"Call the Midwife" by Jennifer North

By Jennifer Worth

Reviewed by Julia

ISBN 9780143123255

Did you know that only 8% of births in the U.S. are attended by midwives, while in the U.K. and other countries, the average climbs to approximately two-thirds?  While here in America so much discussion revolves around the authority women do or do not have over their pregnant bodies, I thought it would be timely to finally read the memoir "Call the Midwife" by Jennifer Worth.  I have deep respect for the way in which the BBC television series addressed the issue of illegal abortion during the 1950's on London's East End.  A notoriously rough region of the city, the average woman was simultaneously overwhelmed by impoverished conditions and a very large family, struggling to make ends meet and to keep her children alive.  Most men were unwilling to wear "rubbers" and women suffered under the weight of their responsibilities and continuously growing bodies. Of course, conditions for women improved with the introduction of the birth control pill in 1961, and the famous midwives of St John the Divine (in the show, Nonnatus House) - roughly half of them nuns, were there to address every possibility of pregnancy; birth, still-birth, miscarriage, and responses to back-alley abortions.  Worth became a midwife at age 22, and while her memoir does not cover the aftereffects of the later, she has written about it for The Guardian since.  This book is an eye-opening read for anyone interested in understanding the harsh realities of these times and a perspective on any women living in poverty, coupled with the contrast of the incredible capabilities of midwives.  Fans of the television series will be impressed by the factual origins of many episodes and the even bawdier representation of local characters, most notably with regard to a local brothel!  Colorful would be putting it mildly.  I recommend neither the series nor the book for women currently experiencing pregnancy as anxiety may follow, but what a profound education for anyone interested in the realities of pregnancy at a particular time and place in world history.

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