Strap in, folks, because this is a rough one.
No joke: I sobbed helplessly on the sofa through pretty much the back half of the episode. I looked so awful when I went upstairs to bed my husband immediately asked if I needed a hug.
Make sure you have an emergency hugger nearby before engaging with this episode.
Also, this episode (and, therefore, this recap) may be triggering for some. Proceed with caution.
Let’s get the lighter stuff out of the way first.
Fred is super bummed that the annual horticultural show has been cancelled at the last minute for reasons that we never learn. He wants to resurrect it himself, and Violet’s basically like, ‘Good luck with that, hun.’ But it’s Fred, so we know it’ll happen. With Reggie’s help and some good ideas from the Nonnatus crew, he does, indeed, put on a successful horticultural show. And he wins second prize with his marrow, which is probably the only reason he really wanted to do this thing in the first place. Well done, Fred!
Cyril and Lucile don’t seem to have much time to see each other these days. They’re both busy. Crane fakes some car trouble to get Cyril to Nonnatus, but all that does is provokes a fight between the two. But then Cyril shows up with some primroses ahead of the show, and it’s all good.
McNulty’s back! Hurrah! I’m glad they brought back at least one of the young doctors. Miss Higgins is super bitchy to him for no reason. Also, his friendship with Val is apparently not a thing anymore, because I don’t think they exchange a single word the whole episode. They act like complete strangers, which is odd.
Also strange: McNulty is the only person to realise Sister Frances has some seriously bad period pain. Odd that none of the other women she’s been living with for years, all of whom are professional midwives, have ever noticed anything amiss. Every. Single. Month. Come on, show. You can do better. Aspirin isn’t cutting it, so he gives her a stronger painkiller. And I guess we’re going to shortly have some sort of Sister Frances drug addiction storyline. Joy.
Ok, now we’re moving into some of the sad stuff.
Things have gotten complicated with little Mae’s adoption. I think we learned a little while ago that she’s not an orphan, as originally claimed. Her mother’s cleaned herself up, got a job as a nanny for a British family living in Hong Kong, and is now in London while they holiday. That’s convenient! Also: how did this woman track Mae down?
Her name is Esther, and she wants to see her daughter. The Turners aren’t sure this is a good idea, because the kid’s five, has been through a lot already, is settled, and this is just going to be confusing. They show her some pictures and reassure her that Mae is well, but that’s not enough.
I’ll just pause here to say: this probably sounds harsh against the mother, but it’s not meant to be. She seems like a lovely woman, and genuinely in ernest. She wants to be a mother. She wants her daughter, which is the most natural thing in the world. But the world is harsh and difficult for many.
The Turners agree to a meeting between mother and daughter, but it doesn’t go well. Mae clearly doesn’t recognise this woman, and wraps herself around Shelagh’s legs in fear. Esther tries to speak Chinese to her daughter, but Mae doesn’t understand her. As the situation deteriorates, the Turners take the child away and agree that this must never happen again.
Esther melts down (undersandably) and starts lashing out, accusing the Turners and the adoption agency of having turned her child against her. When the head of the agency (who’s been stress-smoking like crazy all episode) hands her adoption papers to sign, Esther refuses.
The Turners go to Sister Julienne and beg her to intervene. She meets with Esther, who reiterates that she is not giving up her child. Julienne understands, but gently asks how Esther is going to support Mae. Her nanny job will go, if she has a child of her own, so what then? She points out that the worst possible scenario is that Mae winds up back in an orphanage. And if that happens, there’s no guarantee there’ll be another set of Turners to take her in.
Esther agrees to allow the Turners to be Mae’s foster parents, but no more. They point out that this is a terrible solution: Mae needs a legal guardian in England. If anything were to happen to her, they wouldn’t have legal rights to make decisions about medical treatment or anything.
Wow, yeah, what happens in that situation? If the actual parent is halfway around the world and can’t be reached quickly? I guess the adoption charity is Mae’s legal guardian in Britain? It’s a little confusing, but then, by this point in the episode I was pretty distracted moving through an entire box of tissues.
Anyway, this is Esther’s decision. The Turners decide to just make the best of it. What else can you do, really?
Ok, do we all have a hug buddy/comfort object/gin/emotional support menagerie? You’re gonna need ’em.
Remember Maureen? Val’s cousin who gave her such a hard time about not visiting their grandmother in prison? Well, she’s pregnant. About to pop, actually, and she’s determined the baby will come on August 12, which was her father’s and her grandfather’s birthday.
She tries to hurry things along by dosing herself with castor oil. It seems to work, as she goes into labour and delivers a baby boy at about two minutes to midnight. Rather adorably, her husband bursts into the bedroom, brandishing their wall clock, shouting ‘You’ve done it!’ It cracked me up.
Everyone’s super blissed about little baby Warren, but within a couple of days it becomes clear that something’s off. He’s not feeding well, he’s floppy, and there’s a strange cast to his eyes. Lucile, her midwife, summons Turner, and everyone gets those We’re being reassuring, here! smiles on that are not, actually, terribly reassuring. The baby is sent to the hospital for tests.
It’s bad, you guys. The baby’s heart has serious defects, he’s blind, and there’s probably some brain damage as well. He has, at best, a few weeks to live.
Oh, God, I’m tearing up JUST WRITING ABOUT THIS. Sorry, this is why the recap’s kinda late this week.
Everyone’s baffled about this, because Maureen has no history of medical issues and has had two perfectly healthy children and three totally normal pregnancies. Her medical notes yield no answers. But then Val remembers that, months ago, during the diptheria scare, her kids were diagnosed with German measles.
Oh, SNAP! I seem to recall, at the time, seeing all the characters so relieved and thinking, ‘Uh, isn’t rubella a really bad thing to have around pregnant women and newborns?’ At the time, I was thinking purely of those at the maternity hospital. I didn’t know Maureen was pregnant (she might not have, either).
That’s the key: the rubella. Make sure you’re all up-to-date on your MMR folks. That’s this week’s PSA. No child should be doomed to a life like Warren’s.
Maureen and her husband, Charlie, absorb the worst possible news a parent can ever, ever hear and immediately decide that baby Warren should be home, with them. He should be where he’s loved, not in an incubator in a hospital with strangers.
And oh, man, is this baby loved. He and the other children in this family are so loved. This family is fantastic.
And might I just say: Maureen is a CHAMP. Charlie, too. Look at them, cuddling and cooing over this baby, even though they know he’s going to die and that letting themselves get deeply attached is going to be so incredibly, gut-wrenchingly awful. Look at them treating him just as if he were any other, healthy baby expected to grow up in this family. Look at them encouraging their kids to interact with Warren, to show him how awesome it is to be part of this family, before merrily sending them off to play with the water pistols, as if nothing is wrong at all. Look at them maintaining joy, and normality, as if it’s nothing at all even though surely it must be a monumental effort on both their parts.
These people are wonderful. They’re so sweet, and decent, and loving that it makes this whole situation all the more gut-wrenching. You just want there to be some sort of miracle here, because these people really seem to deserve it.
Also: I feel absolutely horrible for ever having thought Maureen was a bitch. I’m so sorry, Maureen. You are amazing.
The family decides to have a little party for Warren, just as they did with their other children. Lucile comes along and takes photos of everyone. Charlie tries to pay her for the film but she refuses.
It’s a great party. Everyone has a good time. Afterwards, the kids pile into their parents’ bed and fall asleep and Maureen and Charlie decide to leave them, because it’s nice to have a full-family cuddle. Warren is lovingly placed in his bassinette at his parents’ bedside. And there he dies, in his sleep.
Please do not think I’m trying to make light of this at all, because I’m not. But this is 100% me at this point in the episode:
Curled up on the sofa, sobbing. I stayed like this until the end of the episode. It’s taken me hours to finish this recap because every time I think about this storyline I start to cry. I think, for me, this is the saddest episode of Call the Midwife. And yes, I remember how terribly sad it was in those episodes when Chummy’s mother and Sister Evangelina and Barbara died. I remember that episode where half a family was found to have Huntingdon’s. For me, this beats all of those, and I think it’s the combination of a sweet, innocent, lovely newborn never having a chance, and the wonderful family that rallied together and gave him a beautiful life, however brief it was. It’s touching but also completely heartwrenching.
Oh, great, here I go again.
You know it’s bad when Turner barely manages to hold it together, looking at these two parents sitting side-by-side on the bed, staring at an empty bassinette. And then he goes out to his car and sobs too.
You all still with me? You still here? You guys ok? Should we take a minute to go and hug our children, if we have them? Or pets or partners or plants we’re particularly attached to, so that those we care about know they’re loved?
All right, let’s bring this home.
As Lucile is about to leave for the horticultural show, Charlie shows up and shyly hands her one of the photos from Warren’s party. It is, of course, a photo of Warren, looking perfect on the last day he was alive. She thanks him sincerely.
At the show itself, Sister MJ has prepared a garden to pay homage to St Raymond Nonnatus. Everyone’s confused, because it’s just a statue of the saint, sitting on a stool. They gently ask her if she’s aware this is supposed to be a flower garden, and she tells them, smiling brightly, that the flowers of St Raymond Nonnatus are all around them.
Right on cue, a parade of mums marches in, carrying an array of babies ranging from newborns to just shy of toddlerhood. All dressed up, looking super adorable. They’re arranged on blankets around the statue and everyone looking on tries very hard not to cry at the lovely sight of all these sweet, healthy babies, the blessings of the saint and the evidence of the midwives’ skill. I am under no constraints of being in public and sob unashamedly. At this point I figure my neighbours are getting concerned.
Lucile steps forward and places the primrose Cyril gave her at the edge of the circle of babies. She tucks Warren’s picture into the bright, yellow flowers and steps back and OK NOW I’M DONE CAN I PLEASE JUST GO TO BED NOW?
Wow. I mean, I cry pretty regularly over episodes of this show, but this one was a real kicker. It was beautiful, and handled well, but still feels like a gut punch. Fingers crossed that next week’s is a little easier on us, because I can only take so much.