It is now 1961 in Poplar. As the modern world begins to encroach on traditional Poplar life, everyone is starting to notice the changes. Now down to three sisters who carry out midwifery duties in the area, the home births are slowing down so in order to keep her training current and to reinvigorate her work, Sister Julienne takes up a secondment at a busy local hospital,
She is impressed by the medical advances that are saving the lives of mothers and babies, is mildly alarmed that efficiencies appear to be taking some of the humanity out of the process when dealing with a young Asian Mother with language barriers.
A traumatic birth by Caesarean section of a baby with no limbs and no discernible sexual organs raises moral questions for her which she struggles to answer. The hospital surgeon recoils when he pulls the poor child from Mum’s womb, a mother known to the sisters of Nonatus House, hard working with a brood of tearaway lads, who yearns for a daughter to round out the family. When she seeks the child out in the nursery, it has not been registered as part of the day’s intakes. She finds the poor little scrap by an open window with no covers in a sluice room.
She is appalled and holds the baby swaddled and praying over it until it passes away.
This upset me very much as I am the daughter, that nurses as late as 1976 told my mother would have been sent to the sluice room myself had I been born in a different hospital due to my advanced prematurity. Sister Julienne seeks support from the strangely subdued and remarkably lucid Sister Monica Joan and young Sister Mary Cynthia for a lie meant kindly and the resulting Dedication to Sister Hildegard, the first sister to come to Poplar is moving and poignant.
This ongoing examination of the thalidomide tragedy in Call The Midwife is both brave and needed,as many will not remember the scandal that followed as children sought compensation after it was determined that the morning Sickness pill thought to be such a Godsend from Chemise Grünenthal was actually causing horrific in development issues in the womb.
So whilst Patrick, Shelagh and Julienne seek a source of what they think is a localised issue, the history books reveal a huge and frightening scandal.
We also see that even as the medical world is developing so is society at large, with opportunities in education increasingly open to all. Despite his working class background, Ian is overjoyed to be accepted into university and not have to work in the paint factory that gave his father emphysema and his mother chemical burns.
He embraces his chance to escape Poplar, much to the disappointment of his more traditional mother Sadie. But his plans appear to be in ruins when girlfriend Linda falls pregnant. The thought of his whole life tied to drudgery in Poplar, he tries to take his own life, not realising that Linda has already miscarried.
Trixie and Tom help the family, which begins to break apart under the pressure of this unplanned pregnancy. Their own unresolved situation is hurting them both and also the burgeoning romance between Tom and Barbara, so by confronting their own disappointments makes it finally okay for Barbara to openly be courted by the good Vicar, a chink of light in the very darkest of episodes!