The Book Shell-f: Jennifer Worth’s “Call the Midwife”

“Why did I ever start this? I must have been mad!” was all Jenny Lee muttered as she rode her bike through the early morning to prepare a home delivery for an expecting mother. It could also quite possibly sum up my initial impression when reading “Call the Midwife” for the first time.

But, I was enthralled. I couldn’t resist falling in love with every story behind a baby’s delivery during the post-war 1950s as described in this book. Packed with medical terminology, Jennifer Worth’s memoir is filled with those heart-wrenching and endearing moments that make life worthwhile. I admired her heroic life’s work as a midwife — serving London’s poverty-stricken East End — that I had no problem reading all three volumes.

Readers will be captivated by Worth’s attempt to convey a Cockney accent in writing as well as vividly portraying Poplar’s crowded tenements — housing families with 10 and even 20 children. In just 300 or so pages, “Call the Midwife” could well be one’s life guide to helping others.

The characters, based on real people, will become your best friends or siblings who you feel you simply can’t live without. Your stomach will hurt while laughing at Sister Evangeline’s witty humor and bad temper. No one will ever forget Chummy’s clumsiness and good-hearted nature after the large woman, who measures more than six feet tall, learns to ride a bicycle for the very first time from a 13 year old boy. Your eyes will well up with tears when you learn that she uses her funds to buy the greatest present any kid at that time could ever want in order to thank him.

From painful-to-read passages describing mothers giving birth to simple days of solemn prayer in Nonnatus House, there’s always a surprise at the turn of every page. A child has rickets, a mother gives birth in the most unconventional place and a baby is left alone next to a boiling kettle. Whatever the case may be, the midwives are just a phone call away, tending to a variety of concerns on the streets of Poplar.

Learning the backstory of the family that receives a new member wrapped in blankets proves to be most rewarding as Worth always draws in a life lesson that relates to everyone — no matter the age range or gender. She recalls her youthful memories, like caring for a homeless elderly woman whose life and sanity were stolen in London’s infamous workhouse. Worth expresses that, up to that point in her life, she was oblivious to how fortunate her upbringing really was — one protected with innocence from the real world. In another story, she finds tending for a mother during her postpartum depression to be the most difficult, life-altering experience that carries her into adulthood.

Just as Jenny Lee matures in wisdom and knowledge, with every experience she gathers in London’s East End — where birth rates boom and families grow — you’ll learn to love, cry, laugh and enjoy all of life’s simplicities and mysteries it unfolds.

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