At the age of twenty-two, Jennifer Worth leaves her comfortable home to move into a convent and become a midwife in post war London’s East End slums. The colorful characters she meets while delivering babies all over London-from the plucky, warm-hearted nuns with whom she lives to the woman with twenty-four children who can’t speak English to the prostitutes and dockers of the city’s seedier side-illuminate a fascinating time in history. Beautifully written and utterly moving, The Midwife will touch the hearts of anyone who is, and everyone who has, a mother.
I’m a longtime fan of the TV version of Call the Midwife and I’ve always wanted to get my hands on a copy of the book. The latest season was just added to Netflix and I decided that I wouldn’t watch it until I got to read the book first, and I’m soooooo glad I did!
If you’ve watched the show, you know that Call the Midwife is about much more than birthing babies. It offers episodic glimpses into humanity that just happen to be delivered through expecting mothers, their families, the midwives helping her, or a combination of all three. I was a little nervous when I picked up the book that some of that heart-warming humanity would be lost in the written form, but I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. If anything, it was better.
The book follows the same format as the show in the sense that each chapter (or sometimes two or three) was dedicated to a specific case or specific medical issue, but unlike the show the chapters weren’t arranged chronologically. A lot of the cases Worth wrote about were the cases used in the first season of the show but I never felt like it was redundant. The book, as is usually the case, had much more detail and didn’t sugar coat cases as much as the show does to keep it family friendly. One of my favorite stories from the show and the book was Mary the young Irish girl, and her tale had a much different ending in real life.
Aside from the individual cases, the peek into East End life itself was a treasure. I loved reading about the East Ender’s way of life and their persistence in the face of abominable conditions. They had so much to contend with and yet they were altogether a jolly bunch of people intent on living as well as they could with what they had. Then there were the medical practices of the 1950’s, which Worth compared to modern techniques whenever applicable.
There were so many things to soak up in this book! I loved it and can’t wait to read the next, which looks like it’s about the workhouses. Worth briefly describes the workhouse setup in this book and it was one of the things that fascinated me the most.