When Jennifer joins the Midwives of St. Raymond Nonnatus she is running away from her life and a failed love affair. Already trained as a nurse, she hopes to learn the skills of a midwife. In addition to learning the skills of a midwife, she finds a vibrant community of faith, love, and service. The job of a midwife is a serious one and the people she meets she often meets in the most dramatic moments of their lives.
The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times reads a bit like a collection of short stories. There's no clear narrative timeline, but rather Jennifer tells the stories of the people she knew during her years as a midwife. Not just the families she met, but the nuns, and other workers. She tells these stories with heart, depth, and wisdom, so that you feel you know them. She shares the world of East London with tremendous empathy and compassion. She presents her knowledge of midwifery in a way that is easy to read and understand. Her prose is natural and enjoyable, and she captures the Cockney dialect and sensibility, even including a guide in the back.
I seriously loved this book. I wasn't sure if I was really going to like it, but I was hooked from the first story. There's something about the birth of a child that brings all sorts of human emotions to the surface and there is so much at stake. Undoubtedly, the stories she shares are the most dramatic ones. A breech birth, a case of eclampsia, the horrors of the workhouses for one lady (which strangely helped me understand just how evil Scrooge was!), the woman with 24 children.
My favorite story by far was the third in a series of "what happens when the mother has cheated with a man of a different ethnicity?" The first two were far less positive, but the third story positively made me weep. You see, the man, when looking down upon the new baby, makes an instant decision to act as if the boy is his and he can tell no difference. In Worth's words, "Perhaps he understood in that moment that if he so much as questioned the baby's fatherhood, it would mean humiliation for the child, and might jeopardise his entire future. Perhaps, as he held the baby, he realised that any such suggestion could shatter his whole happiness." What love! The father treats the boy as his very own, even though he clearly is not.
Part of what I loved about this book is Ms. Worth's heart...as she slowly warms up to the nuns and comes to understand them, so do we. The entire book emphasizes that appearances can be deceiving and there is often more to a person than our first judgements. And it takes us into the crisis heart moments of so many lives.
What becomes of all these people? As Jennifer puts it so well herself..."Sadly, in nursing, and particularly in hospital nursing you meet people during some of the most profound moments in their lives, and then they are gone from you forever."
This book is a collection of some of the most heart-wrenching stories you will read and some of the most beautiful and hopeful stories of the resiliency of the human spirit. It's also a journey for Jennifer Worth as she opens her skeptical heart to embrace life and understand faith. I loved it.
Things You Might Want to Know: Well, some scenes might make you squeamish!
One final bonus quote about service, when Jennifer asks an older nun if she has done her work out of love for people.
Of course not, she snapped sharply. How can you love ignorant, brutish people whom you don't even know? Can anyone love filth and squalor? Or lice and rats? Who can love aching weariness, and carry on working, in spite of it? One cannot love these things. One can only love God, and through His grace come to love His people.