Saturday, February 8, 2014

Call the Midwife, Jennifer Worth

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


Jennifer Worth

Category: Nonfiction: Memoir: England, Parenting & Families

Synopsis: Worth tells stories about her time as a midwife near the London docks, circa 1950s.

Date finished: 23 January 2014

Rating: ****

Confession time. I haven’t seen a single episode of the PBS show based on this book. I think I’d love it, but I don’t watch much TV, and PBS just never seems to go on in our house. (It’s a husband thing, most likely.) But now I’ve got to watch a few episodes to see the characters fleshed out.

This book felt uneven to me. My attention waxed and waned. All of the stories were interesting, but some were much too gritty for my comfort. Most of the stories were about delivering babies in the neighborhoods surrounding the London docks, in, I believe, the late 1950s. There were also several about the nuns Worth worked with, which didn’t have much to do at all with midwifery, other than to serve as a backdrop. But there were a couple stories that were just too heartbreakingly bleak. I found them jarring to the overall narrative scheme. There was one about caring for an old, destitute lady. There was one about a family living in the London poorhouse. And there was one about a young prostitute. These stories went a long way in setting the stage and showing how the people of that area of London lived, but, just the same, I would have been fine without them.

My favorite stories were the straight-forward ones about delivering babies. I especially enjoyed the stories of the Spanish woman delivering her 24th and 25th babies, one born extremely (one-and-a-half pounds) small. The woman spoke no English, and her husband spoke no Spanish. Apparently that is the secret to creating one big happy family!

Worth’s writing style is spare, yet she was able to build suspense. There was nothing extraneous or flashy, and the stories rolled along at a nice clip.

I actually learned a fair amount about childbirth. The descriptions of labor and deliver were frank and detailed, but they never got unpleasant or overwhelming. (The story about the prostitute, however, got quite unpleasant in spots.)

I also learned a lot about the Cockney accent. There is an appendix in the back that explains the nuances of the dialect, and I found that fascinating. Worth is a born teacher.

I do wish, however, that there was a bit more about Worth, where she came from, how she chose midwifery, what her future plans were.

Still, this was a very strong collection of reminisces of a time and place and about a profession that is interesting. I hope to read her other books soon.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes. With a caution to sensitive or squeamish readers.

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