This week’s episode of Call The Midwife introduces Annette Barkley (Olivia Brady) and Peter Barkley (Rob Witcomb), a cheery, chaotic couple who love children, but have been advised not to add to their extensive brood. Annette has heart disease, but missed a St. Cuthbert’s Hospital cardiology appointment, because she's pregnant again and was afraid the doctors would shame her. When she faints outside the Buckles’ shop, Violet gets her to Nonnatus House where Dr. Turner says she's too young for sterilization, despite her contraceptive not working. (If she even used it; her husband doesn’t like it.) Miss Higgins is assigned to find her a hospital bed.
Threapwood: It is 1968. Love is no longer a legitimate currency.
Fairly quivering with outrage, Miss Higgins reports to Dr. Turner she was bounced between the Cardiology and Maternity Units, neither wanted to admit Annette. Sister Veronica then breezes in with a poster for the presentation she and Dr. Turner are to give to Poplar's men on birth control. The bulletin board is definitely Miss Higgins’ territory, and after a brief skirmish Sister Veronica leaves the poster, which will go on display as Miss Higgins chooses. The Nonnatus House staff also discover, as they are about to go out on rounds, that the autoclave has broken, and they’ll have to sterilize everything in pots of boiling water. Sister Monica Joan is called in to assist.
Nurse Phyllis is caring for Annette, and gently breaks the news that she must go to the hospital for the birth of her baby, but that she will come to act as midwife. When Annette’s labor slows, the hospital team intervenes (and a pair of bloody scissors indicate that an episiotomy was added to the procedure), but Phyllis is with her all the way. Phyllis also negotiates with the hospital staff to take the baby out of the nursery so that mother and child can spend time together.
Shelagh Turner, up early for a busy day, discovers that the children’s pet rabbit has died, just another worry on top of everything else, and the symbolism of the event isn’t wasted on her since she’s fairly sure she’s pregnant. Shelagh visits her husband in his surgery, armed with a urine sample for a pregnancy test, and voices her suspicions, distraught. Dr. Turner, usually so sensible, makes the idiotic statement that “If you were too old, your body wouldn't allow you to conceive again.” (That’s not what she’s saying, and not helpful, Doc!)
When the men’s meeting on birth control is held, Sister Veronica has this to say: "...The most unwelcome event in a home is almost certainly an unplanned pregnancy. And in this day and age, there's no excuse for it. Is there, Doctor?" Somehow Dr. Turner does not writhe on the floor in an agony of guilt and embarrassment but concludes the lecture with a presentation on a new procedure, the vasectomy, accompanied by much groaning and crossing of legs. Peter Barclay, who arrives late with his youngest in his arms, takes note.
The Turners await the results of the pregnancy test, as Shelagh cries as she looks at her son Teddy’s baby clothes, and although she doesn’t doubt she’d love a new baby, she really doesn’t want to expand their family. However, the day they expect the results, she wakes to discover she's miscarried, bittersweet news she is no longer pregnant.
In home births, Jill Mellor (Justine Moore) has just had her first with boyfriend Spencer Wray (Keenan Munn-Francis); Sister Jullienne and his mother Florence (Angela Wynterm) in attendance. Sister Julienne invites Spencer in to meet his new daughter, but he’s shy, nervous, and initially scared of holding her. When Nurse Nancy comes for a follow-up, she learns Jill was tossed out because her parents didn’t want black grandchildren. She’s found love and security with the Wrays, but Spencer is behaving oddly, tuned in to voices others can’t hear, and Nancy is concerned.
Florence claims it’s a spiritual disorder, and Nancy refers her to Cyril’s Pentecostal church, knowing he will open the door to proper medical care. When Florence meets with Cyril and Mrs. Wallace, Cyril insists that Spencer should see a doctor. But Dr. Turner can’t get him an urgent hospital appointment, only the promise of a home visit the following week. Spencer is deteriorating, unable to sleep, and stressed by baby Mylene’s crying.
Did you think we wouldn’t hear from the dastardly Dr. Threapwood and the Board of Health in this episode? He visits Nonnatus and runs into Fred Buckle, repairing the autoclave. Fred mistakes him for the repairman, admitting he’s a Jack-of-all-trades, mend-and-make-do sort of bloke, and tells Dr. Threapwood Nonnatus depends on Matthew’s charity for extras. Bursting with indignation, Threapwood announces Nonnatus House and Dr. Turner have held autonomy over Poplar for too long. It will be absorbed into the Tower Hamlets area, and Nonnatus’s use of unskilled labor and dependence on charity are reasons to shut it down.
Tim Turner, who worked earlier this summer as an assistant in the maternity home, has a new job as a Bathing Attendant for the local authority, serving the poor and elderly in housing with minimal plumbing. Tim, naturally, has done his homework and loaded up with cans of hot water and a collapsible tub, meets Matthew driving in the neighborhood and accepts a lift to his first patient. Matthew is impressed by Tim’s work, but he has other things on his mind, specifically his father, Sir Brigham Aynsley (Michael Cochrane), who has just been released from the hospital where he underwent a series of tests.
Still unwell, he is now coming to stay with Matthew, and although Sir Brigham and Nurse Trixie adore each other, Matthew’s relationship with his father is difficult. Sir Brigham’s properties include Lisbon Buildings, where the Barkleys and Wrays live, and he instructs Matthew to drive him around the neighborhood. The docks are finished, Sir Brigham says, and the East End will die. He plans to sell his properties, and Matthew argues that this is not the correct approach, as his dad accuses him of being sentimental and naive and of never having done a day’s hard graft in his life.
Matthew rises to the challenge. He signs up to work as a Bathing Attendant with Tim for the next ten days. After the embarrassment of finding that a client is a Mrs. and not a Mr. (“I don’t mind,” she says flirtatiously), their next client is an elderly man in Lisbon Buildings who hasn’t had a bath in three years and suggests they use Brillo pads. (Ouch.)
Nurse Trixie visits Sir Brigham, who makes a crack about “playing nurse” since she’s in uniform. Her response? “I am a nurse, and I expect you to do as I say.” He starts talking about Matthew, admitting his son gave up his career as a barrister to please him but isn't comfortable with property acquisition. Displeased and shocked by Matthew’s latest work as a Bath Attendant, Brigham admits he’s unable to talk to Matthew, blaming his reticence on World War I when difficult topics were best not discussed. “Tell him he’s a good chap,” he says awkwardly to Trixie before heading to the bathroom where –– yes, you guessed it –– he dies of a stroke.
In Lisbon Buildings, Spencer, who hasn’t slept in days, has now decided his baby daughter is crying and doesn’t sleep because she has supernatural powers. His mother, distressed by his ramblings, asks Cyril to come over for prayers, but chaos ensues when Spencer grabs the baby and declares she is the devil. Matthew and Tim, who are bathing their client in the flat nearby, rush in when they hear loud noises and shouting. Spencer hands the baby over but then goes berserk, attacking Cyril and stabbing him with a pair of scissors. While Matthew subdues Spencer, Tim tries to stop Cyril’s bleeding.
The police take Spencer away, and Mrs. Wray, deeply distressed, stands outside the police station in the rain, crying until Jill and Mylene arrive to take her home. Spencer is in a cell, screaming and terrified until Dr. Turner is able to sedate him. Dr. Turner is furious that the police handled it so badly and calls the hospital doctor, who refused to take Spencer’s condition seriously. Tim is shocked by the violence and bloodshed of the event. Poor Matthew, comforted by Trixie, has had a very bad day indeed, leaves to take care of family matters and his grieving mother.
Sister Veronica and Nurse Nancy visit Florence, Jill, and baby Mylene. Sister Veronica explains that Spencer has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and outlines the support Jill can get from the Welfare State while he is in treatment. But Nurse Nancy tells them Jill is not alone because she has Nonnatus’s support. Jill reminds them that Florence is her family now, and they’ve been brought closer both by Mylene’s birth and Spencer’s illness, even though they know difficult times lie ahead.
Fred and Violet book a phone call to Jamaica to cheer up Cyril, but it backfires when Lucille turns out to be at work. She accepted the Sister position in the local hospital’s maternity ward for the next six months. He’s stunned. What does this mean for his marriage, and was Lucille ever truly happy with him? He visits Spencer, who is not responsive, and we may not know if he recovers.
The week ends on a happy note, at least, as the Turners throw a party to welcome a new family member, a white rabbit, while Annette, Peter, and their children welcome the most recent, possibly last, baby.