Bikes and babies

One of my new favorite shows this season has been PBS’s Call the Midwife. It’s a cozy sort of show, based on the memoirs of midwife-turned-music teacher Jennifer Worth (Nurse Jenny Lee in the series). Our heroine is a fresh-faced young nurse hired by a group of nuns to help them deliver babies across the poverty-stricken East End of London.

The biker gang of midwives

The last couple of episodes have been trending toward Very Special territory, but in general, I appreciate the realism and toughness of the mothers and the midwives. The characters are also all three-dimensional and the actors make you actually care about them, which is more than I can say for Michelle “Monoface” Dockery on Downtown Abbey.

The business of helping people into this world has changed a good deal since the 1950s. By chance, the New England Journal ran an article just this week comparing two fictional “lectures” on obstetrics. (Interestingly, the title is about midwifery, but the article itself is about obstetrics. Know thy definitions, NEJM! Double-interestingly, this tension drives the opening chapter of Michael Chabon’s new novel, Telegraph Avenue. I may be the only person in the world who can jump from medical journal to literary darling in one digression, and then be meta about being meta about it.)

But back to the bikes and the babies.

There are, admittedly, some moments that just cry for snark, like any line spoken by Sister Monica Joan, the demented mother superior who gets the lines originally intended for Lear’s Fool. And the medical side of things is always played up for a bit more drama than it deserves — there are plenty of fakeouts of people who you think are dead but then breathe. (OK, well, this happened to me the other day, when I was listening to someone to pronounce them, they Lazarused and asked me what was going on. Aah!) But they also don’t pull the punches — things are as graphic as network television allows, and with one or two exceptions, the outcomes are realistic.

Tonight is the season finale (damn you, BBC, for commissioning only 6 episodes per season!) and you betcha I’ll be staying up to watch even though I’m on call tomorrow in the CCU.


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