Despite the backdrop of a close-knit community celebrating the opening of a new park with maypole dances and chariot races, tough decisions and despair dominate in this week’s Call the Midwife. Mothers who can’t bear children are juxtaposed against those who can but can’t afford to keep them.
You may want to review our recap from the last episode here just to understand how Nonnatus House was able to wake from the nightmare of Sister Ursula. Indeed this week it seems as though she was never in Poplar at all! Sister Julienne is back in her rightful place and looking for an elusive new midwife who is ready to care and hard to scare. The majority of the focus this time around however was on women fighting for their children in one way or another.
Marnie Wallace and Dot Spenlow
Marnie (Claire Lams) is a loving mother of two young children with another on the way. Her problem is that her husband has scarpered, leaving her to repay loans and provide for his children on National Assistance funds alone. When Trixie discovers the trouble this patient is in, she contacts Tom to see if he can counsel his parishioner.
During Rev. Hereward’s visit to the Wallace home, Marnie’s cousin Dot (Emily Bowker) drops by to deliver a birthday gift to little Kevin. This upsets Marnie as she has no money to buy her son a present and was planning on skipping the occasion altogether. Dot reminds her that she and her husband could help her financially, but Marnie adamantly refuses and tells her cousin to leave.
Alas, a short time later, Marnie is sent an eviction notice. She finally faces facts and heads to Dot’s house to accept her offer. We learn that Dot and her husband Eugene have a very nice home and are financially comfortable. However, Dot is barren and her husband is not keen on adopting a stranger’s child. Therefore, Dot proposes adopting Marnie’s baby instead as the next best thing. (Did anyone else assume that Dot had proposed something far more dark and nefarious than this adoption arrangement?)
When Tom hears about the deal, he shares the news with the midwives. Many of their patients have given up babies they can’t support for adoption, some to family members in better circumstances. We learn that Tom himself is adopted and always believed his mother did her best for him. Nurse Crane assures him they will do their best for Marnie, with “every care taken and no questions asked.”
The Spenlows make good on their promises. We see Eugene (Jason Thorpe) at Marnie’s place writing a check for her rent and Dot is just back from ordering some new flooring and a mattress for Marnie. She even suggests Marnie have a say in naming the baby, but this intended kindness only upsets the expectant mother more. It could also be that Marnie has begun the early stages of labor and is irritable for that reason as well. Eugene calls Nonnatus House and so it begins.
Trixie is the attending midwife, but Marnie, for obvious reasons, just doesn’t have her heart in the delivery. Dr. Turner and Sister Winifred show up to assist and Marnie’s baby boy finally arrives with the help of forceps. Patrick, not knowing of the situation, offers the baby to Marnie, but she refuses to hold her child. Her only wish is to have him christened in the morning before Dot (who happens to be an atheist) comes to collect him.
Tom comes by early to baptize the infant who Marnie names Andrew (according to her cousin’s wishes) and Thomas after the reverend. The Spenlows arrive shortly afterwards and whisk their new baby away in a carrier cot. Marnie holds it together just until they leave the house and then breaks down in an agonizing sob. She asks Tom if she did the right thing and he tells her she did the only thing she could. It’s obvious this ordeal has made the young curate see his own adoption in a different light.
As for Marnie, when it came down to making everything properly legal she couldn’t go through with it. She changed her mind and went back to Dot for her child with Sister Winfred and Rev. Hereward for backup. It was terribly sad because you could feel for both women; the birth mother who made an impossible choice and the adoptive one who, despite her boastful attitude, really just wanted to be a mother, too. There is no mention of Marnie paying the Spenlows back or how she possibly could anyhow. Let’s just hope that when Dot is ready, she and Eugene can find another child to adopt who will be theirs to love forever.
The High-Risk Pregnancy Ward (Gloria Venables and Shelagh Turner)
We find that Shelagh is still in the hospital following her bleeding scare. She has the support of a kind and capable ward nurse, Sister Douglas (Cecilia Noble) and an admirable roommate Gloria Venables (Katie Lyons) who, despite her multiple stillbirths and miscarriages, is optimistic about carrying this baby to term.
Yet another bleeding incident distresses Shelagh greatly and the specialist Mr. Kenley (Gerrard McArthur) does little to allay her fears. At first he is surprised at her knowledge about pregnancy then condescendingly ignores her questions about why this is happening with the off-hand explanation that “pregnancies click or they don’t”.
Meanwhile it is discovered that there is a reason for Mrs. Venables' past obstetric troubles. She has an incompetent cervix, which means the neck of her womb lacks the muscularity to hold things in. The recommended procedure is a cervical cerclage or stitch (you may recall Anna from Downton Abbey had this done) but once again the patronizing doctor-man has to give the idea some consideration.
Of course Mr. Kenley’s watch and wait approach proves tragic because on the morning of scheduled operation, Gloria goes into labor and loses her fourth child. Nurse Douglas and Delia deliver the dead fetus. Although Gloria begs to see it, the nurse tells her it is not wise to do so and tries to comfort her with the thought that there will be better days than this.
Later Gloria asks Shelagh of her child would have had fingers and toes at the stage she lost it. Shelagh says yes it would and Gloria says it does her good to know. Also she wonders why her body makes milk for a baby who can’t live. Despite her loss and grief, Mrs. Venables, upon leaving the hospital, shares a wish she has that in a year or so she’ll be out pushing a pram and she’ll run into Shelagh doing the same and they’ll smile and pass the time of day. What a beautifully poignant moment!
Fortunately for Shelagh, when the nail-biting moment comes to learn if her baby is still alive, Nurse Douglas fixed it so that Patrick could do the job rather than that horrid Kenley person. At first it seems that it will be bad news, but eventually a smile spreads across Dr. Turner’s face and he lets Shelagh listen to her baby’s heartbeat for the first time.
Other Events of Note
The search for another midwife was a light point in this episode with the montage of unsuitable candidates passing through the doors of Nonnatus House. You may recall Nurse Crane humorously nixed consideration of men and Americans. The feminist nurse also said something about women in wartime that gave Sister Julienne a flash of inspiration.
As you probably already suspected, Sister Julienne pays a call on ex-Army nurse turned barmaid Valerie Dyer from episode two. Her quick response to the warehouse explosion on the dock and her dedication to the improvement of safety for those workers made her stand out. Valerie is up for the challenge and agrees to officially apply for the job immediately. Only one question, wasn’t Jenny Lee something like those new, green nurses Julienne and Phyllis tried to avoid this time around?
Also enjoyable was the Turner boys’ night complete with pale ale, pork scratchings and bad dart throwing. Tim is certainly growing into a fine, mature young man who desires the trust and respect of his parents.
Nurse Crane took over as leader of the Cub Scouts despite her assertion that young boys are exasperating and violent. Her leadership methods which involved a whistle, basic commands and responses seemed rather similar to dog training.
On a more concerning note, the exact whereabouts of Sister Mary Cynthia are still unknown. Sister Julienne apparently checked with the Mother House and discovered the troubled nun had been transferred to a place of “greater safety”. Surprisingly Julienne seems to take this as a step in the right direction while Trixie is apprehensive, and rightly so, about the compromised state of Mary Cynthia’s free will. With two episodes’ worth of build-up, it’s a certainty that this plotline will end in tears.
So dear viewers, we continue to keep our fingers crossed for Shelagh’s safe full-term pregnancy. We also can look forward to finding out how Valerie Dyer will fit in with the rest of the midwives. We’re now officially halfway through season six. Please share your high points and disappointments with this episode or with the season as a whole in the comments section.