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 Michelle Collins
Vanderbilt University School of Nursing
One of my favorite things about Call the Midwife is the voice-overs from Call the Midwife memoirist Jennifer Worth at the beginning and end of each episode, delivered as only Vanessa Redgrave can. As Valerie Dyer (Jennifer Kirby), prepares to assume her duties as the newest Nonnatus House midwife in this episode, her mother beams with pride as she makes last-minute adjustments to her daughter’s uniform.
Over this opening scene we hear Worth’s words: “Bringing up children is not simple. From the moment the midwife cuts the cord, a mother’s task is to nurture and cherish, to shelter and protect. Even as she does so she must teach the child to leave her; train it at first to let go of her hand to walk unaided and then to walk away. But there is a cord that nothing can sever; the invisible bond that ties the mother to the infant which endures when the child is a child no more.”
Attending births as a midwife is a privilege – there’s absolutely no question about that. Witnessing the entrance of new life is an honor beyond measure. But what is equally joyful is being present for the birth of mothers, because at every birth a mother is also born. I am constantly amazed and transfixed watching women labor and give birth, many of whom have never dreamed that every strength they could need in childbirth would be found deep inside them at the precise moment it is needed.
Physiologic processes ensue during childbirth that help “make” mothers and further the bond of mother to child – like the release of the hormones oxytocin and prolactin that literally facilitate the process of attachment between the two. Becoming a mother, however, is not simply a matter of physiology. Consider the adoptive mother who, just as a woman who has given birth, becomes a mother when her child is lain in her arms for the first time.
By the end of this episode, Fred and Violet Buckle (portrayed by Cliff Parisi and Annabelle Apsion), have become surrogate parents to Fred’s nephew, Reggie (Daniel Laurie), who has Down syndrome. As they reluctantly leave him to explore his newfound independence, we again hear the poignant words of midwife Jenny: “And so we let go of their hands but not their hearts; of the need to be needed but not the need to love. And however much it hurts, there is joy in that moment because of the unseen cord that binds us which will never break.”
Whether you are a mamma who has had your heartstrings tugged as you dropped off your baby at daycare on the first day or even tried to hold back a flood of emotions as you drove away from your college freshman for the first time – we all know exactly the significance of the “unseen cord” that midwife Jenny speaks of. Happy early Mother’s Day to all mothers everywhere! And to all of those mothers who have allowed me the privilege of witnessing their own “births into motherhood,” I thank you for inspiring me with your strength and amazing me with your grace as you transitioned from woman to mother.
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.