In addition to the faculty of the Vanderbilt School of Nursing guest blogging for us each Monday morning about the previous night’s episode of Call the Midwife — airing on Sundays on NPT and PBS Stations nationwide at 7:00 p.m. Central, March 30-May 18 — we are thrilled to have a bonus blogger. Rachel Sykes, who did a practicum at the Vanderbilt School of Nursing in the summer 0f 2013, is a registered midwife and graduate from the University of Manchester, United Kingdom. She’s watched the show on the BBC and will provide a unique UK-perspective. She currently practices in a busy maternity unit in the Northwest of England.
SPOILER ALERT: Some posts may contain spoilers, so please be aware of that.
By Rachel Sykes
This week is a very emotive episode due the sudden and unexpected passing of Jenny Lee’s doting boyfriend, Alec (Leo Staar). At the end of the episode the nuns and fellow midwives send Jenny (Jessica Raine) off to a convent in Chichester for compassionate leave. So very heart-warming for Jenny Lee to know she has tremendous support at her place of work. The wise words of Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt) had me in tears. What a lovely character she is. I doubt there were many dry eyes in Tennessee last night. Just when you thought you were safe watching this gentle Sunday night series, this sweet drama gives us a taste of real tragedy and is a good reminder for us all to resolve arguments with loved ones swiftly, as you never know what the future holds.
Another theme is the inner confidence struggle of the new Nonnatus nun, Sister Winifred (Victoria Yeates). With her, I can truly empathize. The first few months of being a qualified midwife are about as terrifying as driving on the other side of the road for the first time … in a different country … on a busy highway (at rush hour). The sudden transition from student, to accountable midwife is a critical step for most. Midwifery takes courage and resilience no doubt, you share both the joyous moments and the unfortunate outcomes that come with the profession. For Sister Winifred, her fear of delivery is soon put to rest as she conducts a home delivery alone, giving her the confidence boost she needs for her journey into midwifery.
The word ‘midwife’ means ‘with woman’ and originates from the Middle English dialect of the 12th to late 15th century. A midwife certainly ‘goes through’ labour and birth with the women they care for. As Nurse Miller (Bryony Hannah) says to Sister Winifred, they ‘feel the joy and feel the pain.’ I am not a mother myself and I do admit it is difficult to truly empathize with how women are feeling in labour, especially from a pain perspective, without having experienced it for yourself. What I do know from being ‘with woman,’ that most would rather run naked on a football field in the bleak mid-winter (in full view of everyone) than have their uterus contract! It can be said that midwives are well tuned to women. They practice the art of midwifery through the use of their eyes, ears, hands, knowledge and intuition. They can often tell when someone’s cervix has progressed to full dilatation based on a woman’s behaviour. Often women will chime in with the chorus of ‘I can’t do it anymore!’ or ‘I want to go home now please.’ Yes, these are encouraging signs! Having said all this, it can be physically and emotionally tiring when caring for and encouraging a woman in labour, particularly a long labour. Being a midwife, you always want the best for your women and for them to experience a normal vaginal birth with minimal intervention. Women can become disheartened if they progress slowly and it is the midwife’s job to provide that vital emotional support to both the woman and her birth partner(s).
Midwifery is a long standing tradition in the UK, with midwives being the lead carers for women with low risk, uncomplicated pregnancies. They also provide shared care alongside obstetricians with whom they have a good working relationship (most of the time!). A midwife in the UK has a very diverse role. They practice within an overstretched maternity service, caring for women from all walks of life. Times are often stressful, but many midwives have their individual coping mechanisms and lean on each other for support. To bring life into the world is a true privilege and one that as a midwife, I most certainly cherish. During particularly hard days (we all have them!), I take comfort that my work has a positive impact on the women I care for, or at least have some influence on the beginning of a brand new life.
Rachel Sykes is a registered midwife and graduate from the University of Manchester, United Kingdom.
Missed our analysis of the Previous Season’s Episodes? Read them here.