Welcome back to another season of Call the Midwife. Once again I'll be recapping the events and emotions stirred by the next eight episodes of Season 8. If you need to refresh your memory about what happened during the Call the Midwife special that aired at Christmas, you can take a glance at it right here.
To begin, let's set the scene. We return to Poplar in 1964. It's spring, a time for renewal and fresh starts.
You may recall during the Christmas special that a staffing shake up was in the works. The powers that be traded Sister Winifred for former WAF and seasoned midwife Sister Hilda (Fenella Woolgar) and the newly qualified and rather clumsy Sister Frances (Ella Bruccoleri). So, a two for one trade? Perhaps there’s a draft pick involved in this transaction that we don’t know about yet.
Also it wouldn’t be spring without a proper spruce up. Snazzy modern nursing kits replace the old-fashioned leather bags the midwives have toted around for decades. Fred has been instructed by Nurse Crane to burn the old hold-alls which seems rather extreme. (If they were that germ-ridden, they probably should have been chucked long ago.) Sister Monica Joan is not pleased with the change, even as she is coming down with one of her frequent upper respiratory infections.
In other news, the country is abuzz about the impending arrival of Her Majesty’s fourth child (that would be Prince Edward). Forever community-minded, Violet Buckle finds a way to parlay the Royal Baby frenzy into a fundraiser for the neighborhood Teddy Bear Picnic. The Brits do love to place a wager on virtually everything, including the gender of the royal progeny.
Oddly enough, though, the Queen’s pregnancy and the discarding of the old bags get muddled up in the physically weakened psyche of Sister Monica Joan, threatening to push her over the edge…again. The elderly nun goes missing shortly after scolding Fred for destroying the “cornerstone of their trade.” As darkness falls, Sister Julienne calls the authorities and the others fan out across the neighborhood. Valerie follows her instincts and locates the ailing nun sitting on the steps of a defunct maternity hospital. She claims she’d been summoned to deliver the royal baby, but no one has answered the bell. Valerie (kindly and wisely) goes along with her delusion, suggesting Monica Joan stay away due to her infection.
Once safely back at Nonnatus House, the sister goes through a short convalescent period and her mental state is restored. This scenario has played out numerous times over the years; Monica Joan falls ill, loses touch with reality and thankfully recovers. In my opinion, it’s just become a bit predictable.
The patient stories in this episode covered familiar ground as well. There have been at least two storylines over the years that I can recall depicting botched abortions of the back alley or DIY variety. It's important to note that abortion remains illegal in the UK until 1967.
This weeks’ scenario concerns two sisters, Lesley (Jordon Stevens), a married woman expecting her first child any minute, and Cath (Emily Barber), an aspiring model who is lodging with her sibling for the time being.
When the contractions start, Nurse Anderson enlists the help of Lesley’s hubby rather than Cath, who admits to suffering from an upset tummy. Lesley gives birth to a healthy boy, but this family’s story is far from over since on CTM every cough and cramp foreshadows something far more serious.
Turns out Cath was pregnant and went to see a woman for an abortion. Unfortunately, the procedure hasn’t been completely successful, but the scared young woman is refusing to go to the hospital for fear they’ll call the police.
Lesley insists on taking Cath to Nonnatus House where she explains (in so many words) what has happened. As they go upstairs, Valerie tells Cath she doesn’t care how this has come about, she’s going to help her. In a locked bathroom, Valerie, Sister Frances and Lesley wait with Cath as the fetus finally “comes away”.
Cath’s nightmare continues in the form of a nasty infection that has taken hold. Sister Julienne accompanies her to the hospital where Cath learns she needs surgery for the lacerations that resulted from her abortion procedure. In the end, the surgeon removes her womb because the scarring from the infection was so severe.
Cath is simultaneously heartbroken about the impossibilty of bearing children in the future and afraid to report the woman whose carelessness made her infertile. Lesley is enraged by what has happened and goes to the police on Cath’s behalf. Sgt. Woolf is sympathetic, but this is a shady business and without more details he says it will be nearly impossible to investigate.
So without Cath’s cooperation, her ordeal comes to an unsatisfactory end. She acknowledges the shame will follow her forever, but feels all she can do is move away and get on with her modeling career.
Back at Nonnatus, Sisters Hilda and Julienne discuss the dilemma of illegal abortion. Julienne believes the silence will never end because for every woman maimed or killed there are a dozen more who quietly get the desired results. No doubt, this issue will continue to pop up on Call the Midwife for seasons to come.
We've encountered the multiple births/useless father narrative before as well. You may recall season one featured the birth of unexpected triplets delivered single-handedly by Chummy in a flat without electricity or running water. Compared to that, Margaret Lombardi’s (Jessica Clark) birthing experience was a walk in the park.
Basically, Margaret is not a glowing mother to be. Let’s break it down. She already has two young boys, is expecting twins, has monster hemorrhoids and her husband Clark (Antonio Magro) is useless with the children they already have.
Dr. Turner determines the beleaguered mother requires respite and checks her in at the maternity home. Trixie has barely had time to apply ice packs and offer magazines before Margaret’s labor begins. A set of healthy twin girls are delivered and then... Phyllis hears another heartbeat. Margaret is exhausted, meconium is present and the baby is situated in the dangerous transverse position.
The Turners jump into action. Shelagh turns the baby and Patrick mans the forceps. A third baby girl is delivered but is in some distress. After a few tense moments the baby cries just as the ambulance arrives.
Trixie goes to the pub to tell Mr. Lombardi the news. After the shock of the extra baby wears off, Clark decides he must be the one to go to the hospital where his tiniest child is all alone and under observation in an incubator. You get the feeling that if this fearful dad can cuddle the most fragile of his children, he’ll be more hands on with the others from here on out.
Perhaps the lack of completely original storylines isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s a noble calling to reliably and compassionately portray many aspects of Britain’s social history. And admittedly, it’s the glimpses of small but powerful moments that make this series special, right? From Dr. Turner reading medical statistics in a silly voice to his entranced daughters and Fred’s tender reclamation of Sister Monica Joan’s bag to the sheer force of will it takes for Trixie to remain sober, this is the love, kindness and grace we all need to see more of. Remember Dr. Turner’s prescription:
“Listen attentively, reassure gently and love generously…”
Of course, we’re left with plenty to wonder about. Will Sgt. Woolf successfully woo the reticent Nurse Crane? How will the simmering tensions between control freaks Shelagh and Miss Higgins play out? And what sort of adjustments will the new sisters of Nonnatus House experience in the weeks to come?
How did you feel about the premiere episode of Season 8? Let's talk it out in the comments section, shall we?