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Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times [Paperback]

Jennifer Worth
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 4 2012
The highest-rated drama in BBC history, Call the Midwife will delight fans of Downton Abbey

Viewers everywhere have fallen in love with this candid look at post-war London. In the 1950s, twenty-two-year-old Jenny Lee leaves her comfortable home to move into a convent and become a midwife in London's East End slums. While delivering babies all over the city, Jenny encounters a colorful cast of women—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 of the city's seedier side.
           
Based on Jennifer Worth's bestselling memoirs, Call the Midwife is the true story behind the beloved PBS series.


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Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times + Call The Midwife: Shadows Of The Workhouse + Call The Midwife: Farewell To The East End
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Review

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

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Jennifer Worth trained as a nurse at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading. 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 and 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. Jennifer married Philip Worth in 1963 and they lived together in Hertfordshire. Jennifer died in May 2011, leaving her husband, two daughters and three grandchildren.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating look into a by gone era Jan. 12 2013
By Jones
Format:Paperback
This memoir reads like fiction but it is a wonderful real life journey back into the past to see a very hard time in history. The conditions that the people lived in and the midwives worked in was horrendous, but the sense of community was a live and well and they all rallied together. The stories of the births of precious little babies whether it be the mothers first or her twenty fourth were all wonderfully captured in this book. The joy, heartbreak and everything in between is captured here and will live with you long after you finish this volume. I highly recommend you set aside at least a weekend to read this as once you start you will not want to put it down!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars culture April 5 2014
By Joan
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This was a very interesting book. I did not realize that the conditions such as these existed in Britain existed so recently. The Cockneys were an interesting Demi culture.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Call the midwife March 28 2014
By Sandra
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I am in love with this book. Fun to read, humorous, fascinating, full of history of London, medicine and nursing.I have worked in maternity in hospitals in the past and now I work as a home care nurse, the equivalent of district nurses, we dont do home births but visit homes for wound care and palliative care some of which are in very similar conditions nurse Lee describes. I watched the TV series and really enjoyed it but the book brought to life the situations and the characters and filled in the story much better than the show did. I think the casting of the show was perfect though. You dont have to be a nurse to enjoy this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly inspiring book June 21 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a remarkable book (and series). It puts us "inside" a young woman's journey through suffering and poverty to hope and faith. The books and the television series are refreshingly different form the usual narratives. They are shockingly inspirational. Mary Jo Leddy
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great read. May 1 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the third book in the trilogy. I had read the first and second book and also watched the show on TV. I enjoyed this book as much as the first two and am going to send them on to a friend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loving this book. April 26 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I usually try to read the book or books before I see it at the movies or on television but in this case I saw the television series first. In a way in this case it probably was best I saw the tv version first as I can put a face and a voice to the characters in the book. I just started reading the book a couple of days ago and it's so interesting and at times funny that I just cannot put it down. The author really has done an amazing job on this book. You feel like you are living in the east end of London in the 1950's. What I really thought was a great addition in the book is how in the appendix it explains some of the medical terms used throughout the book. It also explains some of the cockney terms which was great as many terms were unfamiliar to me. I'm so glad that I purchased all 3 books as I know they are going to be a great read. There are so many things I could say about how awesome this book is but I think you should just go ahead and read it. You will love it. As per usually it was super fast shipping and great value from Amazon.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Not Great April 14 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Not the read I thought it was going to be. A bit flat really. Somehow, in spite of the subject matter, there was little of interest.
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5.0 out of 5 stars really worth reading March 14 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
i first saw this on public tv and enjoyed it . Really wanted to read the books and was NOT disappointed!
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book!
It was a wonderful book with a great story line, could not put it down. Can't wait to read the rest.
Published 3 months ago by Natalie Stevens
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
I loved reading the stories about the midwives in England in the 50s. Anyone who watches then series will like this book.
Published 4 months ago by LibertyBelle
5.0 out of 5 stars Buy the whole series of this story
The whole story of women's lives in East London in the 50's is fascinating on many levels - the closeness and interdependence of families and communities, the harsh conditions, the... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Lorna Doin
4.0 out of 5 stars better than the tv series, of course,
which, as good as it is, can't begin to contextualize the stories the way a book does. This surprisingly well-written memoir really presents and in depth view of Docklands culture... Read more
Published 8 months ago by A. Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Nostalgia plus
I am a British trained Midwife from the era of this Movie, so it brings back some wonderful memories. Thank-you very much.
Published 8 months ago by Eileen Bolton
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic!
Very interesting times in London. Really enjoyed this book and can't wait to read #2. Love the show based on the book as well.
Published 9 months ago by Jaclyn Horscroft
5.0 out of 5 stars Who Knew?
I've watched the TV series but this has a lot more detail and at times takes you beyond what you could possibly imagine. A great look back at some hard times.
Published 10 months ago by MJ OXO
5.0 out of 5 stars Midwiferry as I practised it
The story is true and depicts the life and times following the war. And before the pill, and natural gas to aid delivery
I worked on the district , and met many of the... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Brown Bird
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