The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

( 145 )

Overview

An unforgettable true story, The Midwife is the basis for the hit PBS drama Call the Midwife

At the age of twenty-two, Jennifer Worth leaves her comfortable home to move into a convent and become a midwife in post war London's East End slums. The colorful characters she meets while delivering babies all over London-from the plucky, warm-hearted nuns with whom she lives to the woman with twenty-four children who can't speak English to the prostitutes and dockers of the city's ...

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Overview

An unforgettable true story, The Midwife is the basis for the hit PBS drama Call the Midwife

At the age of twenty-two, Jennifer Worth leaves her comfortable home to move into a convent and become a midwife in post war London's East End slums. The colorful characters she meets while delivering babies all over London-from the plucky, warm-hearted nuns with whom she lives to the woman with twenty-four children who can't speak English to the prostitutes and dockers of the city's seedier side-illuminate a fascinating time in history. Beautifully written and utterly moving, The Midwife will touch the hearts of anyone who is, and everyone who has, a mother.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Emulating James Herriot-except with fewer cows and more cockneys- Worth sketches a warm, amiable portrait of hands-on medical practice.

The author became a midwife at age 22, learning her trade in the 1950s from the nun midwives at the convent of St. Raymund Nonnatus and working among impoverished women in the slums of the London Docklands. Her frank, sometimes graphic memoir describes scores of births, from near-catastrophes to Christmas miracles, and details her burgeoning understanding of the world and the people in it. It's stocked with charming characters: loopy sister Monica Joan, the convent's near-mystic cake-gobbler and mischief-maker; Father Joseph Williamson, focused on delivering prostitutes rather than babies; handyman/poultry salesman/drain cleaner/toffee-apple pusher Frank; and posh Camilla Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne ("Chummy"), an outrageously warm-hearted debutante who devoted her life to midwifery and missionary work. Worth depicts the rich variety of life in the slums, where loving, doting mothers of nine rubbed elbows with neglectful, broken young women turning tricks to support their husbands' night life. She draws back the veil usually placed over the process of birth, described here as both tribulation and triumph. In birth after birth, as women and midwives labored to bring babies into the world through hours of pain and occasional danger, Worth marveled at the mothers' almost- uniform embrace of their babies. "There must be an inbuilt system of total forgetfulness in a woman," she writes. "Some chemical or hormone that immediately enters the memory part of the brain after delivery, so that there is absolutely no recall of the agony that has gone before. If this were not so, no woman would ever have a second baby."

A charming tale of deliveries and deliverance.
-Kirkus Review

With deep professional knowledge of midwifery and an unerring eye for the details of life in the London slums of the Nineteen Fifties Jennifer Worth has painted a stunningly vivid picture of an era now passed."
-Patrick Taylor MD, author of the New York Times best seller An Irish Country Doctor.

"Readers will fall in love with The Midwife, a richly drawn chronicle of midwifery in the 1950's, in London's East end. Recounted with great tenderness and poignancy, Jennifer Worth's story is an affirmation of life during the best and worst of times, and a celebration of the relentless drama and awe-inspiring magic of birth."
-Elizabeth Brundage, author of Somebody Else's Daughter

"Jennifer Worth's memories of her years as a midwife in the East End were at once hilariously horrible and tremendously moving. She recounts a period when birth was both more frightening and more personal. Part of me wishes that my obstetrician had shown up at my house on a rickety old bicycle, and treated me both to a delivery and a hot cup of tea."
- Ayelet Waldman, author of Love and Other Impossible Pursuits

Worth gained her midwife training in the 1950s among an Anglican order of nuns dedicated to ensuring safer childbirth for the poor living amid the Docklands slums on the East End of London. Her engaging memoir retraces those early years caring for the indigent and unfortunate during the pinched postwar era in London, when health care was nearly nonexistent, antibiotics brand-new, sanitary facilities rare, contraception unreliable and families with 13 or more children the norm. Working alongside the trained nurses and midwives of St. Raymund Nonnatus (a pseudonym she's given the place), Worth made frequent visits to the tenements that housed the dock workers and their families, often in the dead of night on her bicycle. Her well-polished anecdotes are teeming with character detail of some of the more memorable nurses she worked with, such as the six- foot-two Camilla Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne, called Chummy, who renounced her genteel upbringing to become a nurse, or the dotty old Sister Monica Joan, who fancied cakes immoderately. Patients included Molly, only 19 and already trapped in poverty and degradation with several children and an abusive husband; Mrs. Conchita Warren, who was delivering her 24th baby; or the birdlike vagrant, Mrs. Jenkins, whose children were taken away from her when she entered the workhouse.
- Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly

Worth gained her midwife training in the 1950s among an Anglican order of nuns dedicated to ensuring safer childbirth for the poor living amid the Docklands slums on the East End of London. Her engaging memoir retraces those early years caring for the indigent and unfortunate during the pinched postwar era in London, when health care was nearly nonexistent, antibiotics brand-new, sanitary facilities rare, contraception unreliable and families with 13 or more children the norm. Working alongside the trained nurses and midwives of St. Raymund Nonnatus (a pseudonym she's given the place), Worth made frequent visits to the tenements that housed the dock workers and their families, often in the dead of night on her bicycle. Her well-polished anecdotes are teeming with character detail of some of the more memorable nurses she worked with, such as the six-foot-two Camilla Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne, called Chummy, who renounced her genteel upbringing to become a nurse, or the dotty old Sister Monica Joan, who fancied cakes immoderately. Patients included Molly, only 19 and already trapped in poverty and degradation with several children and an abusive husband; Mrs. Conchita Warren, who was delivering her 24th baby; or the birdlike vagrant, Mrs. Jenkins, whose children were taken away from her when she entered the workhouse. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Emulating James Herriot—except with fewer cows and more cockneys—Worth sketches a warm, amiable portrait of hands-on medical practice..The author became a midwife at age 22, learning her trade in the 1950s from the nun midwives at the convent of St. Raymund Nonnatus and working among impoverished women in the slums of the London Docklands. Her frank, sometimes graphic memoir describes scores of births, from near-catastrophes to Christmas miracles, and details her burgeoning understanding of the world and the people in it. It's stocked with charming characters: loopy Sister Monica Joan, the convent's near-mystic cake-gobbler and mischief-maker; Father Joseph Williamson, focused on delivering prostitutes rather than babies; handyman/poultry salesman/drain cleaner/toffee-apple pusher Frank; and posh Camilla Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne ("Chummy"), an outrageously warm-hearted debutante who devoted her life to midwifery and missionary work. Worth depicts the rich variety of life in the slums, where loving, doting mothers of nine rubbed elbows with neglectful, broken young women turning tricks to support their husbands' night life. She draws back the veil usually placed over the process of birth, described here as both tribulation and triumph. In birth after birth, as women and midwives labored to bring babies into the world through hours of pain and occasional danger, Worth marveled at the mothers' almost-uniform embrace of their babies. "There must be an inbuilt system of total forgetfulness in a woman," she writes. "Some chemical or hormone that immediately enters the memory part of the brain after delivery, so that there is absolutely no recall of the agony that has gone before. If thiswere not so, no woman would ever have a second baby.".A charming tale of deliveries and deliverance..Agent: Eugenie Furniss/William Morris Agency.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143116233
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/7/2009
  • Series: Call the Midwife Series , #1
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 146,275
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Jennifer Worth trained as a nurse at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, England. She then moved to London to train as a midwife. She later became a staff nurse at the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, and then ward sister at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in Euston. Music had always been her passion and in 1973 Jennifer left nursing in order to study music intensively. She gained the Licentiate of the London College of Music in 1974 and was awarded a fellowship ten years later. Mother of two daughters and grandmother of two; Jennifer lives in Hertfordshire with her husband Philip Worth.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 145 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(85)

4 Star

(37)

3 Star

(14)

2 Star

(3)

1 Star

(6)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 145 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 1, 2013

    Great Book! A Must Read Whether Or Not You've Seen The Show!

    I first heard of Call The Midwife when I was flipping through channels and stumbled upon it on PBS. I was immediately drawn in and had to go back onto the website to watch all the episodes I missed. When the first season was over I did some investigating and found the show was based on the true memoirs of Jennifer Worth. There are actually 3 books in the series, this is the first of the three and each chapter is basically a short vignette of an experience nurse Jenny Lee had during her time at Nonnatus House.

    It is a fairly quick, easy yet interesting read. Made all the better because the stories are true. I would highly recommend for anyone!

    14 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2012

    An unexplored area that deserves mentioning

    The book is right in line with the PBS series "Call the Midwife". It may be a little graphic for some, but as a retired nurse, I found it right on the mark as far as providing maternity care for the indigent. Great descriptions of atmospheric London neighborhoods in regards to the weather and people. Enjoyed it a lot.

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2012

    A stunning read!

    Well worth reading and hopefully you'lll get more out of the PBS Series if you do. Chapter at the end on Cockney is fascinating

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2012

    Fabulous read

    Such a wonderful bio, highly recomend

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2013

    The TV series but much more

    Tales of a British midwife in a poor, working class section of London in the 1950's. Very well written.

    I would highly recommend the book even if (maybe especially if) you have seen the TV series. To begin, you can appreciate what a wonderful job the series did capturing the characters and the spirit of the book. In addition, the book adds a lot of highly interesting sociological commentary that is just not found in the series.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2013

    excellent read!

    The book gives more depth to the series. I enjoyed it and look forward to the second and third bookz!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 19, 2012

    Another book with too much press

    I read this for a book club and enjoyed parts of it, but the graphic details of brothel life left me gagging more so than details of birth. As a child of the 50s and one of six children, I understand that life back then had little interest in curtailing the population, but, please, 25 children? No one in their right minds would think that was normal or smart. That the last child survived is quite unbelievable. I haven't seen the BBC series which I understand out-paced "Downtown Abbey", but I prefer the restraint in the latter series. I'm still a big fan of "fade to black" when the bedroom door is closed. Having read the reviews, I expected more.

    3 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 26, 2009

    Labor but no delivery

    This book teases but doesn't deliver on several issues: the decision to enter nursing as a career, the progession from novice to expert midwife and the transition from agnostic to believer. We have a hint that the author had an unhappy love affair as a very young woman and went into nursing. But she never discusses how she hit upon nursing as a career or why she went on for midwifery training. There are several birth stories but we don't get a sense of progression from novice to expert in midwifery. The information about the birthing process is accurate but might be puzzling to a non-medical person. Lastly the author starts her time in the convent as an agnostic but is touched by the example of the nuns who are training her. We get the sense that there may have been a spiritual change but we have no information about how this change affects her practice as a nurse. In general the book was well-written but ultimately unsatifying because there were so many stories that needed to be fleshed out.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

    This book provided a lot of information on how people lived back then and how far we have come with our new technologies. Technologies that have helped save many lives. At times, I felt that I was reading a book for medical students because, although it's not meant, in any way, to be a medical reference book, it does explain a lot of things, of a medical nature, in great detail.

    Before reading this book I had no idea how undervalued the midwife was and how painstakingly hard it can be. From what I read, this kind of job can take a toll on you both physically and emotionally too.

    If nothing else, this book allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of what a midwife went through in the past and how, once again, technology has changed so many things, for the better, today. Jennifer Worth has a great way of keeping the reader engaged. A must read.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2013

    More depth than the TV series. Buy more tissues.

    I loved the TV series so much that I had to buy this book. I enjoy reading about the daily lives of people throughout history, and this book describes women's health, public health, war recovery in London's East End and the manners and morals of the time. It is as beautiful as the show, with more exploration behind the characters' relationships and living conditions. And of course, there are all the births, which are as moving in the book as they are on the show.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2012

    Outstanding story of a Midwife in Post-WW2 east-end London

    Jenny starts her Midwife Job in 1950's east-end London rather naive. As her work & story progresses, she grows to see, the women she delivers babies for, as the true Heroes of her work. I found this author easy to read, & her story so interesting I had to keep reading! I highly recommend this book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2012

    watch the series instead!!!

    Nothing to be gained here that wasn't better told through film; watch the PBS series instead! This is not my usual approach to literature; I always like the book more due to detail, and making my own imagination work, but this book was fairly sparse on detail and was much more enjoyable as a film. Sorry!!!

    2 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2012

    Loved it

    Such a great book. I could identify with each character on some level.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 25, 2014

    The BBC/PBS series follows the book

    The BBC/PBS series follows the book in most cases. Some of the episoids come from the other books in this series. It was delightful to read it in her own words. I wish she had written more.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2013

    great story

    I enjoyed this memoir. It was certainly a rough read in places but it's also terribly engrossing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2013

    very good read

    If you enjoyed the TV series you will enjoy the book. Extends the picture of their lives more. Some might not care for the descriptions of actual practice of helping deliver babies, but very informative.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2012

    Recommended

    I loved this book. It gave such a human side to a time in our history that we know little about. If you like British history, this is a great read and will keep you wanting more chapters.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 12, 2012

    Loved this memor

    This was such a great book. This book opened my eyes to life in east London.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2015

    Fantastic read

    I love the "Call the Midwife" series. This book adds so much more to the story. As a postpartum nurse I love reading about childbirth in the 1950's but reading about English society at that time makes the story so much more interesting. Reading about living in the tennaments during that time and what life was like in East London during that time adds so much more to the story. If you like historical novels you will love this one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2015

    Gritty book on which the cozy serues is based. This was one of the worse slums in london until tore down what was left after bombs

    If you saw t v first this may disappoint you

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