‘Call the Midwife’ Recap: Season 4, Episode 3

For the fourth season in a row, we are honored to have the faculty of the Vanderbilt School of Nursing back to guest blog for us each Monday morning about the previous night’s episode of Call the Midwife, airing Sundays on NPT and PBS Stations nationwide at 7 p.m. CDT through May 17. Check in every Monday morning for historical and contemporary context on the show along with some fun discussion. SPOILER ALERT: Be aware that some posts may contain spoilers.


Dolores McEvoy (Siobhan O’Kelly) and Nurse Phyllis Crane (Linda Bassett)

Dolores McEvoy (Siobhan O’Kelly) and Nurse Phyllis Crane (Linda Bassett)

By Michelle Collins, Ph.D., CNM

Michelle CollinsAuthenticity and disease.

As I watch these episodes of Call the Midwife, I like to look for themes, and those two words come to mind from this episode. First, disease. It’s always amazing to me when information arises from these episodes that is as relevant today as it was in the time period depicted in the show. As we watched Shelagh Turner (played by Laura Main) describe the saving graces of hand-washing and the use of soap to the women in the prenatal clinic, I was reminded of Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-1865). Not a familiar name you say? Semmelweis was a Hungarian physician who was the first to propose the one thing that could decrease the incidence of puerperal fever (also known as childbed fever).

Childbed fever, or the infection of a women’s reproductive tract which is conferred during the process of giving birth, was a scary reality for women in the 1800s. The mortality rates for women giving birth in hospitals at that time was as high as 40 percent. What is astonishing is that the major cause of childbed fever was the contamination of women’s reproductive organs from bacteria on the hands of the very physicians who attended their births. You see, physicians would go from birth to birth in the hospitals, even from performing an autopsy to a birth, and rarely (if EVER) wash their hands. Hard to believe, but it was not understood that one’s hands were such fertile ground for bacterial growth. A leading obstetrician of the day was quoted as saying “Doctors are gentlemen, and gentlemen’s hands are clean.”

Enter Ignaz Semmelweis, who noticed that women who stayed in their homes to give birth had a markedly lower rate of childbed fever than those giving birth in the hospital. He proposed – and proved – that the simple act of washing one’s hands with an antiseptic solution (prior to attending a birth) reduced the mortality rate from childbed fever by an astounding 90 percent. Shockingly, as still happens today, those in the “establishment” who refused to accept his findings persecuted him to the point that he was eventually committed to a mental institution, where he subsequently died. A long overdue thank-you, Dr. Semmelweis.

The other theme of this episode for me was authenticity. It was heartbreaking to watch the tortured young man attempting to fit into the societal mold that was the antithesis of who he really was. The court proceedings he underwent were cringe-worthy, and the sentence of “treatments” that would “cure” him equally so. This brings us back to my earlier point that I am amazed when stories or circumstances arise from these episodes which are as current now as they were during the show’s time period. Haven’t we very recently seen news stories about clinical programs purporting that they can “cure” homosexuality? We would like to think that we have come a long way since the time when it was actually a crime to be oneself; but perhaps not. As the good Dr. Seuss once said “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Michelle Collins Ph.D., CNM, is an Associate Professor of Nursing, Director Nurse-Midwifery Program, at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.

Event and programming to mark 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon

This month NPT is hosting a special in-studio event featuring Rory Kennedy’s Academy Award-nominated documentary, Last Days in Vietnam, and airing special programming in observance of the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.

In studio
Join us Wednesday evening, April 22, at NPT for a 50-minute preview screening of Last Days in Vietnam, followed by a discussion with Hugh Doyle, chief engineer on the U.S.S. Kirk – the Navy vessel involved in dramatic helicopter rescues – and Binh Pho, a college student in South Vietnam during the war. Both will be present in the studio, along with local Vietnam veterans and members of Middle Tennessee’s Vietnamese American community.

Dinner from Nashville’s Miss Saigon restaurant will be served at 6 p.m.; the screening begins at 7 p.m.

This screening event is free, but registration is required. To RSVP or find more information, click here. The studio event will simultaneously be streamed online with audiences participating across the nation.

Images courtesy of Howard Ruffner and the WGBH Educational Foundation.

Images courtesy of Howard Ruffner and the WGBH Educational Foundation.

On air
NPT will also broadcast a number of programs about the Vietnam War this month:

Tuesday, April 21, at 8 p.m. Filmmaker Barak Goodman’s (Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies) My Lai explores the 1968 My Lai Massacre of 300 unarmed civilians by a company of American soldiers. Shown as part of the American Experience series.

Monday, April 27, at 8 p.m. The Draft examines how who serves in the military continues to define our country. This program is being presented as part of PBS Stories of Service.

Monday, April 27, at 9 p.m. During the Vietnam era, journalists and the American public asked tough questions about the conflict. Dick Cavett, one of the leading media personalities of the time, informed the debate through interviews on his hugely popular talk show. Dick Cavett’s Vietnam combines interview segments from his show with network news footage and material from the National Archives to provide context to this controversial chapter in U.S. history.

Tuesday, April 28, at 7 p.m.  On May 4, 1970, four college students were killed on the campus of Ohio’s Kent State University during a protest about the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. Kent State ‒ The Day the ’60s Died examines the events leading up to and after that fateful day.

Tuesday, April 28, at 8 p.m.  The full documentary Last Days in Vietnam, about the fall of Saigon and the American military pullout, airs on the American Experience. This presentation is part of PBS Stories of Service.

‘Call the Midwife’ Recap: Season 4, Episode 2

For the fourth season in a row, we are honored to have the faculty of the Vanderbilt School of Nursing back to guest blog for us each Monday morning about the previous night’s episode of Call the Midwife, airing Sundays on NPT and PBS Stations nationwide at 7 p.m. CDT through May 17. Check in every Monday morning for historical and contemporary context on the show along with some fun discussion. SPOILER ALERT: Be aware that some posts may contain spoilers.


Nurse Phyllis Crane (Linda Bassett).

Nurse Phyllis Crane (Linda Bassett)


By Bethany Domzal Sanders, MSN, CNM

Bethany SandersThis was a very emotional episode in many ways.

I loved the support the midwives showed for one another in the midst of such a gut-wrenching moment. That hug that Nurse Crane gave Nurse Gilbert cracked her seemingly icy outside and really showed the depth of her compassion. I like Nurse Crane in this mentor role as it really represents the tradition of midwifery where senior midwives continue to offer their expertise and experience to newer midwives; much of the art of midwifery can’t be learned in books. It’s always nice to see a group of women building each other up and coming together.

One of my favorite things about Call the Midwife is the authentic glimpse into birth, which at times includes difficult and agonizing moments such as when a baby is stillborn. This episode featured one of those difficult moments by “dragging into light things unseen” and showing the tragedy of pregnancy and infant loss.

Although none of us likes to think of a baby dying, sadly it does happen and more frequently than we would like. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control data for 2013 reports nearly 600 deaths per 100,000 live births. While some of these deaths can be attributed to birth defects, in many cases a definitive cause is never identified.

That look shared between Nurse Gilbert and Nurse Mount was a familiar one for nurses, midwives and doctors–the silence that has so much weight as you struggle to deal with the reality of the situation and the flood of your own emotions. It is one of those times in life where there is no guidebook about what to say or do and what is said can leave a lasting impression. Surely I wasn’t the only one who cringed a bit that neither Abigail nor her husband were offered an opportunity to see or hold their infant daughter. Fortunately, our understanding of the support grieving parents need has advanced some since the 1950s, although there is still a ways to go.

In 1988, October was designated as National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month by President Ronald Reagan, recognizing that there are no words to describe parents who have lost children either through miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, stillbirth, birth defects, SIDS or other causes. More recently there has been a national movement to make October 15th “Pregnancy and Infancy Loss Remembrance Day.” This observance provides an opportunity for families and friends to acknowledge and celebrate these lives, no matter how brief they were. Loss doulas and perinatal hospice teams uniquely serve these most vulnerable and hurting families. Support organizations such as SHARE Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support have active local chapters where parents can relate to each other’s experiences and tell their stories.

As Sister Julienne so wisely said, “What is love if not acknowledged?”

Bethany Domzal Sanders, MSN, CNM, is a member of the Vanderbilt Nurse-Midwives, the clinical practice of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing located at West End Women’s Health Center.

‘Call the Midwife’ Recap: Season 4, Episode 1

For the fourth season in a row, we are honored to have the faculty of the Vanderbilt School of Nursing back to guest blog for us each Monday morning about the previous night’s episode of Call the Midwife, airing Sundays on NPT and PBS Stations nationwide at 7 p.m. CDT, March 29-May 17. Check in every Monday morning for historical and contemporary context on the show along with some fun discussion. SPOILER ALERT: Be aware that some posts may contain spoilers.


Dr. Turner (Stephen McGann), Collette Wimbish (Olivia Llewellyn) and Shelagh (Laura Main).

Dr. Turner (Stephen McGann), Collette Wimbish (Olivia Llewellyn) and Shelagh (Laura Main).


By Michelle Collins, Ph.D., CNM

Michelle CollinsSeason 4 of Call the Midwife started out with a bang with midwife Trixie (played by Helen George) catching a baby born in a taxicab. And yes, midwives prefer “catch” terminology rather than “deliver” (for more on that look up midwife Lauren Hunter’s excellent paper “Women give birth and pizzas are delivered: Language and western childbirth paradigms; citation below).

As the midwives discussed this unusual event (unusual because women gave birth at home, so babies were rarely born in transit to another location), you may have caught Sister Evangelina’s disparaging remark about the movement away from giving birth at home, and how that would inevitably lead to such occurrences. Between that and the storyline on formula vs. breastfeeding, I felt this episode highlighted well how the medical establishment has chipped away at the normalcy surrounding birth. There was a time, in our no so distant past, in which mothers were advised that formula feeding, compared to breastfeeding, was actually better for babies.

Typical parental guidance in the 1940s included:
•    Putting babies on a rigid feeding schedule, rather than depending on baby’s hunger cues to allow them to lead feedings
•    Minimizing any holding and/or snuggling of babies to avoid spoiling
•    Making sure that baby’s environment was completely quiet while baby was feeding or sleeping (how did large families try and achieve that one??)

The most damaging advice in my opinion was to avoid picking up and consoling a crying baby (if you knew they were fed and had a clean diaper); to do so could result in (yet again) spoiled children. There was no recommendation at the time about babies sleeping in the same room with the parents, let alone (gasp!) safe co-sleeping.

Enter Dr. Benjamin Spock, American pediatrician who published his best-selling book on parenting, Baby and Child Care, in 1946. Dr. Spock was a revolutionary for his time (or an utter heretic depending on whom you asked!). Spock urged mothers to rely on their maternal intuition with his simple message: “You know more than you think you do.” Dr. Spock could have been an honorary midwife. By recognizing the normalcy of pregnancy and childbirth, and forging women and family centered relationships with our clients, we as midwives remind them constantly to trust their instincts and their intuition; mammas really do know best. When a woman is struggling with the initiation of breastfeeding, and the sometimes accompanying challenges, I love to reassure her with “you made this baby, nourished and grew him/her inside your body, and if that weren’t spectacular enough, you have everything you need to feed this little one.”

It saddens me to see women being robbed of this self-trust by a medicalized obstetrical culture that exists in the U.S. For those who falsely believe that the U.S. maternity care system results in the healthiest of pregnant women and babies, I urge you to check the facts. We are sorely lacking, yet we spend significantly more money on obstetrical care than other similarly sized industrialized countries. To pregnant women and new mommas I say, trust your instincts and question advice that “doesn’t sit quite right” with you. Ask for the evidence and have frank discussions. You absolutely do “know more than you think you do.”

Citation mentioned above: Hunter, L. P. (2006), Women Give Birth and Pizzas Are Delivered: Language and Western Childbirth Paradigms. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 51: 119–124. doi: 10.1016/j.jmwh.2005.11.009

Michelle Collins Ph.D., CNM, is an Associate Professor of Nursing, Director Nurse-Midwifery Program, at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.

Special programming marks ‘Cancer’ documentary premiere

Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, a new three-part documentary presented by Ken Burns, will air on NPT at 8 p.m. nightly, March 30 through April 1. Directed by Barak Goodman, the film is based on Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book by the same name.


Cancer film image

We are marking the occasion in a number of ways.

NPT producer Shawn Anfinson created three short videos highlighting local people who are involved with cancer research, survivorship or volunteerism.

The videos feature people connected to our three partners in a preview event for Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies: Dr. Carlos L. Arteaga, Associate Director for Clinical Research at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center; Felice Apolinsky, Program Director for Gilda’s Club Nashville; and Ray Bell, a longtime volunteer driver for the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program.

These are currently being shown on NPT and are also on our YouTube channel.

We will also broadcast the following ancillary programs highlighting aspects of the cancer story:

Monday, April 5, at 11:30 p.m. Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies – A Conversation is a talk between Ken Burns; Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee; and Sharon Percy Rockefeller, President and CEO of presenting PBS station WETA and a cancer survivor. Katie Couric (Yahoo! News), co-founder of “Stand Up To Cancer,” moderates.

Thursday, April 9, at 11 p.m. No Evidence of Disease highlights a rock band made up of six gynecologic oncology surgeons from across the country. (The band’s name comes from the four words every patient prays to hear, “No Evidence of Disease”.) Originally created as a cover band to entertain their peers at a medical conference, the group turned into an awareness movement to give a voice to women affected by gynecologic cancers.

Monday, April 20, at 11:30 p.m. Another documentary focuses on using music to help cancer patients. Kids Rock Cancer documents a program of music therapy in which children write and record original songs in their hospital rooms and then record a CD for their families to keep.

‘Call the Midwife’ Returns March 29 with Vanderbilt University School of Nursing Commentary

It’s time for a long-awaited new arrival, the fourth season of Call the Midwife, the popular series inspired by the memoirs of Jennifer Worth. The nurses and nuns of Nonnatus House return in new episodes beginning Sunday, March 29, at 7 p.m.

They will once again be joined locally by Vanderbilt School of Nursing faculty every Monday morning for a recap and analysis of the Sunday night episode. SPOILER ALERT: Be aware that some posts may contain spoilers!


This season Michelle Collins, Ph.D, CNM, is joined by Bethany Domzal Sanders, MSN CNM, to provide historical and contemporary context on the topics and issues covered in this season’s episodes. Special thanks to Kathy Rivers, VUMC/Vanderbilt University School of Nursing’s communications director, for coordinating the project.

CTM team

Join us on the blog on wnpt.org beginning March 30 for the first recap, and be sure to watch the first episode of Call the Midwife Season 4 on Sunday, March 29 at 7 p.m.

While you’re waiting for the new season of shows and blog posts to begin, you can catch up on previous VUMC recaps archived on the blog.

March Music continues on NPT

Our March Membership Campaign continues this week with a slate of exciting music programming.

Remember, we’ll be offering thank-you gifts related to these shows and in some cases we’ll air the programs more than once. So enjoy the music and support Nashville Public Television.

Here’s a rundown of what to look for this week:

Monday, March 16, at 8:30 p.m. Power rock from Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo: The 35th Anniversary Tour. Mezzo-soprano Benatar and hard-rocking guitarist Geraldo performs hits like “Love Is a Battlefield” and “Heartbreaker.”

Monday, March 16, at 11 p.m. In The Music of Northern Ireland with Eamonn McCrystal, the Irish pop tenor and guests perform in Belfast’s historic Grand Opera House.

Tuesday, March 17, at 7 p.m. An encore presentation of Transatlantic Sessions with Nashville Dobro master Jerry Douglas and fiddle virtuoso Aly Bain along with Alison Krauss, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bela Fleck, James Taylor and many others. This program will also be shown Friday, March 20, at 11 p.m.

Wednesday, March 18, at 8:30 p.m. A concert filmed at Atlanta’s Buckhead Theater, Justin Hayward: Spirits…Live!, features the Moody Blues guitarist and vocalist singing songs from his latest solo album and classics from the legendary band.

Thursday, March 19, at 8:30 p.m. Recorded last year, Lindsey Stirling Live from London is a lively mix of dance and modern classical music performed by the young electric violinist.

March Membership Campaign means music, music, music

Our March Membership Campaign is underway, which means lots of wonderful music programs you won’t want to miss.

Remember, we’ll repeat many of these shows during the campaign and we’ll be offering thank-you gifts related to this programs. So enjoy the music and support Nashville Public Television.

Here’s a rundown of what to look for this week:

Monday, March 2 at 7 p.m. Hosted by ‎Bobby Vinton‬ and ‎Tina Cole‬, My Yearbook 1960-1963 features performance clips by The Everly Brothers, Paul Anka, Patsy Cline, Connie Francis and others.

Tuesday, March 3 at 7 p.m. Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent, the “rock stars of bluegrass” are joined by their 10-piece band and a full orchestra for a mix of original material, Statler Brothers covers and patriotic songs in Dailey & Vincent-Alive!

Tuesday, March 3 at 830 p.m. John Denver was a music superstar in the 1970s, known for folk anthems like “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Rocky Mountain High.” John Denver: Country Boy uses interviews with Denver’s brother, son, close friends and musical associates to present a portrait of “America’s Everyman.”

March music

Wednesday, March 4 at 7 p.m. Elvis: Return to Tupelo, a film narrated by Kris Kristofferson, uses Depression-era footage, rare photographs, audio recordings and interviews to tell the story of Tupelo, Miss., and its famous son.

Wednesday, March 4 at 8:30 p.m. A tribute to legendary bluesmen Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, Joe Bonamassa – Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks, was recorded at Colorado’s stunning Red Rocks Amphitheater.

Thursday, March 5 at 9 p.m. Nashville Dobro master Jerry Douglas and fiddle virtuoso Aly Bain perform with friends from both sides of the Atlantic in Transatlantic Sessions. The 28 guest artists include Alison Krauss, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bela Fleck and James Taylor.

Friday, March 6 at 7 p.m. Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever originally aired in 1983 as the silver anniversary celebration of the famed record label. This My Music Presents special includes reunion performances of Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Temptations and the Jackson 5.


New monthly legislative review program premieres Sunday at 9 a.m.

This Stnstate_capitol_dropunday morning we’re premiering a new monthly show about the Tennessee Legislature. Tennessee Capitol Report will air 9 a.m. Sundays March 1 and 29, April 26 and May 31 on NPT; Tennessee’s five other PBS stations will also air the show on Sunday mornings.

Tennessee Capitol Report is hosted by TV and radio personality ‪Chip Hoback‬, produced by award-winning producer Tim Weeks and taped on location at the State Capitol.

This Sunday’s episode features interviews with Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell providing an overview of the 109th General Assembly.

Tennessee Capitol Report will also be available for streaming on tnchannel.org; check for broadcast times on the Tennessee Chanel.

Dining ‘Downton Abbey’ Style

A guest blog by Karen Parr-Moody

For several seasons now Downton Abbey has enchanted NPT viewers with the sumptuousness of the Edwardian age as experienced by the aristocratic Crawley family. This British period drama, currently set in 1924, is as soap operatic as it is historic. And it gets the historic details correct when it came to the dining room, which has historically been a stage for displaying one’s wealth.

Elite Edwardians went for lavishness in their meals, which ranged from six courses on up. Their four meals a day – breakfast, lunch, teatime and dinner – necessitated many gold-standard accoutrements. In many dining scenes from Downton Abbey, one gets a glimpse of such accoutrements, including four types of stemware, a silver mustard pot and what historians call an “open salt cellar” or, simply, an “open salt.”

Dining DA


Individual salt cellars became popular in the 1700s. Prior to that time, the custom was for the master of the house to sit before one large and ornate salt cellar. Though the salt shaker was invented in 1858 by John Mason, cellars were typically used for fine dining for decades to follow. Many ladies of today have inherited salt cellars from their mothers or grandmothers, including ones in swan motifs, examples of which may be found locally at antiques dealers like Gas Lamp Too.

Individual salt cellars contained a diminutive spoon which the diner used to scatter salt across his or her food. Collectors today especially value ornate, hard-to-find patterns, such as a set of sterling silver salt spoons in the Gorham’s Kings III pattern (circa 1885) spotted on etsy.com.

Aristocrats of the Crawleys’ stripe also used an astounding array of forks. Beyond the typical dinner and salad forks, there was a fish fork, strawberry fork, dessert fork and oyster fork (to name a few). In one of the Downton Abbey dining scenes the persnickety butler, Carson, schools a footman on the difference between the oyster fork and another fork. The Crawleys would have used three-pronged oyster forks in silver – not silver plate – perhaps in Whiting’s Pompadour pattern, circa 1889, also seen on etsy.com.

In another scene from the series, Cora – a.k.a. Lady Grantham – is shown having tea outdoors. On the table before her is a silver bowl and a pair of sugar tongs. The sugar cube was invented in the 1840s in Moravia, and an afternoon tea party experienced by a proper lady would have included sugar tongs for handling cubes, as well as the proper dessert wares. A late-1800s French dessert set by Paul Canaux & Company, available on 1stdibs.com, includes sugar tongs along with the proper server, fork and spoon, all done in sterling silver vermeil.

Those Edwardians made meals complicated, but the result was a tableaux of beauty. Why not take a page from their book? Salt cellars and sugar tongs are arguably more interesting than their modern counterparts.

Watch Downton Abbey Sundays at 8 p.m on NPT through March 1 (check our schedule for re-airings through the end of March). The Manners of Downton Abbey airs Tuesday, March 10, at 7 p.m.


Karen Parr-Moody has worked for Women’s Wear Daily, Young Miss, In Style and People magazines. Her humorous “Delusions of Glamour” column was a popular feature in Clarksville’s Leaf-Chronicle newspaper. Parr-Moody now writes monthly fine arts features for Nashville Arts magazine, and about art and antiques for her blog, Bunnatine Dreams.

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