By Michelle Collins
Vanderbilt University School of Nursing
Call the Midwife is back for a seventh 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 6, 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.
“What is a family? Is it the tie of flesh and blood, or the facial features and traits we inherit and pass on? Or is it the rhythm our hearts beat, marking out the days we share? Families are our touchstone, our haven. Family is the place where life begins.” – Midwife Jenny Lee
Episode 3 of Call the Midwife delved into the proverbial familial ties that bind to ponder this question posed in voice-over by Midwife Jenny Lee. I am sure I wasn’t the only viewer who thought the family situation involving the unkempt, bruised little girl and her depressed, despondent mother involved domestic violence. As it turned out, the mother had Huntington’s chorea, as did her young daughter, it was eventually discovered. Huntington’s disease is a devastating neurological disorder with no cure. The symptoms of this condition are subtle at first, things such as victims collecting bruises as a result of bumps and falls. Those affected initially have difficulty concentrating and reasoning. They may seem (or actually be) depressed, and can have involuntary muscle movements, eventually progressing to the point where they require complete care.
Huntington’s is an inherited disease involving a mutation (or alteration) of a gene. In fact, we all have the gene for Huntington’s disease, but only those who have a mutation in the gene can be affected. Children born to parents with the mutation have a 50 percent chance of being affected.
The other prominent storyline this week involved the Turner family’s new au pair, Hungarian-born Magda (played by Nina Yndis). Magda is shocked by an unexpected pregnancy, and even more surprised to discover that elective pregnancy termination is not an option in England. Out of desperation, she attempts to induce her own abortion via use of the drug ergometrine. This medication causes uterine contractions and is still used to treat women who are bleeding heavily after giving birth. Fortunately. Magda survives the attempt and exits the show to study nursing in Paris. Elective pregnancy termination has been addressed in this series before; see my previous blog post on the subject here.
There are often times when midwives like Sister Monica Joan and Shelagh are caught in ethical situations wherein their own personal morals and convictions may be incongruent with those of their patients. Though it may be easy to be an armchair quarterback about someone else’s life, when placed smack in the middle of that person’s situation – amidst the pain, angst and utter despair they face – what originally seemed to be a black-and-white choice can definitely become a little grayer.
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.