Warning: Possible Spoilers Included.
Call the Midwife on PBS is launching its new season, and as usual, it has historical accuracy that cannot be ignored. The neighborhood of Poplar in London’s East End is very poor, and so political and societal turns hit them even harder than the rest of the population. In the past, Call the Midwife explored rebuilding a community post-bombing and threats of war, but now, social issues like Thalidomide, Thalidomide babies, birth control, and even euthanasia are hitting this religious area, with nuns and midwives as their first line in treating illnesses and caring for their medical needs.
Though not as popular as the elegant and opulent Downton Abbey, which was the most popular PBS series ever with its sumptuous dresses and furnishings, Call the Midwife is the gritty companion piece, which has many fans yelling at the television things like, “No, don’t take the Thalidomide, it’s really bad for you, and your baby!”
Vanity Fair is laying out how our modern history, good and bad, is being dramatized on Call the Midwife, with medicine and medical treatment starting to look a lot like the medicine and prenatal treatments that we have now. Call the Midwife has nuns and midwives as the main characters, and Dr. Patrick Turner, played by the passionate Stephen McGann, who is so believable in his warmth, angst, and compassion makes you believe he is there, treating patients.
The voice overs on Call the Midwife, done by Vanessa Redgrave, will remind fans of the narrator in Atonement.Call the Midwife is based on the memoir of Jennifer Worth, and as the story creeps into the 1960s, we see Alcoholics Anonymous meetings come to Poplar, attended by nurse Trixie and the diligent Dr. McGann (who is married to a former nun and midwife) start to offer birth control options and prescribe Thalidomide to his patients with debilitating morning sickness. Yes, Thalidomide, which causes horrendous birth defects, often affecting the limbs of babies, but sometimes causing defects that are hard to deal with in life.
Call the Midwife series writer Heidi Thomas had been asked early on if she was going to include the Thalidomide crisis in the series, and she knew she had to, but wanted to do so with sensitivity and historical accuracy.
“Since the series became established, people were saying to us, when are you going to [address] thalidomide? It was something we wanted to do with the utmost sense of emotional and historic responsibility.”
Thalidomide was given to women suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, which ironically Princess Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge battled when pregnant with Prince George. Hyperemesis gravidarum is a severe form of morning sickness, which puts the life of the mother and baby at risk, and lasts beyond the first trimester.
Watching Dr. Turner prescribe Thalidomide to pregnant women is like watching a train crash, as the viewer has knowledge that the doctor and the patient don’t have. And even worse, the drug was given out liberally for years before anyone made the connection (and yes, it was American medicine that connected the dots).
Bustle announces the times, they are a-changing on Call the Midwife, and in Poplar, and London in the sixties. The National Health Service in the UK suddenly found itself on the front when it came to those for and against birth control and abortion. Politely called “family planning,” poor women finally had choices about the size of their family. But Call the Midwife provides the viewer with a front row seat to the conflict of religion and family planning, especially when an order of nuns is providing your health care.
Watching Call the Midwife will show whether Poplar will be able to claw out of poverty by limiting their family size. Thalidomide aside, the social change in Poplar, and on Call the Midwife will bring positive movement, but it won’r come easy, and it won’t be smooth.
Are you watching Call the Midwife? Is Call the Midwife your new favorite PBS series?
[Photo by PBS]