Call the Midwife: Scars

Strap in, everyone, because this is the episode many of us have been dreading. But you know what? The writers did an excellent job, here. This could have been a relentlessly harrowing episode, but it wasn’t. Believe it or not, it even had a moment of (slightly questionable) female empowerment. From a woman who’s undergone female genital mutilation. Now, one might argue about just how ’empowered’ her whole stance and rebuke to the midwives really were, but she was taking the opportunity to tell them that she wasn’t just a victim here, as they assumed. She was standing up for herself and for her culture, even if it is a part of a culture most people outside of it find horrifying and repulsive.

But we’ll get to that. The woman in question, Nadifa, is a Somali immigrant living in London with her husband and her sister, Deka. Deka’s a cheeky, curious little girl of maybe 11. Nadifa’s expecting her first baby any day now, but when she goes to the clinic for a check up, Valerie and Barbara are both horrified and baffled by what they see. They bring in Turner, who’s just as astonished, and Nadifa is sent along to the hospital.

The doctor there is less of a condescending douchebag than most of the others we’ve seen, but he still scares the hell out of Nadifa by talking about having to perform an episiotomy in order to enable her to give birth. The hole she’s been left with is simply too small to do anything, which kind of gives me a fridge horror moment when I wonder what the hell women who have had this procedure do if they’re about to give birth and don’t have access to a hospital. If you know the answer to that, please don’t tell me, because I think I can guess and it’s already turning my stomach. The things we humans do to each other.

Nadifa is probably about 70% freaked out and 30% grossed out by being spoken of like some sort of medical mistake, so she hightails it out of the hospital and promptly goes into labour. She’s eventually found at home by Valerie and Deka. An ambulance is called, but it’s not going to get to the hospital in time, so Valerie has no choice but to cut this poor woman with surgical scissors by the side of the road and deliver the baby. By the time they get to the hospital and Nadifa is whisked away to be tended to, Valerie’s clearly in a bit of shock, covered in blood, but definitely aware of what she’s capable of. Well done, Valerie, that was super badass. You really do fit right in here!

Nadifa is going to be ok, but she’s really upset to discover that the doctors haven’t restitched her ‘properly’. The doctors at the hospital don’t feel that they, in good conscience, can restore a procedure that should never have been done in the first place. Never mind that this is part of the woman’s culture and has become a pretty ingrained part of who she is. It’s so intrinsic, in fact, that she doesn’t protest when her sister is summoned back to Somalia so she can have it done to her as well. Valerie and Barbara freak out at the news, and Nadifa draws herself up and delivers a smackdown on them, informing them that they are wrong, this isn’t something done by a man looking to butcher women, it’s done by women, and it’s the mother’s choice. Furthermore, women don’t take their husband’s name in her culture, because they aren’t owned by a man. Ok, Nadifa, I get that you’re asserting yourself here, but unless I’m mistaken, FGM is done, essentially, for the benefit of men. It’s done so women are incapable of enjoying sex, so they’ll remain ‘pure.’ So, the argument for female empowerment here doesn’t hold a whole lot of water. Still, props to her for standing up for herself. And it seems that even she questions whether this is a good idea, because the ending VO informs us that she decides not to have it done to her own daughter. Good for her, bad for poor Deka. I think we can all assume that Deka never got to pursue the medical career she seemed rather keen on, which is very sad.

There’s something of a spectre of doom lurking here. The Cuban Missile Crisis is unfolding throughout the episode, which is making everyone somewhat tense. Shelagh pats her big belly and wonders if bringing new life into this world is even a good idea. Trixie decides to stop playing hard-to-get and has an adorable second date (and first kiss!) with Dockerill. Tom and Barbara drink martinis in the garden, and Fred and Violet slow dance in their kitchen (awwww!) The things people do when facing the end of the world.

But the world doesn’t end! Hurrah! Trixie and Dockerill get to have a third date, which is all cute until he hands her a glass of champagne and her face freezes. She throws out an excuse about being on call and unable to drink, which he accepts, but it’s clear she has no idea how she should handle this situation going forward. I’m with her–it’s an awkward one. People still struggle to fully comprehend alcoholism and how it affects people. Back in the ’60’s it would have been really baffling.

And finally: Cynthia. She has her electroshock therapy, and then the doctors decide she’s doing so well she can leave her private room and join a ward. Progress? She has just enough time to get (understandably) upset when first her habit and then her bible disappear, and then MJ and Julienne appear to take her back to Nonnatus. Like the whole storyline with Sister Ursula, I felt like this one was tied up too fast and neatly. I was expecting a fair bit of drama and tension surrounding her release but…nothing. Ok, then.

She’s brought home and given rest, but it’s clear she needs more. She’s still upset that God doesn’t seem to be speaking to her, so Julienne consults Turner. He recommends she go stay at the place where he received some mental health help, years ago. She agrees to go, but before she does she sets her habit aside and dresses in her postulent’s dress, in an attempt to step back to a time when she was happy and hopeful. And, as she’s kindly greeted at the door of the place, it seems like she’s taking a step in the right direction.

And finally: the Turners move. And they suck at it. Shelagh’s terrible handwriting confused the van drivers so badly they wound up in Kent, and Turner gave the electric company the wrong date, so they have no furniture and no lights. But these are the Turners, the most upbeat family to hit our televisions ever, and they’re certainly not going to let little things like that get them down! They camp out, Tim recalls the Great Camping Holiday Disaster (ha!) and they generally share the love. Let’s face it, we all wish we were that family, right?

Moment of Historical Flavour: Fred going around painting windows white to ‘deflect radiation heat’. Did people actually think that would work, or were they just desperately making busy work to feel like at least they were doing something?

Other note: Nurse Crane is, unsurprisingly, rocking it as leader of the scouts in Patsy’s absence! I love how she noted that young boys are pretty similar to dogs and can be controlled the same way. Ha!

5 thoughts on “Call the Midwife: Scars

  1. Ok, Nadifa, I get that you’re asserting yourself here, but unless I’m mistaken, FGM is done, essentially, for the benefit of men. It’s done so women are incapable of enjoying sex, so they’ll remain ‘pure.’

    I think you need to read on the subject before you start making declarations like that. The topic is a lot more complicated than any of us can imagine.

    1. Really?

      From the United Nations Population Fund ( (emphases mine):
      In every society in which it is practiced, female genital mutilation is a manifestation of deeply entrenched gender inequality. Where it is widely practiced, FGM is supported by both men and women, usually without question, and anyone that does not follow the norm may face condemnation, harassment and ostracism. It may be difficult for families to abandon the practice without support from the wider community. In fact, it is often practiced even when it is known to inflict harm upon girls because the perceived social benefits of the practice are deemed higher than its disadvantages.

      The reasons given for practicing FGM fall generally into five categories:

      Psychosexual reasons: FGM is carried out as a way to control women’s sexuality, which is sometimes said to be insatiable if parts of the genitalia, especially the clitoris, are not removed. It is thought to ensure virginity before marriage and fidelity afterward, and to increase male sexual pleasure.
      Sociological and cultural reasons: FGM is seen as part of a girl’s initiation into womanhood and as an intrinsic part of a community’s cultural heritage. Sometimes myths about female genitalia (e.g., that an uncut clitoris will grow to the size of a penis, or that FGM will enhance fertility or promote child survival) perpetuate the practice.
      Hygiene and aesthetic reasons: In some communities, the external female genitalia are considered dirty and ugly and are removed, ostensibly to promote hygiene and aesthetic appeal.
      Religious reasons: Although FGM is not endorsed by either Islam or by Christianity, supposed religious doctrine is often used to justify the practice.
      Socio-economic factors: In many communities, FGM is a prerequisite for marriage. Where women are largely dependent on men, economic necessity can be a major driver of the procedure. FGM sometimes is a prerequisite for the right to inherit. It may also be a major income source for practitioners.

      FGM is dangerous, unnecessary, and robs women of their ability to feel sexual pleasure. It’s most certainly not done for her benefit.

      1. And I will tell you as someone studied and taught about the issue at the University level that it really is complicated issue. The show like most of the time this is discussed chose the most extreme form of FC which is also the least used type. There are three/four levels and even the UN reports say there are few to none health risks shown with the second and first level expect small increase in infection, which can be managed. The UN has its agenda on many issues, so I would take everything they say a grain of salt. Many “educated” women chose to undergo those levels (Rites and Wrongs: An Insider/Outsider Reflects on Power and Excision by Ahmadu) These women also report having orgasms and report feeling sexually happy in their marriages at about the same rate the many Western women studies. Many times when this is down it is rite of passage into womanhood children have male and female parts and yes boys also have to undergo similar rituals before being considered male. As for it being unnecessary I have already mentioned body beliefs before, but feel that it also whether mentioning that the there are many necessary cultural practices and while i certainly not for type III or putting women health in danger generally you do not get to decided what empowerment looks like and that is exactly what many women report from the I and II types. I had a close friend in college that chose to have this done (type I) between Sophomore and Junior when she went home for the summer and told me and anyone else that would actually listen that she learned more about being a woman from the ritual and her instruction doing it then she had learned in second years of women’s studies classes. I want to be clear though that their certainly women,especially those with type III and IV that suffer greatly from it and are forced those tend to be the pictures you see. However, there are also many like my friend that do not. I would encourage to you to do listen those women: and

        1. Um look, there is no amount of genital mutilation that is acceptable. The human form functions as is necessary and only in the case of medical necesity should a woman’s genitalia be operated on, and then in a hospital under anestesia. And the only thing complicated is the amount of instruction that needs to be undertaken to undo the damage of centuries of convincing women who undertake the practice that they need any sort of FGM to be a whole woman. And to argue that you know a woman from an African country who is ok with it holds no water. And I say this as a soon to be PhD in Af Am Lit, women’s studies and history. I am all for supporting people’s cultural autonomy, except where it says female genitalia requires any “adjustments” to make a girl a real, valid, mature, worthy, valuable woman and member of society. Then I say, Nope.

          Ultimately, we can be convinced that anything is significant and an important step on the way to maturation. Cultural practices can be barbaric and asinine, and we still think them valid. However, that does not make the practices inherently valuable, justifiable, or worthy of propagation. We do not do things simply because it seems they are rooted in historical repetition. Especially something like this.

          And yes I would lump male circumcision in there too under questionable genital surgery – but at least male circumcision does not involve sewing the penis up in the skin of the balls only leaving a tiny stump outside to pee and spread seamen!

  2. She wasn’t standing up for anything. So what if it was her mother’s choice? If your father chooses to molest you or let other molest you, then it is OK? She was just covering for her shame in letting her sister to go back to be butchered. The doctor did not cut her back open. The nurse scissor her to save her life and baby. The doctor had no responsibility to sew her back to her small hole.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.