Season 11 of Call the Midwife has started off, as usual, with the promise of spring and some heartbreaking moments as well. Last week, Dr. Turner and the midwives rallied around a couple in need of a fresh start. Meanwhile, Nurse Crane offered her empathy and support to a woman who’d hidden a secret of shame and grief for most of her life. All the details can be found right here. But let’s not dally- there’s plenty to cover this week as well.
First off, a scabies outbreak has arrived in Poplar. The dreaded rash is spotted on one of the expectant mothers at the antenatal clinic and Shelagh goes into full public health battle mode. Posters and flyers are distributed, schools are contacted and cleansing stations are put on high alert. Even the posh Matthew Aylward is not immune, much to his embarrassment and Nurse Corrigan’s amusement. Fortunately, by the end of the episode, the threat of major spread has been quashed and the posters come down.
We are presented with two very different patient stories in this episode. A proud woman struggling to cope with being a single mum is contrasted with a newlywed whose expectations for a family in the future come crashing down.
Let’s start with Vivien Thomsen (Ania Sowinski) who is under the care of Nurse Robinson (nee Anderson). When Lucille makes her first home visit, Mrs. Thomsen assures her that after going through childbirth three times before, her fourth delivery will be like falling off a log.
She has two boys at home – we later learn that her oldest is away at a youth detention facility. Her first husband was abusive and she had a drinking problem for a while after that. She works as a cleaner and her day-to-day life is exhausting and stressful, despite loving her sons very much. When her teenage son Antony (Badger Skelton) is caught attempting to shoplift diapers and baby clothes, the police officer who brings him home is sympathetic but informs Vivien social services will be in touch.
Lucille tries to allay her patient’s fears but is rather troubled when a social worker, Ruth Palmer (Maggie Daniels) comes to see her. Mrs. Palmer strongly suggests that the midwife steer Vivien towards the family contraceptive clinic’s trial program for “problem families”. Nurse Robinson takes exception to that term, but acknowledges that Mrs. Thomsen is facing challenging circumstances.
Against her better judgment, Lucille asks about Vivien’s plans for contraception after the baby is born at her next home visit. Vivien is deeply offended and reveals her second husband left the family when he learned she was pregnant again. She worries the social worker will consider her unfit because she’s now a single mother. Nurse Robinson worries she’s lost her patient’s trust.
When his mother goes into labor, Antony calls Nonnatus House against her wishes. Lucille immediately apologizes to Vivien, and they get down to the work of delivering her infant. Antony and Nurse Robinson cheer her on until she gives birth to a healthy baby girl.
After witnessing how low her patient’s confidence was after her interactions with the social worker, Lucille and Cyril register a complaint with their councilwoman, Mrs. Buckle. They stress that while access to contraception can be a great benefit to women, it should be at their own discretion, not under threat of having their families split up.
Mrs. Buckle apparently agrees. Soon after, Mrs. Thomsen receives a letter informing her that she has been removed from Mrs. Palmer’s referral list in response to a letter from a midwife, a pastor and a local councilor. Her family, including new baby, Connie, will not be under scrutiny any longer.
Meanwhile, a young wife with plans for her first-anniversary celebration on her mind walks into the cytology clinic with no clue how her life is about to change. Sister Frances performs Janis Cowper’s (Abi Corbett) pap smear and refers her to St. Cuthbert’s for a follow-up cervical biopsy, just to be safe.
Turns out Mrs. Cowper has cervical cancer which requires a radical hysterectomy. Her husband Philip (James Backway) wasn’t even aware she was having the tests performed and now she must break the news that she won’t be able to have children.
Sister Frances and Dr. Turner urge the Cowpers to have patience with the new reality of their lives. Philip assures Janis that while children might have been icing on the cake, she is his be-all and end-all. Janis takes Sister Frances’s advice and concentrates on all the things she can to after her operation. If she does well, she may train for a career in hairdressing. Adoption may happen later down the road.
It looks though Janis and Philip have a bright future ahead with the support of their medical care team and a positive, flexible approach to life.
And finally, the frightening situation of Miss Higgins being burgled while asleep in her bed. Though we didn’t see the actual incident happen, we saw very clearly how it shook the normally unflappable receptionist. Of course, the women of Nonnatus House welcome her to stay with them.
Despite the fact that she expresses gratitude for the midwives taking her in, independent Millicent Higgins (Georgie Glen) was always going to be difficult company. Two weeks with a tactless, set-in-her-ways houseguest would drive even the most gracious Sister out of her mind. An impromptu recorder concert performed by Miss Higgins is the last straw. Nurse Corrigan surprises her colleagues when she explains why their guest needs to be chucked out:
“Don't be so soft! And don't get me wrong, I know how it feels to start over with nothing but a suitcase to call your own, but the longer you keep giving her special treatment, the more she'll feel she needs it. She needs to get back on her own two feet before she forgets how good it feels.”
Sister Julienne makes an arrangement with the church rector for Millicent stay in the cottage across the street. Nurse Crane expresses sadness about someone else moving into Tom and Barbara’s old place, but it is a good compromise. And far from hurting her feelings, Miss Higgins is ecstatic to move out on her own again.
As the episodes go on, I sense the younger characters in the show are maturing and coming into their own. I’m glad to see Sister Francis getting more assertive and confident each season. Lucille and Cyril make a great team as they advocate for their community. What are your thoughts on this installment? Let’s chat in the comments section!