This week’s episode of Call the Midwife is framed around the periods of Lent and Mothering Sunday, and its story conveniently focuses on both sacrifice and motherhood.
As people all across Poplar are denying themselves the simple pleasures of sugar and cigarettes, Sister Julienne tries to prepare a young woman for motherhood, a family falters when their strongest member suffers a health emergency and a blossoming romance falters in the midst of illness.
A milk thief is on the loose in Poplar, but the responsible party is easily apprehended with coordinated surveillance by the team of Fred Buckle and Sister Monica Joan. The culprit, a sassy young mod wannabe named Tina Atkins (Georgia Henshaw) resentfully apologizes with the excuse that she needs the milk to nourish her unborn baby. Sister Julienne invites her inside where she’s given breakfast and information on the weekly antenatal clinic where she can register with Dr. Turner.
Tina follows up with Dr Turner, whose eyes she compares to Paul McCartney’s. But when Sister Julienne goes looking for her new patient, she finds Tina living in sketchy “boarding house” by the docks. Yes, it’s a brothel… The nun confirms that Tina is pregnant and advises her to attend the weekly clinic. Tina agrees and seems excited at the prospect of starting anew with a baby and a better job.
It turns out however, that this is not Miss Atkins’s first experience with motherhood. During an appointment to investigate some troubling symptoms, Shelagh notices Tina has an episiotomy scar. Tina admits to having a baby as a teenager, but her parents didn’t approve. She claims her son lives in America with his father, just one of many stories Tina tells to excuse herself from responsibility.
Meanwhile Sister Hilda has been on nit patrol at the local school and a pair of siblings, Marnie and Lennie Atkins, have contracted the dreaded lice. The teacher fills the nun in on their circumstances. Presently in the foster system, their mother Tina, a prostitute, has tried to take them back numerous times but they always end up returning to care. No matter how poorly she treats them, Marnie still cries for her mother.
Not surprisingly, Tina has been diagnosed with gonorrhea and needs a course of antibiotics. Sister Julienne strongly recommends she be booked into the maternity home where she can be monitored and prevented from picking up another venereal disease in the meantime. The other mothers are unsettled by Tina who has little modesty and is rather light-fingered and quarrelsome.
Despite the deception about her past in what is most likely an attempt to improve her chances of keeping this new baby, Julienne sees something hopeful in Tina and wants to help her. But when she approaches the young woman with a suitable job opportunity, Tina immediately nixes the idea. The sister stresses that being employed will show social services that she can care for her child and may also enable her to have contact with her other children in the future. Tina insists they’re better off without her but seems to be distracted by a pain in her shoulder.
Later when Lucille offers to get Tina some pain medication, she refuses. As soon as the nurse leaves the room, the scared young woman packs up to do the only thing she knows - run away. She doesn’t get far and is found by Sister Julienne, crumpled up on the ground outside the maternity home. The nun and Dr. Turner transport her to the hospital with a suspected ruptured ectopic pregnancy.
When Tina comes to in the hospital, Sister Julienne informs her that she lost the baby, but she could have another in the future. Tina says they shouldn’t have bothered. Julienne breaks the news about the pending adoption of Lennie and Marnie and that she can still intervene. Tina acknowledges she got the letter about the adoption and is willing to let her children go permanently.
Back at Nonnatus House, a troubled Julienne confides in Sister Monica Joan. She feels she failed Tina who is unsuited to motherhood but will surely become pregnant again. Monica Joan suggests she accept the world the way it is rather than she would wish it to be. So despite her opposition to birth control for single women, the sister asks Trixie to counsel Tina and get her a prescription for the contraceptive pill.
We first meet Florrie Watkins (Amanda Root) as she painfully makes her way home to her pregnant daughter Laverne Bulmer (Carly Bawden) and granddaughter Gillian. Laverne is on her way to work and leaves her mother a shopping list. Florrie checks in on Gillian and then, clearly exhausted, she settles into a chair nearby to nod off. When she wakes, the woman is a bit confused. She grabs Laverne’s shopping list and leaves the house without little Gillian who is playing on the floor.
Later Nurse Dyer passes the Bulmers's place to find Sgt. Woolf and a small crowd around the door. He informs Valerie that little Gillian has been left alone and locked in the house. Her grandmother was seen leaving the scene over an hour ago. For the safety of the child, Woolf makes the decision to break in the door just as Laverne is turning the corner. To add to the chaos, the sergeant is having some difficulty which Valerie quickly diagnoses as a heart attack and calls for an ambulance. More on poor Sgt. Woolf to come.
Shortly after, Florrie arrives back to a very angry daughter demanding an explanation. Mrs. Watkins is immediately sorry and befuddled by what’s she’s done. Valerie tries her best to calm the family down, emphasizing that no one has been hurt.
At the dinner table, the midwives discuss the Bulmer family’s predicament and their reliance on Florrie. Sister Monica Joan fervently states that it’s only right for grown children to care for their aging parents considering all the sacrifices they’ve made. Phyllis agrees, adding she was honored to care for her mother in her final years, but insists it's still a difficult transition for all involved.
The diagnosis of Florrie’s condition is a multi-step process. At first Dr. Turner suspects late onset diabetes, but orders some blood tests to investigate all her symptoms. He orders a strict diet, rest and a temporary end to Florrie’s babysitting duties. Laverne has to stop working which means no new house for the young Bulmer clan.
Next Florrie develops jaundice which suggests, not diabetes, but liver disease that has been going on for a while. Laverne breaks the news to her husband Ken (Harry Neale) and worries her mum won’t recover. He suggests Florrie might be drinking in secret, but Laverne threatens to kick him out of the house if he ever suggests again that her mother is an alcoholic.
Patrick continues to search medical journals for the cause of Florrie’s illness. He thinks her problem might have to do with toxic levels of iron in her system after menopause. Dr. Turner explains to his patient that her darkening skin and other symptoms are due to a condition called hemochromatosis and says it can be managed with bloodletting. Once treatment begins, Florrie is overcome with the relief that her condition is easily treatable. She tells Laverne she considered jumping in the river, but her daughter reassures her she could never be a burden. Ken is also pleased that Florrie is recovering and that’s all that matters. The down payment on the house can wait.
Soon after Laverne goes into labor and Nurse Dyer is summoned. With Florrie by her side as her strength and support, she successfully delivers another baby girl in time for Mother’s Day.
Millicent and Aubrey
Back to the short-lived romance of Miss Higgins and Sergeant Woolf. I don’t think I was aware of their first names until this episode.
Up to this point, Millicent has been quite smitten with her police officer beau, proudly displaying his gift of a hyacinth and bragging of their travel plans for Easter.
Once Aubrey ends up at the hospital after his cardiac arrest, Miss Higgins faithfully visits him daily, delivering gifts and cards and chatting about visits to Kent or Kew.
Nurse Crane also stops by to see the sergeant who once wooed her. She mentions Miss Higgins, but this seems to make Woolf sad. He confides that the doctor’s given him a prognosis that’s less than encouraging so he feels he should call off his relationship with Millicent.
On her next visit, he tells Miss Higgnis that he has to stop working for some time and will be staying with his sister. He feels it would be unfair to continue with their relationship considering the uncertainty of his condition. Millicent is stoic, but obviously heartbroken.
Ever the friend in need, Nurse Crane comes by to cheer and console Miss Higgins with a thermos of tea and a sympathetic ear. Millicent fears she’s made herself look rather foolish, but Phyllis disagrees. She wisely observes,
"You’ve been disappointed in love. It doesn’t mean there wasn’t love there to begin with.”
As the episode ends, we see Mother’s Day (or Mothering Sunday as they call it in the U.K.) in full bloom. There are cards and breakfasts for mothers and flowers for everyone, including the inhabitants of Nonnatus House who help the women of Poplar on their maternal journeys every day.
How do you rate the season so far? Do the episodes bring you to tears as much as earlier seasons? Did you feel the same amount of compassion for Tina that Sister Julienne did? Will Millicent find the companionship she seeks? Please share your kudos and criticisms in the comments section!