Call the Midwife is back for a sixth season and so are the faculty of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing with a weekly guest blog. Watch the show Sundays at 7 p.m. through May 21, then read our blog each Monday morning for historical and contemporary context about the previous night’s episode. SPOILER ALERT: Some posts may contain spoilers.
By Michelle Collins
Vanderbilt University School of Nursing
And we’re off on another season with our favorite heroines in blue! The time is Spring 1962 and there’s a new face in Sister Ursula (Harriet Walters), who has replaced Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter) as charge of Nonnatus House. Sister Ursula has been sent by the order to “straighten up” the place and her sternness is surpassed only by her lack of warmth and congeniality.
The first episode of Season 6 centers on a young mother and son who are victims of domestic violence. Violence in families, particularly intimate partner violence, is as old as time. Ancient Greek petroglyphs portray males abusing their female partners. Saint Augustine of Ancient Rome, whose own mother suffered at the hands of her husband, wrote that wives routinely showed the evidence of their husband’s blows.
Here’s what we know now: Domestic violence is generational and it is probably far more prevalent than reflected in statistics given that it is underreported much of the time. Sometimes an abused woman may have the relief of a “honeymoon” period, wherein her abuser may give her respite from violence during her pregnancy. On the other hand, pregnancy may also be the trigger for an escalation in the violence perpetrated by the partner. Women who withstand kicks or blows to the pregnant abdomen may sustain injury to themselves as well as to the pregnancy.
In Sunday’s Call the Midwife, the young women went into labor after an episode of violence and gave birth to a baby that was said to be “bathing in her own first bowel movement.” That refers to the passage of meconium – or baby’s first stool – within the intrauterine environment, which can occur as a result of intrauterine stress. Too often physical abuse results in death of the baby. The sad reality of this episode is that though it was set in the 1960s and a dramatization, the same situation plays out every day all over the U.S. in 2017.
Consider the following statistics*:
- Number of people per minute who experience intimate partner violence in the U.S.: 24
- No. 1 and No. 2 causes of women’s deaths during pregnancy in the U.S.: Domestic homicide and suicide, often tied to abuse.
- Number of women in the U.S. who report intimate partner violence: 1 in 4
- Estimated number of children, worldwide, exposed to domestic violence everyday: 10,000,000
- Worldwide, likelihood that a man who grew up in a household with domestic violence grows up to be an abuser: 3 to 4 times more likely than if he hadn’t
- Percentage of U.S. cities citing domestic abuse as the primary cause of homelessness: 50
- Percentage of homeless women reporting domestic abuse: 63
- Percentage of homeless women with children reporting domestic abuse: 92
And that sweet little boy who was humiliated and terrorized by his father in Sunday’s episode? According to statistics, he is doomed to grow up and repeat the sins of his father.
Michelle Collins Ph.D., CNM, FACNM, FAAN is a Professor of Nursing and Director of the Nurse-Midwifery Program, at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.
*50 Facts About Domestic Violence, Huffington Post, Jan.30. 2013