Call the Midwife: Unto Us, a Child is Born

Courtesy BBC
Courtesy BBC

Previously on Call the Midwife: Midwives Jenny, Trixie, Cynthia, and Chummy joined the midwife-nuns at Nonnatus House. Babies were born, Chummy got married, Sister MJ sadly lost her marbles but kept her sunny disposition. Fred was annoying and useless.

Ok, I know I’m super late on this, but it’s not like I haven’t been busy. Anyway, I’m here now, so let’s see what this was all about.

It’s Christmas time, and a neighbourhood kid keeps watch outside an electronics store, until the TV in the window is turned on. He passes the word along a whole lot of other kids, who gather in a giant pack and descend on the store to stand outside and watch TV, along with a few adults and Sister MJ. Everyone laughs delightedly at the show—some three little pigs puppet show.

Jenny VOs how great Christmas is in the east end and how excited everyone is. Well, almost everyone—the sisters are spending all their time at prayer while Jenny washes the manger scene characters in hot, soapy water and VOs about how faith was still a mystery to her.

The phone rings and Jenny picks up. A woman on the other end tells her that her neighbour’s in labour. She also scolds Jenny for not intuitively sending the woman to hospital, since apparently she was in labour for three days with her last kid. Jesus, how’s she still alive after that?

Jenny collects sister Julienne, who’s coming along to reassure the mother before going to check out someone else. They meet Sister MJ returning home with an armful of straw for the manger scene. Sister MJ looks ominously tired.

Jenny and Julienne are flagged down by the neighbour who telephoned, who’s all in a panic. They hurry inside, where the mother’s screaming and…sitting on the toilet. A common toilet in the building, no less, and she’s got a whole crowd of neighbour ladies gathered around watching the show. Wow. Jenny does a quick exam and notes she’s in the second stage, and then some asshole guy comes up and whines that this is a communal toilet and he’s in the queue. The women, remarkably, don’t kick his ass, but for heaven’s sake, you dick, the woman’s in labour! How insensitive do you have to be? Jenny coaches the woman on breathing, and she calms down as she hears an ambulance approaching. Julienne scolds the crowd for calling the ambulance, because that was unnecessary, and when the ambulance attendants come scrambling up the stairs Julienne sends them right back out again. The mother wails about how she’s going to need forceps again, like the last time, and then she starts pushing and soon enough her daughter’s born, forceps free. The women watching weep with joy.

Clinic time. Chummy weighs one hefty tot and tells his mum he’s about the same size as a turkey. Trixie gathers kids for their vaccinations and threatens to tell Father Christmas if they’re not good. Cynthia objects, but I say you may as well use that particular blackmail while you still can. Whatever works. One mum comes in with her teen daughter, baby, and two sons. She dispatches the teen to take the boys for their shots, just as Fred comes in dragging a big Christmas tree.

Jenny’s getting ready to go out when a homeless woman comes running over, grabs her arm, and asks if a baby’s been born and if it and the mother are thriving. Jenny nervously answers in the affirmative to all before climbing up on her bike and cycling off.

Fred’s keeping some of the kids occupied decorating the tree (they laugh when he shocks himself with a light, because that’s how kids are). The teen girl—Lynette, I believe—wanders over to a desk and picks up a pamphlet titled A Guide to Women’s Health and Childbirth. Well, now! Chummy comes bustling over and asks if something’s caught her eye and Lynette quickly puts the pamphlet down. Chummy remembers that she must be finishing school soon and Lynette says she is, around Easter, and then her dad’s got her hooked up with a job as a filing clerk, which wasn’t terribly bad work for that class at that time, so well done there. Chummy observes that it must be exciting to see new doors opening and Lynette gloomily says she thinks so. Chummy returns to Trixie’s side and Trixie, always the sensitive one, snarks that she would have had an easier time pulling the girl’s teeth out one by one. Chummy’s a bit nicer, remembering how rough it was at that age, feeling awkward and unsure. Out of sight of the nurses, Lynette pockets the pamphlet.

Later, Jenny tells Chummy and Evangeline about her encounter with Homeless Lady, whom Chummy’s met as well and agrees the woman’s a bit gross. Evangeline briskly asks if she was asking after the baby and says she sounds like a woman she used to know back in the day, who always knew when a birth was taking place. They called her Mrs Jenkins, though that she’s not sure that was her real name. Chummy whispers that she caught the woman peeing in the gutter, and Evangeline is like, oh, yeah, that’s her. Oof. Can you imagine your identifying characteristic being public urination?

Chummy, all this time, has been changing into a scouts uniform, because she apparently doesn’t have enough on her plate, now she’s taking that on as well. She goes into the main room, where they hold the clinic, which has been completely overrun by rambunctious, loud, out-of-control boys. Chummy tries to get their attention by…quacking? Is that how they do it in the scouts? I wouldn’t know, I totally avoided girl scouts when I was a kid. When that doesn’t work, Jack—nice to see him again—backs her up by screaming for the other kids to shut up. They do, which is impressive. Chummy tells them they’re going to be focusing on their nativity play, which gets a huge cheer from the kids. Easy crowd. She starts assigning parts, and it takes all of a minute for two of the shepherds to begin using their staffs like fencing foils. Boys.

Noakes and Lynette hang around outside the room, waiting for rehearsal to end. Noakes notes that she’s looking a bit tense and asks if she’s ok. She non-answers that she’s there to pick up her brothers. As the scouts finish up, Noakes lets himself into the room and holds up a letter, mouthing to Chummy that she’s got a letter from the vicar.

The letter’s to inform her he’s invited the mayor to the nativity play, which completely freaks her out. Noakes tells her to relax, because this is just a fun thing, but she says it was a bit of fun, but now it’s an event because they’ve got VIPs coming. He once again urges her to relax and cuddles her, soothingly telling her she forgets what she’s capable of sometimes.

A whole lot of babies are parked outside in what appears to be a pram parking lot. Isn’t it December? And wasn’t someone in the last scene just complaining about the cold? I realise it was a different time, but surely even then people were a bit wary of leaving their infants out in the freezing cold? And in a neighbourhood that had a kidnapping not so long ago, no less.

Mrs Jenkins starts walking amongst the kids, rocking one here, and then focusing on one particularly adorable tot, whom she approaches and starts playing with. She’s not touching him or anything, but that doesn’t stop his mother—I think it’s that anxious neighbour lady from earlier—from completely losing it when she comes out and finds Jenkins in her kid’s proximity. She yells so much she brings Julienne and Jenny running, and then she brutally and unnecessarily shoves the woman away from her, straight into a wall. Julienne tells her to chill out, for heaven’s sake, and sends her back into the clinic. Julienne gently takes the woman’s hands and tells her she knows it’s hard to resist being near babies, but you have to realise that mums are a little crazy when it comes to the offspring. She goes on to ask the woman where she lives, because Julienne wants someone to check in on her and make sure she’s ok. Jenkins starts to look panicked and runs away. Jenny observes that the woman doesn’t look well. No shit, Jenny. Julienne quickly diagnoses a whole slew of ailments, including malnourishment, and Jenny asks why the woman won’t accept help. I think being a bit addled might have something to do with it. Julienne thinks she was rather ill-used back in the day, which has made her wary.

Chummy pulls out the trusty old sewing machine and tells Jenny what a huge production she’s turning the nativity play into, with some help from a girls’ group. Jenny suggests she scale it back, but Chummy’s got a mission, and she’s determined.

Lynette wanders the streets, heading home with the shopping. She stops, looks around, wipes the snow off the window of a place that looks rather abandoned, and looks in.

 A little later, Chummy runs into her and asks if she’ll join the nativity play as the senior angel. Lynette doesn’t exactly do cartwheels, saying she might be needed at home, but Chummy presses, so the girl reluctantly gives her her size (40-inch hip for anyone interested).

Jenkins, too, is walking the streets, and finally her exhaustion gets the better of her and she slowly collapses. A nearby woman comes running to help.

Doc shows up at Nonnatus to pick up some instruments Bernadette’s sterilising. There’s some talk of a new autoclave as Trixie comes in and asks if Doc Turner’s staying for tea. He’s not, because he has his kid, Timothy, out in the car. Bernadette asks how Timothy’s doing since his mother’s death. Turner says he’s doing ok, but this is their first Christmas without her, and he’s a bit worried it’ll be hard on him. Trixie goes to answer the ringing phone and tells Turner an  urgent home visit’s been requested for Mrs J.

Turner pulls up at the address given and his kid gives him lip about making him late for rehearsal and always being late himself. Doc just ignores him and goes inside, where he finds a hovel, basically. Jenkins tells him not to come near her, and when he approaches, she starts screaming her head off. Turner goes back outside and grabs his bratty kid’s fish and chips right out of his hands. Ha! He uses them to tempt Mrs J.

He reports back to Julienne that the woman’s got a heart condition and appears to be incontinent. He thinks she has an infection, among other things. Julienne asks him to speak to social services, and she’ll put her on the list for daily visits.

And who does she send to this woman first? Jenny. Poor choice. The poorest, I’d say. Jenny looks warily at her surroundings before knocking on Jenkins’s door and letting herself in. Jenkins is terrified of her and tells her to get lost, but Jenny tells her they just want to make her a bit more comfortable. She lets some light in and looks around the place in horror. I see she hasn’t managed to perfect that poker face yet. Jenkins says she thought Jenny was Rosie for a minute. Jenny asks who that is but Jenkins doesn’t say. Jenny leans down and says she just wants to do a few routine tests. She tries to take Jenkins’s pulse, but Jenkins slaps her away.

Jenny goes back to Nonnatus, where Evangeline is none too pleased that Jenny couldn’t manage to take someone’s pulse. Evangeline yells at her that they have too much to do without having to deal with Jenny’s incompetence as well. While she rages, Jenny notices Cynthia walking by, dressed in a box, and she goes out to see what’s up. Cynthia explains that Chummy ended up with more kids than parts, so she’s trying to personify the wise men’s gifts. Cynthia’s currently myrrh, which she says is pretty straightforward compared to frankincense. Not really.

Evangeline accompanies Jenny on her next visit to Jenkins and gets a slap of her own when she goes to check the pulse. Jenny can’t quite contain a smug smile. Evangeline notes that the patient demonstrated a strong right hook and asks Jenkins what she thinks of this, before letting loose a fart. Jenny, of course, is horrified, but Jenkins seems amused. Now they’ve established a rapport, Jenkins allows the exam.

As the nurses go to leave, they hear Jenkins inside, howling in agony. They listen, sadly, and Evangeline says that’s what they used to call the Workhouse Howl. Jenny wonders if they should go back but Evangeline says there’s nothing they can really do.

The scouts are singing Silent Night while Chummy coaches them to smile. Not smiling: Lynette. She looks completely miserable, and she eventually stops singing all together to turn away, looking either like she’s sick or in pain.

Later, Jenny’s at work on a crown. She suggests Sister MJ rest before compline but MJ seems a bit agitated. Jenny tries to distract her by having her hold the glue pot, but then she goes ahead and brings the mood down by asking MJ if she’s ever heard of the Workhouse Howl. MJ says she’s heard it in person, and it speaks of an extreme agony. Jenny says that Jenkins was calling someone’s name when she yelled.

Lynette’s in bed, clearly in pain. Her mum bustles in and asks if she’s seen the kitchen scissors. It takes forever for her to notice Lynette doesn’t seem all that well, but Lynette says it’s just her time of the month. Mum tells her she knows how to take care of herself and briskly bids her goodnight.

It’s the middle of the night and the nuns are going to one of their services. Over the sound of their chanting, we see Lynette get out of bed and pull a bundle from under her pillow. Back to the nuns, and back to Lynette curled up against the bed in pain before quietly sneaking out of the house.

She painfully makes her way to the abandoned place she found a few scenes back. She lies down on some newspapers and starts screaming in pain, apparently in labour. Wow, she hid that really well. She manages to birth the kid, and it immediately starts crying. She looks down at it, then picks up a bit of twine to tie off the cord. She keeps saying she’s sorry to the baby, as she cuts the cord. She reaches down and picks the infant up, holding it against her chest and weeping. Merry Christmas? This is a pretty depressing Christmas special.

The next morning, Trixie opens the front door and finds the infant on the doorstep. She yells for Trixie and sends her for Julienne.

Lynette, meanwhile, is back home, in bed, fast asleep.

The nuns and midwives warm and feed the baby while Lynette’s mum wakes her.

Noakes and another policeman are taking the details of the abandoned baby, but they don’t have much to go on. Julienne says this is their first ever abandonment. Noakes asks why she thinks someone would do this. Julienne says it appears to be a love/fear combination.

Everyone else is still gathered around the infant, who’s a boy. Bernadette has managed to pull together some clothes from the donations, but Evangeline calls her out on using pink booties for a boy. She tells them to pull a couple of shillings out of petty cash and get some blue ones, because it’s never too early to start enforcing gender roles. Fred wonders what they should call the kid and basically suggests his own name, but Sister MJ thinks they should name him after their patron saint, Raymond Nonnatus. That is appropriate, seeing as how he’s the patron saint of childbirth, midwives, children, and pregnant women. Evangeline checks the baby’s temperature and reports that all looks well.

Two men carry a bedframe into Jenkins’s hovel as Jenny and Turner exit. Jenny can’t believe the council won’t rehouse her, seeing as how she’s living in a condemned building, but Turner says that old sick people are supposed to go to nursing homes.

Back inside, Jenny and Evangeline are filling a bath for Jenkins. Evangeline scolds Jenny for being so slow and Jenkins tells her not to yell at her Rosie. Jenny rather stupidly says she’s not Rosie, not realising that she could probably use that confusion to get this woman to be more cooperative. Jenkins takes one of her hands and remembers that this Rosie was a child when Jenkins knew her, whereas Jenny’s clearly a grownup.

Soon, Jenny’s trying to argue the woman out of her clothes, but Jenkins doesn’t want to strip and have her stuff burned. Evangeline says they have to burn them because they’re crawling with fleas. Jenny tries to remove the woman’s shoes and realises they’re stuck to her skin. Evangeline suggests Vaseline, in a no-nonsense way. That’s a hell of a product endorsement. Jenny slowly, painfully removes the shoes and ugh, those are some horrifying feet. Poor woman. Evangeline rather cheerfully says they’ll get her to the chiropodist as soon as they can.

Jenny and Evangeline gently undress Mrs J and get her into the bath as O Come, O Come Emmanuel strikes up on the soundtrack. That’s one of my favourite Christmas carols. Check out the Piano Guys doing it—it’s amazing.

Noakes has used a bit of paper he found in the box with the baby to find the birthing site—apparently an old dry cleaner’s that shut down. He recovers the placenta and gives it to Bernadette, who tells them it’s less than 24 hours old and there’s a piece missing. Yikes! That’s seriously bad news. They need to find this mother fast.

Mrs J has all new clothes, including a new jacket, and she’s being taken to the dentist and the doctor by Jenny. Jenny asks if the woman’s had her Meals on Wheels lately and Jenkins says she was saving it for Rosie, who’ll be hungry when she shows up.

Lynette sets out with her brothers for school, I suppose.

At Nonnatus, Turner examines Jenkins.

Trixie cares for the baby while neighbours show up with a bassinette, formula, blankets, everything the baby needs.

Jenkins gets a hearing aid and Turner whispers ‘Merry Christmas,’ to her. Her face lights up in wonder. Aww!

A newspaper arrives at Lynette’s home and has a big story on the abandoned baby on the front page. Her dad comes to collect the paper from her and totally ignores that story, commenting on another before handing her money for sweets and calling her a good girl.

Back at Jenkins’s place, which is looking much nicer now, Jenkins is helping Jenny take her gloves off. She remembers how Rosie got chilblains and one night at the workhouse the wardress brought her to Jenkins because she was crying so much. Jenny finally realises that Rosie was Jenkins’s daughter, and Jenkins never saw her again after the night with the chilblains. She never saw any of her kids again.  

Back at Nonnatus, Jenny can’t believe nobody would have told Jenkins that her own children had died. Chummy says it seems that once you went into one of those hellholes, you lost every last right you ever had. Cynthia stops fitting Trixie for angels’ wings (heh) long enough to go soothe the baby and tell everyone the social worker’s coming for him on Monday. She mournfully observes he’ll be lost to his mother forever but Trixie tells her not to think like that, you have to keep hope alive!

Noakes is going door to door, handing out leaflets about the baby. He stops by Lynette’s and knocks on the door, but she’s too sick to answer it.

Jenny swings by the public records office and is given a box full of baptismal and death records for All Saints’ Parish, as well as some info on the workhouse. She finds Jenkins listed at last as having entered the workhouse in 1906, along with her five children, all of whom died. Rose apparently died of ‘failure to thrive,’ which sounds so incredibly grim. Basically, the kid just wasted away. Looks like the others fell victim to TB.

Jenny reports back at dinner that Jenkins was in the workhouse until 1935. Woah. When the place was closed, she was discharged with a sewing machine so she could earn her own living. Despite the fact that she hadn’t been at all prepared to live on her own or really make a living. Well done, workhouse. Sister MJ asks Jenny what she intends to do with all this depressing info and Jenny admits she doesn’t know. MJ tells her she’s been curious about the past, which can’t be changed and doesn’t actually matter and Evangeline agrees. Jenny thinks it does matter, because the woman is wretched, waiting for children who’ll never come home. Evangeline tells her to turn her mind to that.

Back she goes to the public records office, where it seems she finds where the bodies are buried, literally.

Chummy’s running rehearsal, which is slightly held up by Jenny’s lateness (she’s playing the piano). Chummy’s lost her humour and is running this with an iron fist, but then things take a crazy turn when Lynette collapses. Chummy sends Jenny to call for an ambulance. Lynette comes to and immediately starts saying she’s sorry. Chummy urges her to unburden herself.

Lynette’s in hospital, her father at her bedside, her mother outside in the hall. Chummy shows up with carnations, but the rather heardhearted mother says the girl really needs a clip about the ears. How lovely. She figures the father was some boy she met in Margate, over Easter week the year before. Mum was dealing with morning sickness and wasn’t really paying attention. She beats herself up for not noticing what was going on, but Chummy says that nobody noticed—not even the midwives.

Dad comes out of Lynette’s room and reminds Chummy that he’s a church warden and his wife’s head of some women’s group, so they’re respectable. Chummy knows that, but she starts to talk about the baby and mum asks shortly when the adoption people are coming. Dad adds that Lynette’s not signing any papers unless her parents are there, because she isn’t well.

Jenny takes Jenkins on a field trip to the churchyard where her children were buried in a public grave. Happy holidays, everyone! Jenny shows her exactly where each of the kids’ bodies lie. Jenkins asks specifically where Rosie is and learns she’s standing right on her grave. Isn’t that bad luck? Guess this poor woman’s luck can’t get any worse. Jenkins kneels down and presses her hands into the ground over the grave. She says she can see the girl’s tucked up safe. Jenny kneels at her side as she crouches over the grave.

Chummy’s cuddling and feeding Baby Raymond as Noakes sits beside her. Chummy stresses over the fact that the baby will just be whisked away. Noakes points out it’s what the family wants, but Chummy says this is really Lynette’s decision. I think Lynette’s made it clear she doesn’t want this baby, Chummy. She weeps that Raymond won’t even know his own mother. Noakes asks if she can come home, but she’s on call and has a whole paper mache menagerie to keep her company.

Later, she goes up to her old room, where all the props and costumes are being stored, and finds it flooding from a burst pipe directly over the bed. Of course. She starts to cry a little, noting that everything’s ruined.

Lynette and her parents arrive at Nonnatus, mum unnecessarily and bitterly saying she’ll die of shame. Yeah, lady, because this is all about you.

Chummy brings Lynette and her parents into the room where Raymond is gurgling in his Moses basket. Lynette clearly wants to go hold him, but is hanging back. She admits she yearns to touch him, but she knows they’ll just make her put him down again. Mum says this is cruel, and that Lynette’s not old enough to be a mother. Shut up, lady! Lynette cries and realises his noises are making her leak milk. Her dad encourages her to go pick the baby up, so she approaches the Moses basket and scoops the child up, cradling him, just as she did the day he was born. Also as she did the day he was born, she apologises over and over again. ‘It’s a bit late for that now,’ her rather hateful mother says. SHUT UP LADY! Her husband tells her their daughter’s not talking to them but to her baby. Finally, she joins her daughter and looks at the infant, gently cupping its head and smiling. Chummy pulls out the cross she always wears and kisses it, as she is wont to do.

Everyone else pulls together to create new costumes and props as Jenny VOs that one must make do at Christmas, just as they did when Christ was actually born. Jenkins arrives, apparently at Jenny’s request, and is sat down at the sewing machine. She gets right to work.

Lynette and her mother walk down the street, each pushing a pram. Yes, that’s right, Lynette decided to keep him after all.

It’s time for this nativity play, finally. Chummy’s tense but somehow manages to get the kids in line. They file in and get things started. The whole area’s turned out. Noakes turns and smiles delighted at his wife, who looks relieved. The kids, of course, are adorable. Turner shows up just in time to see it and his son, who’s playing the violin, beams in delight. Jenny VOs rather boringly about faith. Annnd, we’re out!



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