Ann's Reviews > Call The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

Call The Midwife by Jennifer Worth
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Apr 23, 12

bookshelves: anglophilia
Read in April, 2012

This book represents the author's memoirs of working as a midwife in the tenements of the East End in London in the 1950s, interspersed with mini-essays on the history of obstetrics and midwifery. It makes for fascinating reading, often heartbreaking. People often lived in unimaginable squalor, indeed, in houses that had been condemned as unfit for human habitation but were used anyway because of the post-WWII housing shortage. Dozens of people crammed together in a few rooms, no running water. Families with more than 20 children (yes, you read that right!). Infections galore, ignorance of basic principles of hygiene and nutrition, crushing poverty....and yet! The book is not gloomy at all, despite the occasional heartbreaking story. The author experienced cockney resilience and humor first-hand, often in circumstances that were hardly funny. From the overburdened mothers who still tried to keep their families fed, clothed and washed, to the scrappy old handyman who tries to make a few pounds by fattening up a pig, there are plenty of colorful characters in the book, affectionately recalled almost 50 years later. There are some really touching stories here, my favorite being that of the older man who is overjoyed when his much younger wife has "their" baby and never seems to notice that the child was obviously fathered by a black man. .

The author's voice is genuine. She is quite honest about her own disgust at some of the physical aspects of her job, her bafflement at the faith of the nuns who run the midwifery service, and her prejudices regarding some of her more malodorous clients. She pokes fun at the fashions and mores of the time while at the same time illustrating how resilient young women can be, even in a physically and emotionally demanding job. Here and there one does wonder how accurate the author's memory is - the rambling metaphysical dissertations of Sister Monica Jean sound just a little contrived.

Still, all in all a great testimony to an era, and a place, that is gone forever. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in obstetrics, or the sociology of post-WWII Britain.
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