Call the Midwife is back for its ninth 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 17, then read our blog each Monday morning for historical and contemporary context about the previous night’s episode. SPOILER ALERT: Some posts may contain plot details.
For a long time, birth was thought to be exclusively the realm of women. Men were expected to stay away from the process and not interfere. As hospitals became more popular delivery venues, this was even more the case. A hospital was a sterile place and partners couldn’t be involved. And why would they want to be? In the late 1960s, as few as 15% of fathers were attending their partner’s births.
We see one such father in this week’s episode. Ronald (Karl Davies) and Aileen (Carla Langley) are an eager young couple expecting their first baby. In a refreshing twist, we see Ronald preparing and possibly even more excited than his wife. Nurse Crane is against partners being present during births, so of course she is the one on call when the couple come in. She loudly objects to Ronald’s presence, calling him an ‘infection risk’. I was so frustrated with her character: Doesn’t she know what a benefit partner support is?
It wasn’t until the late 1970s that the majority of partners were participating in the labor and birth process. There was even a big push (no pun intended) for them to be a ‘birthing coach’ and attend Lamaze or childbirth classes with their partners. Ronald was simply ahead of his time, and despite his anxieties, he proved himself to Nurse Crane in the end.
One of my favorite experiences as a midwife is getting to be a silent witness to the relationship between my patients and their partners. Sometimes I see a disappointing lack of support, but most of the time I see partners really step up. It is beautiful when concern and worry turn into true support. Partners are often on the receiving end of harsh words and death-grip hand squeezes in the throes of labor pains. Regardless of this, they often also demonstrate love with providing cool washcloths to foreheads, sips of water from the bedside, and strength with encouraging words. Most of my patients would be lost without their partners during the labor process. In fact, being isolated from their partner during the most meaningful, emotional experience in their lives seems cruel.
Offering and accepting help is a main theme of this episode; a partner’s need to be present during childbirth is just one example. We also see Sisters Julienne and Monica Joan recognizing and addressing each other’s needs and the Nonnatus team stepping in to help four generations of one family.
Hannah Diaz, MSN, CNM, is a member of the Vanderbilt Nurse-Midwives & Primary Care for Women at Melrose, the clinical practice of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.