Somewhere in London’s East End a baby is about to be born. Through the crowded streets pedals a capable navy-clad woman, delivery bag secured to her bicycle, determined to bring another soul safely into the world. She is the district midwife, a respected, thoroughly trained professional, who filled an essential role in 1950s London where many poor and working class families still had their babies at home. The experiences of one midwife, her patients, and the hardships of life in a London slum are the subjects of Jennifer Worth’s frankly-told and fascinating memoir, The Midwife.
Squalid tenements with no running water or lavatories; women whose bodies were already worn out by caring for many children and the hardness of their lives; overcrowded rooms where pests and disease ran rampant; these were just some of the challenges a midwife might face. The laboring mother might be giving birth to her 25th child, or the patient might a woman with syphilis at risk for miscarrying. The patient might be a young Irish girl forced into prostitution or a woman terrified to give birth lest her husband see that the baby clearly isn’t his because of the color of his newborn skin. Jennifer Worth saw it all, yet she and the other district midwives capably and professionally provided prenatal visits, attended births, and visited the mothers postpartum.
The sights and smells (most of them revolting!) of 1950s London come vividly alive as Jennifer Worth affectingly shares her stories, both tragic and humorous, as a district midwife. Undoubtedly these midwives with their professionalism, insistence on hygiene, and skillful hands, saved many a mother and baby.
Don’t miss the colorful BBC adaption of Jennifer Worth’s memoir in the new series, Call the Midwife, airing on PBS!