This week’s post is from midwife Nancy Kraus. Enjoy!
It is now 1962 in London. The theme of this episode is Expectations and Disappointments. One of the expectations explored is that science and medicine are meant to help, not harm people.
A family we met in the previous season reappears; their daughter is now 18 months old, and she has only flippers for arms and legs. She was one of the thalidomide victims, born before science recognized that the drug, given to help with morning sickness, was teratogenic, that is, could cause serious birth defects. Both the physicians who prescribed the drug and the women and families who used it suffered not only grave disappointment in science, but life-changing guilt. The affected children were left with a severe and permanent disability.
The other featured family is biracial, and the mom is expecting their 4th child. She has a long, difficult labor. Nurse Crane offers her Nitrous Oxide by mask for pain relief. Nitrous, or laughing gas, has been used in England for labor for years. A woman holds a mask to her face and as she relaxes, the mask falls away from her face. The US hasn’t used this form of labor relief, but currently many birth centers and maternity units are adding it as an adjunct to a natural labor. Nitrous doesn’t paralyze movement the way an epidural can, and minimal effects have been demonstrated in newborns since the gas has a very short half-life.
After the baby is finally born, the mom sends her three boys out to play with the expectation that they will stay in a safe area, away from traffic. However, they run away from the safe area because they are taunted for being biracial. Midwife Crane, having finished attending their mom at the birth, drives away, and during a momentary distraction, hits the middle boy as he darts into the street. Her car is impounded; she is humiliated when she must give a urine sample to prove she wasn’t drunk; and she is tortured with guilt that she follows a vocation to remove pain from others, and she has instead caused pain.
I can attest as a professional midwife, that everyone I know in both obstetrics and midwifery, enters our professions with that same expectation: to educate, to diagnose, and to treat, to do no harm. However, as humans, we sometimes make mistakes, and sometimes nature itself throws a woman in labor an unexpected and severe complication. If a woman or baby suffers or dies as a result, it tears us apart as well as the affected family. Unfortunately, in America, a law suit against the provider is often the only recourse the family has to assistance.
On a lighter note, Trixie helps a pregnant woman with a terrible dental infection who is terrified of dentists, and in the course, develops a flirtation with the handsome and compassionate dentist. After a couple of dates, he reveals that he is divorced and has a 6 year-old daughter. Trixie is devastated. She expected “honesty” in their relationship and is disappointed. Sister Monica Jean advises her not mistake caution for dishonesty and reminds her that trust unfolds in a friendship. Trixie realizes she also never told the dentist that she is an alcoholic and that she regularly attends AA meetings. They reconcile, and Trixie admits her secret to him.
We all have expectations and disappointments in our lives. Having realistic expectations and learning from, recovering from, and moving on from our disappointments is how we grow in wisdom and grace. The people featured and the stories told in “Call the Midwife” give us excellent examples of such grace.
Nancy Kraus is a midwife working in New York City.