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.
I have a confession to make: Over the last couple of seasons of Call the Midwife, I’ve had a hard time connecting to any of the midwives. That changed this week.
Sister Frances (Ella Bruccoleri) has been a timid new midwife, but in Sunday’s episode we saw her step into her own. As a midwife, I saw it in her face the moment she knew she needed to take control and be the midwife her patient needed. I have lived that moment many times.
Yvonne Smith (Sophie Melville), is a young woman who is admitted to the maternity home for treatment of a urinary tract infection. She is cared for by Dr. McNulty (Lee Armstrong) and Sister Frances, who seem to be getting along well after they bonded last episode. Dr. McNulty has completed his final supervision and we see him becoming more independent. In a frightening turn of events, however, his narcotic addiction comes to light under the guise of a previous shoulder injury.
When Yvonne goes into early labor, Dr. McNulty leads her care and gives her an unwarranted episiotomy – a surgical incision at the opening of the vagina to prevent ruptured tissues during a difficulty delivery. It is unclear whether Dr. McNulty’s decision stems from the effects of the narcotic he has taken or his lack of experience. Either way it causes Yvonne to be in even more significant pain and Sister Frances steps up to help her.
Aristotle is quoted as saying, “a midwife must possess a lady’s hand, a hawk’s eye and a lion’s heart.” I have found these words to be incredibly true over the last 11 years as a practicing midwife. Most of time my role is to facilitate what a mother instinctually knows and to provide a calm, quiet presence. But there are moments when I must recognize danger or the abnormal and then act quickly.
I had many emotions watching Sister Frances take over Yvonne’s delivery. Of course, medical interventions are so very important when they are needed – but this was not such a case. I was so proud of Sister Frances in this scene. She exemplified Aristotle’s words as she analyzed the situation and took control of the room and the patient. She spoke up; her usually timid voice was loud and strong. She looked at Yvonne with the heart of a lion and told her to trust her. A healthy baby was born into her hands and Yvonne felt safe in her care.
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.