Call the Midwife: Failure to Thrive

Call the MidwifePreviously on Call the Midwife: A leftover WWII bomb rendered Nonnatus House uninhabitable, Jenny had herself a proper boyfriend, and Chummy took up the SAHM role.

Jenny attends what sounds like a very long all-nighter delivery while the Nonnatuns, Trixie, and Cynthia pack up and get ready to move into their new home. JVO talks about all the dawns she saw in and how refreshing and new-lifey it all was. A neighbour stops by the labouring mother’s place with an iced bun, since the mum hasn’t eaten since supper the night before. Mid-contraction, the woman snaps that she hates iced buns (that’s just labour crazy talk—who hates iced buns?) and Jenny suggests the neighbour set it aside for later. Instead, the neighbour offers it to Jenny, who starts munching it right over the enlarged stomach of the labouring woman, which seems like a rather shitty thing to do even if she did turn it down.

At the New Nonnatus, Sister MJ complains that the people who lived in the building before them left a most vaporous trail. Fred says that’s just the smell of wet paint, not that Sister MJ believes anything sensible like that.

The mother finally delivers her baby, a boy, and Jenny’s free to leave. Outside, she runs into another new mother, who’s hanging wash while her baby wails away in his pram nearby. Jenny greets her and the mother, Mel, says the baby just constantly wants to eat and have his nappy changed and she can’t seem to settle him, or his older brother. She asks Jenny to take a look at the baby and tell her if he looks all right. Jenny gives him a glance and says he looks ok, but Mel should bring him by the weekly clinic. We learn that the clinic’s been roving a bit, since the parish hall got knocked down after the bomb detonated.

Chez Noakes, Chummy’s attempting pie pastry while her cute offspring watches and plays from a nearby playpen. She’s so distracted by the pastry she forgets about the filling, which starts to burn on the stove. She yanks it off and warns her kid not to laugh at her.

Jenny arrives at Newnnatus House, which is still awash in boxes. She finds Trixie upstairs in their shared room, unpacking. Trixie offers up some chocolates she received from a patient. Jenny accepts them and collapses into bed.

Chummy pulls her pies out of the oven and she’s burned the bejesus out of them. Noakes choses that moment to come in and Chummy wails that this was supposed to be lunch for the Nonnatus crowd. She tells him to look after the baby and rushes out.

A little later, she’s preparing to head to Nonnatus. She gives Noakes some last-minute instructions vis-a-vis the offspring and takes off with the baby’s pram.

At Newnnatus, unpacking is well underway. Evangeline complains about the autoclave not working and Julienne’s pissed off about the telephone still not being hooked up. Yes, I can imagine that would be a significant problem. Cynthia finds Sister MJ standing in a hallway, looking upset and asks what’s up. MJ waves her over and tells her she found something terrible. It’s a urinal in a men’s bathroom. Apparently the building used to be a training school for parish workers and Fred hasn’t gotten around to tearing all this stuff out yet. Naturally, Sister MJ refuses to believe that there’s a perfectly simple explanation for anything and attributes the bad humours in the building to this one room.

Chummy arrives with lunch in the pram and Julienne’s happy to see some home-cooked food. Chummy looks a bit downcast, because she’s done the sensible thing and stopped by the fish and chips place for their lunch. Mmmm, fish and chips. Julienne goes to answer the ringing doorbell and finds another nun on the doorstep. This is Sister Winifred, our newest cast addition. Hey, what ever happened to Jane? She just disappeared without an explanation, didn’t she? Winifred, who’s young and bright eyed, is introduced around and welcomed to the table, where she tries to ingratiate herself by offering to take whichever fish nobody else wants. Evangelina gives her a sausage, which bizarrely accidentally made it into the order.

And, from Chummy who’s not quite fitting into the housewife role we go to Bernadette (I know she’s retaken her pre-nun name, but it’s just easier to keep calling her Bernadette), who’s taken to it like a fish to water and is now delivering some flowers to her husband’s office to brighten the place up. Doc Turner tells her he’d love to have her work with him as a receptionist and all-around assistant, but she’s loving this whole being a wife and mother thing and really just wants to stick with that.

Jenny wakes from a nap and heads off on rounds with Winifred, who seems a bit of a novice with the bike.

Inside, Sister MJ shows up with some planks of wood and tells Julienne she needs bookshelves in her room, because her books have been in storage far too long.

Jenny and Winifred arrive at their first stop: the most recent mother’s building, and though Winifred’s nice enough, she’s got little stamina on the bike and is about as prissy as Jenny was when she first arrived. I’m sure that’ll change soon, though. She and Jenny climb to an upper floor, where Jenny finds Mel’s older boy—just a toddler—playing out on the landing, with nobody watching him. Excellent parenting there, Mel. Jenny collects him and knocks on the door to find out what’s up.

Mel admits, almost hysterically, that she can’t keep on top of everything—she’s constantly doing washing and can’t keep up with the youngest one’s feeding because he’s always hungry. It’s gotten so rough she’s taken to combination feeding with him, though she knows the midwives disapprove. Jenny weighs the little one and says he’s a bit ‘on the dainty side.’ Jenny offers to stop by every morning and help her get things back on an even keel. Mel seems grateful.

Back at Newnnatus, Jenny looks up Mel’s baby’s birth weight and notes that he’s only gained half a pound in a month. Evangeline bitches about the woman combination feeding, which makes me grateful she’s not my midwife, because sometimes needs must, Evangeline. Turner shows up to say hi and let them know they’ve got a permanent home for the antenatal clinic: the local community centre. And they can have it for two days, not just one. Yay! He thinks this could be an opportunity to offer classes as well as healthcare. Evangeline doesn’t seem to think so. Over dinner, however, the other midwives are keen. Sister MJ swings by to grab a plate of food and go back to taking an inventory of her books. Evangeline sarcastically suggests she take all their éclairs to power her through her strenuous work and MJ takes her at her word and grabs the whole lot. Sigh.

Chummy sends Noakes off to the night shift, handing him a sandwich and some radishes as a snack. He immediately asks if the radishes are cut into novelty shapes, because the other guys gave him grief over that. Eh, they’re just jealous, Noakes. He kisses her, tells her to take care, and heads out. In the street, he opens the sandwich box and pulls out the two radishes cut like flowers and tosses them. Inside, Chummy finishes sewing some scatter cushions, arranges them on the sofa and generally looks bored as hell.

Jenny tests the Newnnatus phone by calling from a nearby phone box. It’s still not working properly, but here’s Alec, who I guess just prowls the streets of Poplar for fun, to remind her that it’s their six-month anniversary.

Bernadette and the Nonnatuns arrive at the community centre, which is really nice, especially compared to the former parish hall. They admire it and start setting up for the weekly clinic.

Jenny, meanwhile, is at Mel’s, checking out the toddler, because Mel insists there’s something not right with him. Seems he coughs a lot. Jenny doesn’t detect any fever, but offers to bring the doctor by and gently says she wants to make sure the bottles and things are getting properly sterilised. Mel’s offended by the implication that she’s not keeping things clean for her kids, but Jenny continues that, when you’re sterilising in the same sink that you’re washing dirty nappies in, cross contamination can happen. To illustrate the point, Mel’s husband, Billy, goes to wring some of the nappies that are soaking in some pretty foul-looking water. Not for the first time am I grateful I live in an age of disposable diapers and washer dryers. Mel says she’s never done cleaning nappies and sterilising bottles and yet the kids are still impossibly fretful.

As Jenny leaves, Billy chases her down and tells her that he had a brother who died aged four and a quarter. Jenny offers her condolences and he goes on to say that he thinks, if his brother had been around in their present time, he’d have lived. He thinks they live in better times now, and Jenny reassures him they do. It’s clear this poor man is just desperate for someone to tell him his kids are going to be ok, but that’s an impossible promise to make at this point.

At Newnnatus, Winifred natters on about something so dull even MJ just gets up and leaves, taking some of her books with her but dropping some pages. Winifred finds them and looks concerned.

The clinic isn’t going well. Hardly anyone’s shown up. Chummy arrives and asks if she can get some vitamin drops for ‘young sir.’ Jenny says she can have whatever the heck she wants, considering how under-attended this thing is. Bernadette guesses that most people don’t know where the community centre is, and even those who do don’t trust it because it’s unfamiliar to them. Chummy, eager for something to do, readily offers to go out and leaflet the neighbourhood and tell everyone about the place.

Winifred goes to Evangeline and shows her the pages MJ dropped: they’re pages torn out of the Bible. The Book of Ecclesiastics, to be exact. Evangeline growls that MJ would drive a Methodist to drink. Heh.

MJ’s arranging her books on her new shelves while Evangeline hovers impatiently in the doorway. When MJ finally pauses, Evangeline brings up the pages torn from the bible, which she considers terribly blasphemous, from the sound of it. MJ shrugs that she’s just doing a bit of editing, if you will. Evangeline hands her a jar and demands a urine sample immediately, reminding MJ that infections can be really bad for her. MJ spiritedly tells Evangeline that she’s foolish to think that an affliction in her bladder would affect her mind, and compares her to Plato, who once believed that a woman’s womb just wandered around her body. She’s shelved Plato next to Freud, whom she considers equally misguided. Hee! She insists that she’s perfectly well and actually has some purpose: shelving her books. Evangeline backs down and admits she’s never been big on books, because she’s more of a doer. MJ confesses her memory sometimes needs a bit of refreshment, but she still has great stores of knowledge in her. Evangeline softens and warns her to be careful of the shelf, because they don’t want it falling on her foot.

Jenny shows up at Mel’s and finds Turner already there, informing the parents that six chest infections in two months is too many. I’ll say! He writes a prescription for penicillin for the older boy, and tells Jenny that the baby’s to have formula only and needs to be weighed  daily. Mel asks if this will tell them what’s wrong and Turner admits this may show that nothing’s wrong. Mel takes that to mean it would indicate she’s just a terrible mother who can’t feed or keep her baby clean. This poor woman’s clearly at the end of her tether. Jenny steps in and says that nobody’s suggesting that, they just need to help the baby put on a bit of weight.

Chummy has taken her leafleting idea several steps further and decided to start up several clubs, so they can have a sort of club open day at the community centre and get people interested. I admire her determination. She’s running the idea past Julienne, who seems a little sceptical that this is going to work, but she says nothing to discourage her.

So, Chummy walks through the neighbourhood, handing out leaflets to all the women she meets, all of whom just toss them as soon as they’re in their hands. One woman, who’s quite pregnant, seems uninterested and is more into basically calling her tween daughter a whore. Chummy adds that there’s an antenatal clinic, but the woman says she’s expecting her fourth kid, so when the time comes, she’s just going to ring for an ambulance. She does offer to show up at the community centre if they do bingo, though.

That night, as they get to bed, Chummy tells Noakes sadly that nobody seems interested in her clubs, and she had such high hopes. He drops the gossip that the area’s getting a royal visit, from Princess Margaret, no less, which was hugely exciting at the time. She was basically the Duchess of Cambridge of her day. Chummy’s delighted to hear that, and let’s not forget that she met Margaret when her father was knighted. While Noakes settles in to sleep, Chummy gets out the stationary and starts writing Margaret a letter.

Jenny’s back at Mel’s, and things have seriously taken a turn. Mel’s not even bothering to get dressed anymore. It’s been a week since little Ian went on penicillin, and he’s not getting any better. She thinks both kids need to be in hospital, because she can’t look after them properly. Jenny urges her to trust the doctor, because he deals with this kind of thing every day. Billy breaks in to say that they deal with it every day too.

Jenny goes to Turner, who tells her every test he’s run has come back negative, so he’s going to refer them to the paediatric specialist at The London. He asks Jenny how Mel’s doing and Jenny says not good. He wonders if she’s got a bit of post-natal depression, which could be contributing to all of this. Jenny fills him in on Billy’s late brother and Turner asks if she thinks that’s making the parents more anxious. She does, but she also thinks these kids are genuinely unwell.

A letter from Clarence House arrives at Chummy’s and she immediately takes it to Newnnatus. It’s good news—Princess Margaret has agreed to officially open the community centre—and the girls all ooh and ahh over it, along with Alec, who’s there on the sly to make fried egg sandwiches because he’s amazing. Seriously, Jenny, the man comes by at night looking all cute and makes you and your girlfriends fried egg sandwiches—snap him up! And yet, though he seems totally into her, Jenny’s coming across as rather chilly and standoffish to me, and I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to be. I think that’s just how the actress is, well, acting, for some reason. Maybe she really doesn’t like this guy in real life and can’t get herself to hide it.

Chummy mentions that she’s created a whole bunch of clubs that now need to be faked up for the royal visit, so Trixie offers to take on the flower arranging class. The cub scouts are going to put on a little play, and the Girls Brigade band is going to play when Margaret arrives. Cynthia reminds her that the band sucks, so Alec, who played bugle for the RAF, offers to whip them into shape. He really is sort of perfect, isn’t he?

Everyone gets to work arranging flowers and sewing bunting and whatnot. Chummy collects that one mum-to-be’s eldest daughter, Cheryl, who’s sullen because she’s being made to join the terrible Brigade Band. At last, everything is ready, and Chummy takes in the decorated community centre and stresses about incoming rain. Noakes arrives and urges her to come home, because she’s done quite enough.

Jenny fills the nuns in on the situation with Mel’s family, which isn’t getting any better. Julienne says it sounds like the kids have failure to thrive, but Jenny reminds her that that’s a totally BS diagnosis right out of the Victorian era. MJ insists it’s the way the boys’ humours are aligned and says she has a book from Queen Anne’s day that describes just this type of illness. Children like this did not survive five years, and their brows tasted of salt. How nice. Julienne announces high tea, and MJ thinks she’s trying to shut her up. She stomps out in a fog of martyrdom.

Billy returns home to find Mel lying on the couch, looking really terrible. He rubs her arm comfortingly and asks how the boys are. She tells him they’re asleep, and the first time I saw this I honestly had a moment where I was afraid she really was suffering from bad PND and had killed them. She hasn’t. She goes on to say she almost wishes they’d wake up because when they’re asleep, she has too much time to think, and when she does that, she worries she’s going crazy.

Winifred goes to fetch MJ for compline but finds her room empty and a bunch of her books scattered about the floor.

MJ makes her way slowly along the streets, in the rain, looking exhausted.

Turner and Bernadette are having a cosy evening at home, he polishing Tim’s leg braces and she sewing what she tells him is a baby’s nightdress. He gets all excited, thinking this is her rather roundabout way of announcing a pregnancy, but no, she’s just really jumping the gun. I can understand that. I knitted a baby blanket years ago and put it aside for, well, now. Their rather tender moment is interrupted by a knock on the door. It’s MJ, who has come to deliver the Queen Anne book to Turner. He agrees to read it, but after he drives her home.

He delivers her back to Newnnatus and tells Winifred to give her a warm drink and a hot water bottle. MJ wants none of it, she just wants someone to read her book.

It’s the day of Margaret’s visit, and everyone’s in a bit of a tizzy. Chummy is wakened at the crack of dawn, all excited. Tim’s strapping on his braces and complaining that one of them is unpolished. Geez, kid, polish your own braces if it’s that important to you. Turner, meanwhile, is actually seriously studying MJ’s book. Chummy gets dressed and realises, to her horror, that she looks just like her mother. Heh.

Mel’s getting dressed as well, which Billy is relieved to see. But as she’s putting on her stockings, the baby starts to fuss and she completely freaks out, saying something’s happening. Billy immediately offers to call an ambulance, but she says there’s no time for that, wraps up the baby, and sprints to Newnnatus in her bare feet. The Nonnatuns are just getting ready to leave for the community centre when she arrives and tells Jenny the baby’s having a fit. Jenny takes him into their lab area, accompanied by Evangeline and Julienne. They quickly get to work, while Winifred sits with Mel just outside. Soon afterwards, Turner arrives, announcing that the roads have been closed for the royal visit, which could impede the ambulance. He thinks he knows what’s wrong here, though. As he starts to examine the baby, MJ comes in, kisses the infant on the forehead, and declares it salty. Turner says this indicates cystic fibrosis. Yikes! Julienne asks if it can be cured and he merely says it can be treated. It can’t even be cured now, unfortunately. Both MJ and Jenny smile beatifically, as if this is fabulous news, though that’s actually a fairly grim diagnosis. Slightly less grim now, but in the late 50’s? Not great. Though I guess it’s good that the parents finally have some answers. And on another note—seriously? It took a 250-year-old book for the doctor to figure this out? I know he’s not a paediatrician, but come on! What could that book have even told him that he couldn’t have observed for himself when he was examining these children? Those idiot twins from last season would be delighted by that.

Meanwhile, at the community centre, everyone’s getting ready. Fred runs the scouts through their play once more, yelling at the poor boy who’s reluctantly being made to play the girl’s part for not being girly enough. Chummy examines all the stalls and stresses about the lack of Nonnatuns. The band is out in the hall, and when they hear cheering outside, they strike up their tune, under Alec’s direction. But it’s just the Nonnatuns arriving. Margaret’s coming a bit more slowly, in stately style. She walks in, past the band, and enters the community centre, pausing to chat with Chummy, who looks delighted and shows her around.

Mel’s kids are in the hospital, and she and Billy are sitting with them. Billy apologises for passing this along to the boys and she reminds him that they both had to have passed it on. She takes his hand and says that they’re a family and they’re strong and they’ll get through this and be fine. Aww, that was sweet.

Chummy walks home with her little boy at the end of the day, looking a bit wrecked. But what should she find on her street but that heavily pregnant woman, who’s in labour and the ambulance can’t get to her. Chummy takes the woman to her own house, where the woman settles down on the sofa and frankly tells her that she’s probably going to end up ruining it. Chummy doesn’t care. The woman warns her that, when she starts making cow noises, she’s ‘getting to the sharp end.’ Chummy sends the woman’s sullen daughter to Newnnatus for another midwife.

Back inside, she coaches the mother through the birth, but unfortunately the baby’s not in the right position. He’s back to back, as I’ve recently learned—that is, his spine is aligned with the mother’s, which makes it almost impossible for him to clear the pelvis and tailbone. He’s well stuck. Chummy gets her to try another position, but that doesn’t work, so she gets the woman to try yet another one and to push immediately, even though she doesn’t have the urge. The woman somehow manages and at last the baby’s born. Chummy starts rubbing him and finally he begins to wail. She hands him to his mother, just as Trixie arrives. Chummy actually weeps for joy.

Chummy heads to Newnnatus to visit Julienne, who compliments her on managing such a difficult birth. Chummy says it felt good to do something that really matters and admits that she’s afraid she’ll go crazy just focusing all her energy on Noakes and the baby and send herself into some sort of desperate housewife spiral. Julienne offers her a part-time gig midwifing a couple of days a week and Chummy can’t agree fast enough.

JVO tells us that cystic fibrosis is no joke, but it can be managed. Chummy puts her uniform back on and gets back to work. The phone rings, and she hesitates for just a moment before happily answering it. All is well.



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