. Though they’re on a date of sorts, it’s like a blind one because she has her myopic focus on getting back to her metered parking spot instead of “repairing to a cafe” to plan a second outing with her patient admirer.
Here’s to Call the Midwife picking up speed (and perhaps Sergeant Woolfe cracking the case of the infectious abortionist) in next Sunday’s episode!