This week’s episode of Call the Midwife finds Poplar immersed a state of heightened anxiety. As the Cuban Missile Crisis looms, Sister Mary Cynthia continues to struggle with her recovery and an expectant mother finds the ways of her culture clash with those of her newly adopted home.
If your memory needs refreshing about last week’s installment, check out our recap here.
Now if you’re all caught up, let’s proceed with caution into a confusing and frightening series of events.
Cuban Missile Crisis
Two weeks in October 1962 mark a famous brink-of-annihilation historical incident and is the backdrop for this week’s episode. It’s interesting to see the well-known military standoff played out from the point of view of ordinary British citizens.
The event drives Fred to reconvene his civil defense friends and to educate the neighborhood on emergency procedures like painting windows white to protect from the heat of nuclear blasts. Most of the midwives are not thrilled by Fred’s preoccupation with preparing for the apocalypse. Trixie is sure that President Kennedy will charm Nikita Khrushchev into backing down, but Nurse Crane takes a less optimistic view, referring to the Soviet Premier as a bear. However, she also insists on protecting her Cubs from what she calls Fred’s illustrations of the perils of nuclear winter.
The effects of such uncertainty are evident. Everyone is glued to the television and the wireless It makes Shelagh wonder aloud about the wisdom of bringing a baby into such an unstable world. It provides Trixie the impetus to give a relationship with Christopher the dentist a shot. And it brings an extremely fragile Sister Mary Cynthia to the brink…but more on that later.
In the end of course, catastrophe is averted and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. More importantly, they come away with a greater appreciation for all the good things in their lives as such narrow escapes tend to do.
Nadifa (Farah) Jama and FGM
Valerie Dyer is in for a trial by fire this week when she meets recent Somali immigrant and mother-to-be Nadifa Farah (Yusra Warsama). First of all Nurse Dyer must break the news to Mrs. Farah and her husband that their baby will arrive any day rather than two months off as they thought, so the planned voyage back home for the birth is off. Mr. Farah, a sailor, is concerned since his wife knows no one in Poplar. But Nadifa reminds him that they have good neighbors and her younger sister Deka can help too. Valerie assures him his wife is in good hands with the midwives and tells her to come to the clinic to get checked out and registered with them.
At the examination, however, Valerie with Nurse Gilbert assisting discover Nadifa has had some sort of surgery. When asked it about it, Mrs. Farah replies she’s had only what is usual, when she was a child. It was done to all the girls. When the nurses report to Dr. Turner what they’ve seen, that Mrs. Farah has no visible genitalia only a scar from front to back as though she has been sealed up, he has no idea what medical reason there could be for this. He recommends a referral to St. Cuthbert’s Hospital to which Valerie heartily agrees.
Later Dr. Turner stops by Nonnatus House to ask the staff to let Mrs. Farah know about her appointment with Mr. Kenley (remember him?) the following day. The specialist suspects Nadifa has had pharaonic circumcision, a common practice in parts of Africa and the Middle East which often involves removing the clitoris. After Dr. Turner departs, Nurse Crane tells the others such procedures were performed in the U.K. not that long ago, mostly for treatment of “maladies of the female mind.”
Valerie accompanies Mrs. Farah to her appointment at the hospital. It is apparent this is all very uncomfortable and foreign to her. Mr. Kenley informs them Nadifa must come to the hospital at the first sign of labor and that she will need an episiotomy to deliver the baby. Nurse Dyer tries to make the mother-to-be feel at ease but we can only imagine that the examination by a man was as humiliating as it was painful. No doubt the doctor’s mention of further cutting did little to ease Mrs. Farah’s mind.
Shortly after the consultation, Valerie stops by to check in on Nadifa but there is no answer at the door. However, we see the woman inside the flat, tell-tale puddle of water on the floor at her feet obviously signalling the beginning of her labor.
Meanwhile, Barbara comes across Nadifa’s sister Deka on the street. She’s been sent out of the flat to give her sister some peace so Barbara invites her back to Nonnatus House to fetch some things they’ve collected for the baby. Later Valerie walks Deka home only to find Nadifa on the floor in active and painful labor, scared out of her mind and screaming about knives. Using her army nurse training no doubt, Valerie calmly but firmly tells Nadifa she will help her without a knife.
The ambulance arrives but can’t make it to the hospital in time. Nurse Dyer commands the driver pull over and she delivers the baby with the use of surgical scissors – not technically a knife, but close enough. You gotta do what you gotta do in emergencies like these. Nafia delivers a healthy girl and they hurry on to the hospital.
Once at St. Cuthbert’s, we learn that Nadifa will be okay, but she is concerned that the surgeon didn’t stitch her up properly. It must be fixed to please her husband. Once mother and baby have returned home, Valerie tells her the damage was caused by the circumcision and the doctors couldn’t make good a procedure that never should have been done in the first place. They can make her feel better and in time it will feel normal. Nadifa denies she will ever be normal again.
Later we learn that Deka has been sent for by her mother to return to Somalia to be cut as well. Valerie chastises Nadifa for allowing her sister go to be mutilated by a man in the same way that could have very well cost her life in childbirth. Nadifa indignantly makes it clear that women in her country don’t take their husband’s names. Her surname is Jama not Farah. The person who holds the knife is a woman the person who calls Deka back and makes the decision is her mother who loves her.
Fair enough Nadifa, your culture was misunderstood and the standing of a woman as her own person was not acknowledged by these Western nurses. But a practice that endangers the lives of mothers and babies, even to this day, while sanctioned and performed by women is intended to keep women pure for their husbands. This is not normal no matter who has the final say. I think Call the Midwife’s writers did a fine job addressing this issue by respecting the culture without giving a barbaric and unnecessary practice an excuse.
Sister Mary Cynthia’s Continued Struggle
As this episode begins, we find Sister Monica Joan praying and crying outside the gates of Linchmere Hospital, the current address of Sister Mary Cynthia. Meanwhile inside, the young nun has become too tired to fight the electric shock treatments. According to the doctor, they have been doing some good because she has made enough improvement to be moved to a general ward. While this advance gives the Mary Cynthia some cause for hope, it also places her in a more rigid and upsetting environment. At least in the solitude of her own cell she could sleep, pray and keep her most precious belongings safe without interference. Now there are mix-ups with her clothing and her Bible, which she clings to at all times, has inexplicably disappeared making the fragile Sister even more anxious.
Thankfully, Sisters Julienne and Monica Joan have been given permission to visit. Julienne apologizes for not looking for Mary Cynthia harder and plans to make amends for the time she has been away. The Sister-in-charge makes good on her promise and soon returns to bring her back to Nonnatus House.
Sister Mary Cynthia is welcomed home with a new Bible and a sweet on her bed. (Three guesses who thought of the candy.) But Sister Julienne thinks it best for her to rest and not to face anyone just yet. This decision is particularly hard on Trixie who has struggled with her friend's transition from midwife to nun from the beginning. When Julienne asks for some toiletries for the returning Sister, Trixie donates a fancy bar of soap and asks that Sister Julienne give Mary Cynthia not just her regards, but her love.
Being back in a kind and familiar place raises Mary Cynthia’s spirits, but doesn’t relieve her anxiety and doubts about her upcoming vows. She tells Sister Monica Joan about the mist that prevents her from studying or even praying. After being visibly shaken by a news headline about the nuclear stand-off, Cynthia is visited by Dr. Turner who mentions a place he went after the war where people “walked beside him” and made him feel less lonely. And finally, in a chance meeting in the hallway, Trixie shares her concern and an observation that in her experience “if you can summon the courage to sit through the bleakest day then in the end the weather will change.”
Fortunately, Dr. Turner is able to secure a place for Sister Mary Cynthia at Northfield in Birmingham, which is what he recommended back in the days when Sister Ursula and her immovable resolved reigned over Nonnatus House. She asks for her postulant’s dress from the Mother House because she wants to start again from the beginning when she knew what was ahead of her and nothing was impossible.
After some tearful goodbyes, Dr. Turner drives her to Northfield (wouldn’t we all love a physician like Patrick in our lives?) and introduces her to the kind and gracious Nurse Barrington. The nurse asks her what she would like to be called during her stay with them, to which the young nun replies that she’d just like to be called by her name which is Cynthia. I think we can hold onto the promise that things are going to get better for her at last.
Other Notable Events
Mental illness and female gential mutilation are weighty topics which were handled with dignity and care. But in these types of episodes, moments of levity and normalcy are needed more than ever. Those moments came in the form of the Turner family moving house. From Shelagh accusing Patrick and Timothy of being hoarders to their initial night in the new house resembling a camping trip, it was a pleasure to share this milestone with them.
The other humorous moment was part of the ongoing adventures of Sister Winfred’s driving lessons. This time Delia attempts to simulate the driving experience with three slippers and a pillow, but even this simple arrangement has Winifred a bit befuddled.
So we leave Nonnatus House with hope in our hearts – a major catastrophe has been averted, Cynthia is in a safe and therapeutic environment and we learn that, while Deka does undergo the female cutting rite in Somalia, in the future Nadifa doesn’t submit her own daughter to the practice.
But what of Trixie and her new beau? Will she come clean about her alcoholism or allow Christopher to tempt her into relapse? It also appears from the preview that Nurse Crane will encounter some legal trouble and we will be returning to the Thalidomide story from last season. With only two episodes left in this series, there’s sure to be plenty of heartbreak and redemption to go around. Let’s get chatting! Please tell us what’s on your mind concerning these stories and what's left of the season ahead.