Previously on Call the Midwife: Patsy joined the team, (former sister) Bernadette and Doc Turner adopted a baby girl, and Jenny decided to leave midwifery and Poplar behind.
It’s our first episode in a post-Jenny world and we start off with…Jenny? Yes, we’ve still got the JVO, which seems increasingly odd, since now she’s commenting on situations and events she wasn’t even privy to. We begin in 2005 with older Jenny (we get to see her at last!) decorating for Christmas and worrying about a missing ornament. Her house is something of a photographic shrine to her days in Poplar—aside from one or two pictures of, presumably, grandkids, every framed photo is one of her as a midwife, her with the other midwives, or the nuns, which kind of makes it seem like she never made any friends at her later jobs. Kinda sad, that.
JVO, always useful for the very stupid or those suffering from amnesia, reminds us that Christmas comes at the end of the year and is a time for reflection and family.
Back in 1959, cards are delivered to Nonnatus and collected by Trixie, who notes that one is from Jenny. The Turners and Noakeses receive one as well. Trixie’s hair, by the way, is far more flattering this season.
Chummy’s back to rehearsing the annual Christmas pageant, specifically what appears to be a little girls’ snowflake ballet. Fred arrives to give input into the Santa costume and gets annoyed with Trixie for bringing up the very word ‘costume’ in front of the kids, because he’s worried they’ll figure out what’s going on since he’s not part of the snowflake ballet or the donkey tap dance. Hold up, a donkey tap dance? Please tell me we’ll get to see that! Trixie gives him some fabric samples and tells him to chill. But Fred’s really committed and doesn’t want to see any frowny faces when he comes in at the pageant.
At Nonnatus, the nuns unwrap the nativity figurines and find that one—a sheep—is broken. Also, sister MJ totally calls Trixie stupid.
Evangelina returns from a delivery and helps herself to some milk of magnesia to settle her stomach after the celebratory snacks that have been forced on her.
At the Noakes home, Noakes is cramming for an exam he needs to pass in order to be promoted. He’s already failed a couple of times and is pretty stressed about it.
Meanwhile, Cynthia meets with Julienne about an important matter: she’s considering becoming a nun, but she’s not 100% sure it’s the life for her. Julienne tells her to take all the time she needs to come to a decision, but if she decides soon, there’s a place for her amongst some postulants who will begin their novitiate at the beginning of the new year. No pressure or anything, but, well, a bit of pressure.
At the weekly clinic, Cynthia delightedly notes that baby Angela Turner’s put on another pound, which really pleases Bernadette. Turner comes by and takes her for her vaccinations. He’s watched from afar by a heavily pregnant and very dolled up woman who’s smoking and judging the fact that Turner’s clearly a bit older than Bernadette. This woman’s tucked away in a back corner with a weeping teenager and her mother. The teen (Denise) is also pregnant, and Chummy’s making final arrangements for these two to go off and have their babies somewhere discreet. Denise’s mother snaps at her to use her handkerchief but Denise has forgotten it. Just in case we weren’t clear that this girl is young and fairly immature. The mother’s a bit snappy, clearly really upset about the whole situation. Chummy offers up her own hanky and reassures the two mums-to-be that the place they’re sending them to is really lovely, from what she’s heard. Denise’s mum asks how long the mothers keep their babies for and Chummy says it’s typically about six weeks, before the babies are adopted out. The older woman cheerfully says she’s not even holding on for that long—she’s having the kid, handing it right over to the social worker and that’s that. No cuddling, no feeding, no seeing. Can’t have those pesky emotions getting in the way. Fair enough, whatever you need to do to get through this. Patsy, who will be accompanying them on the bus trip to the home, comes in and is introduced before showing them out the back way. Denise’s mum lingers behind and tells Chummy her daughter’s never been away from home before. Chummy reassures her that Denise will be able to make a fresh start when she comes back, and that nobody’s going to ask too many questions.
Sister MJ and Fred go to pick out a Christmas tree for Nonnatus. MJ has gone along because she doesn’t trust Fred not to pick out a sucky tree. A man named Victor comes to help them and MJ gives him a list of particulars that sounds like it’s right out of Dr Seuss. Neither too tall nor too squat, smelling pleasingly of pine. Victor promises they all smell of pine because they’re all…pine. MJ asks if they’re Norwegian or German, because she’d really prefer an Allied tree. The man in charge comes by and offers up a discount because MJ delivered his daughter, years ago.
Patsy takes Denise and the other mum, Avril, to the bus and the two girls get to know each other. Avril, who seems like a fairly confident, no-nonsense type, tells Denise she’s particular about her appearance and used to work in a dress shop. They climb aboard and find seats. Denise admits she’s scared, but Avril tells her it’ll be fine, like going to a spa!
Fred gets help from Victor getting the huge tree MJ’s picked out back to Nonnatus. It’s so tall it scrapes the ceiling. Julienne seems alarmed but the others are delighted. MJ’s adorably all smiles. Evangelina tells Cynthia to pack up some mince pies for Victor. She does so and chases him out the door with them. He looks hesitant to take them, as if he’s not sure if she’s handing him a bag of pies or dog turds, so clearly he’s unused to kindness and generosity. He takes the pies and wondrously notes that they’re still warm. Oh, he’s going to break my heart a bit, isn’t he?
Fred cuts the very tip off the tree so it’ll comfortably fit in the sitting room.
Victor returns home to a very anxious woman, who was scared because he’s a bit late. The room they’re living in is depressing as hell. He hands over the pies and shows her some change he got during the day, telling her they’ll keep a bit back for the meter, so they can have some heat at least, and put the rest in a tin box marked ‘baby’. Oh dear. She asks him to light a fire for them. He kisses her forehead tenderly and goes to do that. Yep, heartbreaking.
The ladies arrive at the home and Patsy notes that it seems a little desolate. Avril cheerfully figures it makes sense, since they’re to be hidden away from society’s gaze. They reach the building and there isn’t even a light to greet them. In they go, and Patsy calls out. A baby in a pram is crying and Denise goes over to it, only to be shooed away by a matron who’s played by Ruth Sheen, who always seems to play someone a bit creepy or off, so already we know things aren’t quite right. This is Sister Maltby, the woman in charge. She takes them into the office, where Avril notes the pet cockatiel is looking poorly. I think we get that this place is no good, thanks. Patsy hands over the necessary paperwork and the ladies are introduced. Patsy tells Maltby that Denise has mild anaemia and needs iron pills. Maltby shortly says they’ll make sure she gets them. A bell rings, signaling someone’s in labour, so Patsy gets ready to get on the road. A young woman is led down the stairs and Maltby immediately yells at her for failing to pack her bag ahead of time. She fits the girl for a fake wedding band before sending her off to the hospital. Avril and Denise are looking a bit horrified. Once the girl’s sent off, they’re taken upstairs to a room they’ll share with a new mum named Yvonne, who gets yelled at for holding her crying son. She’s also yelled at for naming him. Just in case it was not clear, this place is not fun. Certainly not the relaxing experience Avril was hoping for. Avril promptly lights a cigarette.
The midwives and Tom the cute curate walk home after the annual hospital carol singing, eating fish and chips and talking about how much it would suck to be a nun. Cynthia sticks up for it, as does Tom. It’s clear that Cynthia hasn’t filled her friends in on her potential plan to take holy orders. She does so now and the girls are shocked. Tom, less so.
Later, Patsy tries to get Cynthia to come out of her room and talk about this, but Cynthia isn’t in the mood to discuss it. Patsy and Trixie sit down with some boozy chocolates and Trixie thinks that this is all because Cynthia never had a boyfriend. Patsy acts as the voice of reason and says that having a boyfriend isn’t the be all and end all for everybody, and that this doesn’t seem like something Cynthia’s rushing into, so there’s not much they can do about it.
Bernadette and Tim go shopping for a Christmas tree, though Tim’s making a plea for a fake silver tree like one of his friends has. Man, that is so mid-century. Their trip is cut short by Victor suddenly falling down in a serious fit. Bernadette springs into action, gets him onto his side and calls for an ambulance. On top of the fit, he burned his leg on some coals as he fell.
Avril, Denise, and Yvonne take a stroll through the gardens, talking about their babies’ dads. Maltby summons Yvonne back with a whistle. Inside, the woman from the adoption agency is waiting, and she immediately gives Yvonne shit for giving the baby a dummy to suck on. Maltby says the woman’s just there to carry out final checks and Yvonne is sent upstairs to lay out the baby’s things. She goes, and Avril and Denise come in. Avril tells Maltby that Denise isn’t feeling well and should see a doctor, but Maltby thinks she just needs a liedown and sends her upstairs for a rest.
The London Hospital phones the doctor’s surgery and gets Winifred on the phone. After the conversation ends, she tells Bernadette that Victor has been discharged but needs his burned leg seen to.
Avril notes that Denise is covered with a rash, while Yvonne lays out her baby’s clothes. They hear a car start up outside and Yvonne immediately realizes what this means: they’re taking her baby away. She absolutely loses it, running downstairs sobbing, throwing herself at the car, calling the baby Nicholas. As the car drives away, she wails that she wanted to feed him one last time. Maltby harshly tells her she warned her about overindulgence. A crowd of other pregnant women have gathered to see what the ruckus is about, Avril amongst them. She bends down and retrieves the dropped dummy, which she gently puts in Yvonne’s hand.
Turner knows Victor, because Victor was once a resident of a mental hospital that was shut down, tossing the inmates out onto the streets. Nice.
Avril stomps into Maltby’s office and demands to know why she would pull such a cruel trick. Maltby claims it prevents distressing scenes. Yeah, that really seemed to work this time. She tells Avril to take Yvonne some tea while Maltby enjoys her hot milk. Avril’s like, ‘you mean your hot milk and gin, you horrible drunk?’ while she goes to the phone and picks up the receiver. She immediately asks to be put through to Nonnatus. Maltby’s face says, ‘oh, shit.’
Chummy gets the call from Avril, collects Turner, and heads out to see the ladies. Tim’s coming along for really no reason at all. He says he fancies a bit of moral contagion. Heh.
Cynthia goes to see Victor and change his dressing. She warns him not to get the burn wet. The woman he lives with says they go to the public bath every Friday, so can he get it wet then? Cynthia gently says no and hands over a prescription. Victor’s partner, Nancy, corrects Cynthia’s assumption that the two are married and sadly says the prescription is too much money. Cynthia urges them to see what they can do. Victor sends Nancy to make some tea. Nancy offers up some mince pie as well. Awww. Nancy drops the kettle and when Cynthia goes to see her she notices the box marked ‘baby’ and asks if someone’s expecting. Nancy begs Victor not to tell her, but he says they need to tell someone.
Apparently telling is all they did, because Cynthia reports back at Nonnatus that she has virtually no information from the woman, not even how far along she is. She notes that Nancy seems very frail. Evangelina says that she’s not really prepared for life in the real world, having been institutionalized for almost her entire existence and waited on and looked after. She thinks it’s criminal to just set these people out at a moment’s notice, and it is. She tells Winifred to go with Cynthia the next time she visits to see if the two of them can talk some sense into these two and get the woman the care she needs.
Chummy and the Turner men arrive at the home, where they learn Maltby’s taken off. Turner notices a terrible smell about the place (Patsy didn’t notice that? It’s only been a couple of days since they arrived, right?) and the fact that the electricity isn’t on in most of the house. Avril’s on hand to fill them in on the details and shows Turner up to Denise, who’s diagnosed with chicken pox. Denise is panicking and wants to go home, but Chummy tells her chicken pox during pregnancy is tricky and needs to be taken care of. Yvonne is sobbing on her bed and Chummy goes to comfort her, noticing something wrong with her eye. She’s cried so hard she actually managed to burst a blood vessel. Eeeek!
Tim helps his dad get the power working, amazed that crying can actually do that. Tim wonders if Angela came from a place like this and Turner says he hopes not, but she did come from a girl like the residents.
At Nonnatus, Evangelina complains about the way MJ has arranged the manger scene. Julienne swings by to tell her that Turner’s phoned to ask that a qualified midwife be sent to the mother and baby home, so she’s sending Chummy and Patsy.
Winifred and Cynthia visit Victor and Nancy and Nancy shows off a pram she found in the trash. Cynthia brings up the idea of Nancy seeing a doctor so the pregnancy can be confirmed. She looks scared and tells them she doesn’t like doctors, because they aren’t kind. Winifred reassures her that their doctor is very kind. Cynthia adds that, once they’ve filled in the correct forms, they can get some financial help. Victor and Cynthia both promise to accompany her.
Chummy quizzes Noakes while sewing a pair of donkey ears. Sounds like Chummy’s memorized his facts more than he has. Little Freddie starts crying and Noakes wonders if they’re in for another sleepless night. Chummy says that the baby’s been coughing and she blames the city air. Noakes says that, if he gets this promotion, they could move somewhere outside the city, so Freddie could have a garden to play in.
Julienne finds Cynthia in the chapel late at night and sits down beside her. Cynthia admits she’s still uncertain, though she’s never longed for anything in her life as much as she’s wanted to be a nun. She seems to think she’s unworthy and has nothing to offer in exchange for God’s love. Julienne says she’s had all these uncertainties as well, and that certainty is fleeting, which is why we have faith.
Chummy rides the bus out to the home, which is being cleaned up by the residents under the direction of Patsy and Avril, who are making one hell of a team.
Turner examines Nancy and asks about a scar on her abdomen. She says she had an operation to help her periods stay regular. She had an operation on her head at the same time. Turner examines the scars from that as well and looks sad. He asks Nancy if she remembers why this was done and she said she couldn’t keep still, either in her head or her body. Yes, fidgeting is an excellent reason to give someone a lobotomy.
Turner gets on the phone with the psychiatrist who shut down the hospital and learned that the doctor in charge of the place was notorious for giving out lobotomies like they were candy canes. Horrifying, debilitating candy canes. Cynthia, being a human being, is appalled. She and Turner sit down with Nancy and Victor and gently tell her that she isn’t going to have a baby. She’s actually going through menopause. Nancy doesn’t think she’s old enough for that but Cynthia says they’re pretty sure she is. Also, the operation on her abdomen was a tubal ligation, so she couldn’t get pregnant at any age. Seems that she might be having some kind of hysterical pregnancy. Nancy is absolutely distraught at this news and runs out of the doctor’s office, sobbing. Victor runs after her and calls out that he loves her. He catches up with her and embraces her tightly. She weakly says she can’t give Victor anything and he says she gives him all she can and he gives her all he can, and he’s blessed because she lets him do that. Cynthia, hanging back but still in earshot, takes all that in and later joins the nuns at their evening service. She and Julienne exchange a nod. Looks like her mind’s made up.
Almost pageant time! Fred struggles into his costume while the kids have another rehearsal. One of the girls calls Tom over and shows him that her tooth’s fallen out. Winifred sends her to the kitchen with another girl to wash out her mouth. There, they spot Fred in half-Santa mode and scream in unison. Trixie tells them that they’ve spoiled their surprise and asks them to keep the secret. They seem cool with that.
Chummy and Patsy are blowing up balloons at the mother and baby home ahead of an impromptu Christmas party. Noakes calls and asks for an over-the-phone quiz. She tells him this is just nerves talking and he’ll be fine. The test is tomorrow and she’ll be home that night and can test him then. He says he loves her.
But the weather has other ideas. Snow’s falling hard as Chummy goes to leave. She heads for the bus stop and spots the bus as it pulls up. She calls for it to wait and she…stops for a bit. Chummy, pick up the pace! Once she gets going again, she slips and falls and misses the bus.
Julienne sees Cynthia off on a quick trip home to tell her parents what she intends to do. Yeah, ‘I’m going to be a nun’ is really the kind of announcement that’s best done in person. On her way out, Cynthia notices the battered sheep figurine and asks if it’s being thrown away, because she knows someone who might like to have it.
Chummy stresses about not being able to get home, since her husband and baby need her, but there’s nothing for it.
At home, Noakes notes the weather and tells little Freddie that it’s a boys’ night.
At the home, the girls are having fun dancing to Elvis. Avril drags Chummy and Patsy in and they join the fun. After a few seconds, however, Avril gets that ‘ooooh, I’m totally in labour,’ look on her face and quietly leaves the room. The song ends just in time for her to give a mighty yell from the stairs.
Chummy examines her upstairs and tells her it’s showtime. Another pain comes and Chummy tries to take her hand but Avril’s not having it. She gets through it without making a peep and asks if it gets worse than this. Yes, Avril. It does. It really, really does. Chummy says they can do some handholding ‘at the sharp end’ and Avril snaps that she doesn’t want to hold anyone’s hand, she just wants to get to the hospital. Patsy bustles in and tells her she’s out of luck there, because the ambulance can’t get through.
Noakes gets so frustrated while he’s studying that he throws the notes across the room in typical dramatic fashion, but then he notices that his son’s having some serious trouble breathing and goes and picks the boy up.
Avril is nearing the sharp end but still not screaming, which is admirable. Chummy tells her to go ahead and yell all she wants and Avril says she learned as a child to stay quiet. She used to do it to please her mother, but then she did it out of spite. It made mommie dearest hit her less, because she’d get bored. Chummy promises that nobody’s going to hit her now. She then goes on to say that she lies about a lot of things. Her mother actually dumped her at a Dr Bernardo’s home. Sad.
Noakes runs to fetch a neighbor, but apparently nobody on their entire block is home or awake, and it sounds like Freddie’s in a really bad way.
Chummy, meanwhile, talks Avril through her pains while Patsy checks on the progress. She reports that the head is well on its way, but it’s a compound presentation. Chummy translates that the baby’s got its hand against its head. She tells Avril to do what they say and it won’t be much longer.
Noakes bundles up the baby and goes to call for an ambulance, only to hear it’s going to be a 90 minute wait because of the weather.
Patsy coaches Avril through nice steady pushes.
Noakes does the sensible thing and takes Freddie to Nonnatus House. MJ takes one look and diagnoses croup. She tells the others that they need to get some steam going and everyone pitches in, boiling kettles to save this poor chap. Seriously, croup’s no joke. Babies can actually suffocate to death. I do appreciate that the show is giving us a glimpse of MJ as a competent and experienced nurse. We’re so accustomed to seeing her act completely addled, it’s a nice break.
Avril gasps that she wants her baby to be all right. She gives a huge push and a scream to go with it and the baby—a girl—is born. ‘Bravo,’ says Chummy, cutting the cord and wrapping the infant up. She asks Avril if she wants to hold her, but Avril won’t even look at her, let alone touch her.
Freddie’s fever breaks, he’s going to be fine! Yay! Noakes is relieved. Of course, now he has to go off to his exam on only two hours’ sleep. Evangelina brushes down his dress uniform and tells him that people can do amazing things on two hours’ sleep, so enough bellyaching and go rock that exam, Noakes!
Chummy tries again to get Avril to at least look at her child, but Avril refuses. Chummy is sure Avril cares at least a bit, since she worked hard to bring the baby safely into the world, after carrying her for nine months (and smoking like a chimney the whole time, by the look of it. Just sayin’.) Avril reminds Chummy that she’s giving this baby away, so it makes no sense to get attached. She continues that she wanted love and thought she had found it, but apparently she was wrong, and here she is. And that just sucks.
Noakes starts his exam.
Chummy cradles the baby girl in the matron’s office. Patsy joins her and asks if there’s news from Noakes. Not yet, still testing. They talk about how sad it is that society forces girls like these to hide away and give their babies up. Chummy tells Patsy that Avril grew up in a home and was so desperate to be loved that she ended up bringing a child into the world but is so damaged she can’t even bring herself to be involved with the baby. Yvonne knocks on the door and tells them that Denise is upstairs crying.
Denise, too, is in labour. She gasps that she wants her mother and Patsy offers to get her mother on the telephone. Denise doesn’t think her mother wants to know she’s in labour but Patsy soothingly says she doubts that’s the case. I really like Patsy. I think if I had to pick a midwife team, I’d definitely want Patsy and Chummy. They’re my favourites. Also, Avril overhears all this and looks a bit thoughtful as she cradles her still-big but now-empty stomach.
Bernadette comes home and finds Turner lying in bed with their napping daughter. He tells her he’s very, very happy, but can’t forget that their daughter started life as someone else’s child. Bernadette admits that she thinks about that a lot and wonders what the story of the baby’s mother was.
Avril goes to the matron’s office, where Chummy’s still holding the baby, closes the door, and asks to hold her. Chummy practically implodes with relief and immediately hands the child over. Avril smiles beatifically down at her and says it’s like they fit into each other, like two puzzle pieces. She wonders how she can give the baby up, because she might need her mother someday. Chummy says she can keep her, nobody’s stopping her.
The Turners draft a letter to Angela’s mother, telling her all about the baby. They plan to send it to the adoption agency for forwarding, if it’s possible. Aww.
It’s time for the Christmas pageant—yay! Seriously, there are few things cuter than little kids in these types of slightly terrible theatrical performances, and this is no exception. The first song is sung by kids in pjs and is about Santa coming down the chimney. As soon as Santa is mentioned, Fred pops up in a chimney behind them, topples over, rights himself, and manages to continue. Pageants rock! I can’t wait until my son’s old enough to be in them.
Yvonne gets ready to go home. Avril embraces her and all the other girls come to say goodbye. Denise’s mother shows up with a bouquet of flowers and cradles her newborn grandson while her pox’d daughter sits nearby. Denise’s mum asks if the chicken pox hurt him and is reassured that he’s fine. Mum says they should have tried to get Denise the pox when she was a kid, but they worked so hard to protect her. Mum quietly tells Denise that she can keep the baby if she wants, but Denise says that, if she did, she’d just be doing it because it’s what she wants at this moment, not because it’s what’s best for him or for her. Her mother knows, but says they’ll think about him every Christmas.
The Turners post the letter and get a silver tree, like Timothy wanted.
The Nonnatuns, midwives, Turners, and Nancy and Victor gather for Christmas lunch. The Noakeses spend the holiday at the mothers and babies home.
Noakes passes his exam! Best Christmas ever!
And now we’ve come to New Years’ eve, which finds Trixie and Patsy sitting around glumly, waiting to see Cynthia off for her six-month novitiate at the mother house. Cynthia joins them, dressed in her novice’s habit, which looks like a Catholic schoolgirl uniform with a wimple on top. A very odd look for a grown woman. Everyone tears up and Trixie starts crying and worries that Cynthia will change. I doubt that. Cynthia’s always going to be Cynthia.
Cynthia goes into the chapel, where the other nuns are singing and all their friends have gathered.
Older Jenny looks out her window and sees that it’s snowing. She calls over her husband, Philip, to see. He admires it, and then hands over the missing ornament: the china lamb from Nonnatus. I wonder why Cynthia thought to send that to Jenny? Did it have some kind of significance to her? Eh, whatever, it was sweet, and every year Jenny puts it in a place of honour on the mantelpiece. Philip suggests she consider writing her memoirs and she says she will, after Christmas.