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"The Midwife" by Jennifer Worth

I was first introduced to Jennifer Worth's story through BBC's popular series "Call the Midwife." With Season 6 due to begin airing in the U.S. this weekend, I figured it was a good time to read the memoir that started it all.

Worth, or Jenny Lee as she was known then, was in her early twenties when she began working as a midwife in London's poverty-stricken East End in the 1950s. While her status as a nurse kept her safe from harm, she had an up close and personal view of the hardships and necessities of life in the slums, where many families still lived in condemned tenements with only one outhouse for an entire building. Men worked at the docks, and women raised their babies and held homes together as best they could.

Many of the stories from this novel were translated into the first season of the BBC show, so I remembered a number of them, as well as how they turned out, but that did not hamper my enjoyment of the memoir at all. In fact, I would say a highlight was how well Worth's tales and her descriptions of her friends and coworkers had come alive through the series. I thought Sister Juilenne, Sister Monica Joan, and Chummy were especially well-cast for the adaptation.

While serving in the East End, Worth lived at Nonnatus House, a convent run by Anglican nuns who were dedicated to the nursing profession. As a non-religious woman herself, Worth was puzzled by the devotion that these women had to God, to each other, and sometimes even to their patients. Through living and working alongside them, Worth begins to feel a desire to know more of God herself.

Important Note: The content of this book is for mature readers only. It contains many graphic descriptions of birth and the birth process, as well as nauseating details about the housing conditions of the poor. There is a lengthy, heartbreaking, and horrifying story of a fifteen-year-old girl forced into prostitution. Language is used which readers may find inappropriate. Use discretion in deciding upon this or any other reading material.

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