Call the Midwife is back for a sixth season Sundays at 7 p.m., through May 21. Read the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing guest blog each Monday morning for historical and contemporary context about the previous night’s episode. SPOILER ALERT: Some posts may contain spoilers.
By Bethany Domzal Sanders
Vanderbilt University School of Nursing
I have always admired Call the Midwife for maintaining a degree of authenticity about pregnancy, labor and birth that is rarely seen on television. Sunday’s episode did not disappoint, from the forceps marks on baby Andrew’s head, to the look on Shelagh’s face when she heard her baby’s heartbeat for the first time, to the peculiarity of having a group of male students peer into a woman’s anatomy while she lies vulnerable on an exam table with her legs up in the air.
This episode also portrayed the nature of attending adoption births in a way that did not offer judgement of either woman. Still, I hesitated about writing about this topic because I wasn’t sure I would be able to adequately express what it is like to witness adoptions from the midwife’s perspective. Adoption births can be intense affairs and I can recall details of every one that I’ve attended. I would hazard a guess that Nurse Crane has more than my 10 years of midwifery experience, but even so I can relate to her statement about having “mopped up more tears and dried up more milk supplies than I can shake a stick at.”
Tom captured it best when he described adoption as “delicate”; that adjective so perfectly encompasses the mixed emotions and sometimes complex social issues surrounding these births. As midwives, we are charged to be “with woman” — that is in fact the very origin of the word midwife. In adoptions, however, we sometimes find ourselves between two women: the birth mother whose medical and emotional needs we attend to, and the adoptive mother, who has an entirely different set of emotional needs. We want to honor the gift the birth mother is choosing to give, but also to affirm her legal rights. We want the adoptive family to experience the joy that an infant brings, but not at the expense of another person.
While it is rare, we occasionally witness a change of heart take place as occurred in this Call the Midwife episode. In my experience the scene plays out just as tearful and emotional as it did between Dot and Marnie.
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.