Screen, paper: do them both!
It was into this world that Jennifer Worth entered as a trainee midwife. But docklands life was tough, and babies were often born in slum conditions. In funny, disturbing and heartbreaking stories, Jennifer Worth recounts her time among nuns, prostitutes, abortionists, bigamists, gangsters and expectant mothers, portraying East Enders' amazing resilience - and their warmth and humour in the face of hardship.
Written with affection and nostalgia, her midwife stories chronicle the lives, traditions and tales of a bygone era.
Oh, movies. Or in this case, Netflix. *sigh* They spoil the book sometimes. I bingewatched the Netflix series and loved it so much that I couldn't wait to dig into the book. I can't review the book without sounding like a silly broken record, so read the Netflix review I FIRST. (Then come back and this review will be waiting).
My two cents
So, you're back from my glowing review of the Netflix series, I see. Settle down with a cuppa and let's chat.
So, yes, I loved the book!Lest you think I hated the book, that's not the case. The book is amazing. It's a truly affecting and provoking memoir. I appreciated the epilogue which gave Worth's short personal history as well as summing up some of her key observations and realizations about her time as a midwife. It is a critical piece, as it sets the stage for the realizations that are bound to happen to you as a reader.
Overall, the book (and the series) are meaningful to me because it made me appreciate so many things that we take for granted today. If we think about how recent the 1950s is, it seems shocking to imagine the squalid conditions and the poverty of England during the time.
Even more shocking is to me is that it highlights a time where medicine was still practically in its infancy, at least against today's standards! It seems almost medieval to think of a mostly uninformed and almost barbaric methods for abortion, of separating single mothers from their children without any heed for the psychological and physical trauma this inflicts, a dearth of reliable contraception, the prevalence of tuberculosis and other totally curable diseases, and the lack of understanding of PTSD.
But let's focus on midwifery. Worth mentions that midwives are never the subject of books. Before I read this book, try as hard as I could, I couldn't remember a title of one book that dealt with the subject matter. Can you recall one?
What strikes me as even more ironic is that Worth and the midwives she worked with, with the exception of some of the older nun midwives, were in their early 20s. The gravity of their work at a young age astounds me - delivering countless children when they themselves have never borne one!
Summed up with the huge strides made in medicine in the past few generations, and the tireless work that these young women dedicated a better part of their lives, it has allowed for the life-changing benefits for women, children and communities. The impacts of this period of hardship and learning continue to influence society's attitudes towards caring for the mother's and child's well-being. We're truly blessed indeed!
Now, the disappointing news. I caution anyone who watches the series first that if you're reading the book, you will recognize some major deviations in the storyline of each of the episodes. I got slightly confused, for example, that the story of one person in a Netflix episode is actually a mishmash of the stories of 2-3 people. Credit to the screenplay writers of the series, though, to be able to cram in so much detail into one episode. I like to think of the two media as separate experiences in themselves. I simply choose to immerse myself into the written word at the moment but will no doubt rewatch the series again.
VerdictRead the book. Watch the Netflix series. Be provoked and inspired.
- Jennifer Worth Biography on WIkipedia
- PBS Call the Midwife website
- Call the Midwife Episode Guide (Wikipedia)