“Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times “ by Jennifer Worth
Genre: Adult Non-Fiction, Biography
Summary from Goodreads:
An unforgettable story of the joy of motherhood, the bravery of a community, and the hope of one extraordinary woman. 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.
After having devoured the television series, I decided to pick up Worth’s memoir to fill that void in my life. Overall, I was pretty impressed with how close to the book the series was. Many of the anecdotes that made up the storylines were taken directly from the book. It was good to see those stories more in depth. There was so much more to Mary, the young prostitute. Her story was so incredibly sad and difficult to read. Mrs. Jenkins’ heartbreak needed to be told. It was really illuminating to hear how bad the workhouse conditions were and how bad of a position she was in to willing submit her family to it.
My biggest complaint was the lack of the nuns and other nurses. Yes, we do get a bit more information about some of the characters. Chummy is just as endearing as she is in the series. You start to see how hard she’s trying and you love her that much more. Sister Monica Joan was fascinating. She’s absolutely eccentric but her history is worth knowing about. At 90 years old, she was one of the first nurses and midwives in the country. Sister Evangelina came from the community that the nurses and nuns were serving which gave her a special relationship with the people. We did learn all that but that was the bulk of the interaction we had with them. I would have loved to see more of them or at least learned more about them.
The book doesn’t have all the charm of the series which I suppose is to be expected. There’s definitely a clinical tone in a lot of places. Worth doesn’t spare the reader from reading everything about the examinations to the births. We get infection, blood, smells, and all! She doesn’t spare us from the squalid conditions of the communities; from the brothels to the workhouses to just the normal houses of families. If you can stomach all that (or skim over the grosser details), you can pick up the love Worth had for her work and the people. Things weren’t always happy and cheerful but things weren’t all doom and gloom either.
This was my first dive into narrative non-fiction. I have to say, I quite enjoyed myself! Sure, there wasn’t a huge over arching storyline. I was okay with learning about all the people and conditions Worth came across. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it wasn’t aa dry and boring as some non-fiction can be. I’ll have to try some more narrative non-fiction in the future.