Midwives on Call the Midwife: S6E1

Welcome to NYSALM’s annual Call the Midwife blog! We are proud to bring you insights from real New York midwives (and student midwives) about the series. This post is by midwife Nancy Kraus.

The midwives are back!  “Call the Midwife,” the nostalgic British show which features realistic portrayals of birth and deals with important social issues, is back on PBS for Season 6.

The season really began with a Christmas special in December 2016 which moved the show out of dismal London and into South Africa for a missionary assignment.  That special dealt with apartheid , grudges, a very different standard of living, and sacrifice.

But, it is now the spring of 1962.  Season 6 introduces a new character; while in South Africa, the compassionate leader of the convent, Sister Julian, is demoted to staff midwife and a new stern Mother Superior put in charge.  For the first time, we see a television in the convent which the new Mother Superior quickly dispatches.  The midwives relax with those stereotypical cocktails of the 60s, grasshoppers and brandy alexanders, and revelers are dancing the twist at a party.

The main clinical story surrounds a very pregnant woman, her young son, and her husband who is just released from jail.  It quickly becomes obvious that the husband is abusive.  When Sister Mary Cynthia witnesses the results of his abuse, it triggers her memories of the beating she took in the last season, and her PTSD begins to paralyze her.

PTSD, from sexual abuse as a child, being the victim of violence, witnessing war, and even previous traumatic childbirth experiences, often is awakened in pregnancy and in birthing.  Midwives realize that women who have great difficulty with pelvic exams were often the victims of sexual abuse.  We have to be sensitive to body memory and for the need for good psychological support for these women.  Asking about intimate partner violence is a sensitive subject for many women, but needs to be addressed directly in clinical situations.

The birthing scene features an improvised hands and knees delivery when the woman, already in heavy labor, flees to the convent.  With the assistance of the midwives, she escapes both her enabling mother and her abusive husband.

Some other happy things occur in this episode; Barbara is now happily engaged to the local minister and Sheila, who thought she could never have a baby of her own, realizes she is pregnant.

I know I’ll enjoy every episode of this wonderful series, and I hope you do, too!

Nancy Kraus is a midwife practicing in New York City.

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