The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times (Midwife Trilogy)

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9780143116233: The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times (Midwife Trilogy)
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An unforgettable story of the joy of motherhood, the bravery of a community, and the hope of one extraordinary woman

At the age of twenty-two, Jennifer Worth leaves her comfortable home to move into a convent and become a midwife in post war London's East End slums. The colorful characters she meets while delivering babies all over London-from the plucky, warm-hearted nuns with whom she lives to the woman with twenty-four children who can't speak English to the prostitutes and dockers of the city's seedier side-illuminate a fascinating time in history. Beautifully written and utterly moving, The Midwife will touch the hearts of anyone who is, and everyone who has, a mother.

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Review:

Emulating James Herriot-except with fewer cows and more cockneys- Worth sketches a warm, amiable portrait of hands-on medical practice.

The author became a midwife at age 22, learning her trade in the 1950s from the nun midwives at the convent of St. Raymund Nonnatus and working among impoverished women in the slums of the London Docklands. Her frank, sometimes graphic memoir describes scores of births, from near-catastrophes to Christmas miracles, and details her burgeoning understanding of the world and the people in it. It's stocked with charming characters: loopy sister Monica Joan, the convent's near-mystic cake-gobbler and mischief-maker; Father Joseph Williamson, focused on delivering prostitutes rather than babies; handyman/poultry salesman/drain cleaner/toffee-apple pusher Frank; and posh Camilla Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne ("Chummy"), an outrageously warm-hearted debutante who devoted her life to midwifery and missionary work. Worth depicts the rich variety of life in the slums, where loving, doting mothers of nine rubbed elbows with neglectful, broken young women turning tricks to support their husbands' night life. She draws back the veil usually placed over the process of birth, described here as both tribulation and triumph. In birth after birth, as women and midwives labored to bring babies into the world through hours of pain and occasional danger, Worth marveled at the mothers' almost- uniform embrace of their babies. "There must be an inbuilt system of total forgetfulness in a woman," she writes. "Some chemical or hormone that immediately enters the memory part of the brain after delivery, so that there is absolutely no recall of the agony that has gone before. If this were not so, no woman would ever have a second baby."

A charming tale of deliveries and deliverance.
-Kirkus Review

With deep professional knowledge of midwifery and an unerring eye for the details of life in the London slums of the Nineteen Fifties Jennifer Worth has painted a stunningly vivid picture of an era now passed."
-Patrick Taylor MD, author of the New York Times best seller An Irish Country Doctor.

"Readers will fall in love with The Midwife, a richly drawn chronicle of midwifery in the 1950's, in London's East end. Recounted with great tenderness and poignancy, Jennifer Worth's story is an affirmation of life during the best and worst of times, and a celebration of the relentless drama and awe-inspiring magic of birth."
-Elizabeth Brundage, author of Somebody Else's Daughter

"Jennifer Worth's memories of her years as a midwife in the East End were at once hilariously horrible and tremendously moving. She recounts a period when birth was both more frightening and more personal. Part of me wishes that my obstetrician had shown up at my house on a rickety old bicycle, and treated me both to a delivery and a hot cup of tea."
- Ayelet Waldman, author of Love and Other Impossible Pursuits

Worth gained her midwife training in the 1950s among an Anglican order of nuns dedicated to ensuring safer childbirth for the poor living amid the Docklands slums on the East End of London. Her engaging memoir retraces those early years caring for the indigent and unfortunate during the pinched postwar era in London, when health care was nearly nonexistent, antibiotics brand-new, sanitary facilities rare, contraception unreliable and families with 13 or more children the norm. Working alongside the trained nurses and midwives of St. Raymund Nonnatus (a pseudonym she's given the place), Worth made frequent visits to the tenements that housed the dock workers and their families, often in the dead of night on her bicycle. Her well-polished anecdotes are teeming with character detail of some of the more memorable nurses she worked with, such as the six- foot-two Camilla Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne, called Chummy, who renounced her genteel upbringing to become a nurse, or the dotty old Sister Monica Joan, who fancied cakes immoderately. Patients included Molly, only 19 and already trapped in poverty and degradation with several children and an abusive husband; Mrs. Conchita Warren, who was delivering her 24th baby; or the birdlike vagrant, Mrs. Jenkins, whose children were taken away from her when she entered the workhouse.
- Publishers Weekly

From the Author:

Comedy and tragedy are the faces of the double mask of the ‘Commedia dell’Arte’. This is the Theatre of Life where the writer must start. Writers with no experience of life have nothing to say. The writer must dwell in the thick of human life and get the hands dirty. Truth is always richer and stranger than fiction.
What is more central to life than birth? A midwife is always present, yet a midwife’s role has never before been documented. I was a district midwife fifty years ago, going around the slums of the London Docklands on a bicycle.
The docks were fully operational and employed most of the men. The bug- infested tenements (those that were still standing after the Blitz) housed tens of thousands of people, and overcrowding was chronic. There was no Pill, and families were large, sometimes huge. None of the flats or houses had a telephone. Few of them had running water or even a lavatory. Babies were born by gaslight, lamplight, or the meter ran out in the middle of labour.
The setting is rich material for the Commedia dell’Arte tradition. The fever-ridden slums of Naples or the dark, sinister canals of mediaeval Venice could not be more redolent of atmosphere for drama and melodrama. Yet time and place alone are of limited interest. There can be no comedy or tragedy without people.
The Cockneys are the people I write about. I knew and loved them. I entered their crowded homes at the most intimate times of life – the birth of new babies. I saw their strengths and weaknesses, their open-heartedness and narrow prejudices, their humour and courage, their irresistible passion for enjoyment.
The book is teeming with unforgettable characters: Conchita and Len who produced twenty-five babies between them, the last one born prematurely in a London smog; Brenda who had rickets; Lilly who had syphilis; Molly, beaten up and on the game a fortnight after delivery; a breach delivery on Christmas day; Margaret, who died of eclampsia; Mary, a fourteen year-old Irish girl dragged into the seamy brothels of Cable Street (I am told that the strip show in a brothel is amongst my most powerful writing!); Fred, the boiler man at the Convent; and Mrs. Jenkins, who had spent eighteen years in the workhouse. And how does a white man deal with his wife (also white) after the birth of a half-black baby? How would any man react today? There are three such stories in Call the Midwife. We are not talking about an IVF error. This is not racism. This is adultery. This is the Commedia dell’Arte.
I have mentioned a convent. I worked with an order of nuns, heroic nuns who had been nursing in the slums of London since the 1870s, when no-one would go into those areas, except the police. The nuns are central to the book. They are saintly and wise, worldly and witty, sometimes infuriating, often eccentric. Sister Monica Joan’s verbal battles with Sister Evangelina are among the funniest things in the book, I am told.
The book is social history in story form. It is not a dull chronicle of events. It is about the living, breathing, suffering, laughing people whose lives were shaped by the docklands in which they lived fifty years ago.
As we grow older the days of our youth are illuminated by a golden glow that seems to grow ever brighter as the years pass. My memories of midwifery in Poplar approach high romance: the great cargo boats coming and going ceaselessly, with thousands of men entering the dock gates, loading and unloading; the pilots guiding a great white vessel as big as an iceberg through a narrow canal to her resting wharf; the constant deep-throated growls of the ships’ funnels and the shrill of the sirens. I recall the open-hearted friendliness of the people who lived cheerfully in grim conditions, who never locked their doors and who kept open house to just about everyone. I remember cycling home in the grey light of dawn when the docks were beginning to stir, my body tired after eighteen hours work, but my mind alight with the thrill of having achieved the safe delivery of a beautiful baby to a joyous mother

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780143123255: Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times (Midwife Trilogy)

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ISBN 10: 0143123254 ISBN 13: 9780143123255
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2012
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9780297853145: Call The Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s

Orion, 2007
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9780753198780: Call the Midwife

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