Call the Midwife is back for its 11th season and so are the faculty of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing to provide historical and contemporary context in a weekly recap blog. Watch the show Sundays at 7 p.m. through May 8. SPOILER ALERT: Some posts may contain plot details.
“A birth begins a baby’s life, but it transforms a mother’s.” Such true words spoken as the latest Call the Midwife episode opens. Motherhood is beautiful and life-changing in so many ways. It is also completely overwhelming and demanding. After having a baby, there is a huge change is hormones, utter exhaustion, pure joy and anxiety as caring for this new life is navigated.
In this episode new mother Yvonne Cawder walks into the maternity home to visit her twin sister who is giving birth to twin boys. We see the sisters’ experiences juxtaposed, with Yvonne’s sister having a relatively easy time with her newborns, while Yvonne is frustrated and at the end of her rope. Trixie recognizes the first-time mother’s struggles and takes the lead in helping her.
When I saw Mrs. Cawder’s agitation with her baby, my immediate thought was a concern for postpartum depression. Breastfeeding is a challenge and can often be a struggle to figure out, especially when a new mother is exhausted. Without help, she may feel inadequate and devastated that she cannot comfort or nourish her baby. Too often I have seen the pain and feeling of failure in patients who cannot make breastfeeding work for them. This can certainly lead to intense emotions in an already fragile postpartum state.
My job as a midwife is to support patients through this tough postpartum period. We can get patients set up with our talented colleagues, lactation consultants. They are experts in breastfeeding assistance – giving patients much needed support with latching, positioning, and providing tips to make breastfeeding work for them. There are also great community breastfeeding groups patients can join for further support.
If Yvonne Cawder were my patient, I would certainly work to help her with breastfeeding, but I would also recognize her stress and mental state. Postpartum depression is a serious issue and requires support and treatment. Yvonne needs to be there for her baby and not feel as though she is drowning in all the pressure. I would encourage her to consider bottle-feeding with formula if things didn’t improve.
Breastfeeding is always encouraged and has many benefits, but not everyone is able to do it successfully; and that doesn’t make you any less of a mother. If feeding her baby formula could improve her own health, then it would be worth the change.
In the 1960s, commercial formula was becoming more popular, so it definitely would have been an option for this patient. I’m surprised that with her depression, this choice wasn’t presented or discussed with her – but I am glad Trixie found her help in a postpartum unit.
Mothers need support in so many aspects after giving birth. While amazing and life-altering, having a new baby is one of the hardest things one will experience in their lifetime. All new mothers should feel empowered to ask for help and know they are not alone. Every parenting journey is unique and challenging in different ways. New mothers should not compare themselves to others. Whether breastfeeding or formula-feeding, each is giving her baby exactly what they need!
Hannah Diaz, DNP, 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.