I’ve been listening to the audiobook for Call the Midwife. It’s one of the hardest books, emotionally, that I’ve gone through.I’m curious if it’s because of the actual text, or from the impact of the performance…but it’s no doubt also due to a shift in perspective.
I can’t properly describe why I have been so affected without some degree of spoilering, so here’s the warning. Look below the cut to see more…There’s a sequence recounted late in the book, when the narrator is caring for an elderly patient (while waiting to sit for the midwifery exam, having been injured and unable to take it when originally planned), and it’s this particular person’s story that’s stuck with me since listening through it.
It involves workhouses.
The elderly patient had been the mother of five children. Not long after the youngest was born, the husband died from illness. She tried to hold things together as best she could, but after an injury hampered her ability to work she eventually had to pawn everything they had, but it still wasn’t enough to remain solvent. It was the mid-19-teens.
When the youngest child dies, her spirit breaks, and she seeks assistance at the local workhouse.It’s the middle of the night when they arrive, the mother with her children, ages 3, 5, 7 and 10. They are admitted, shown to place where they can sleep the rest of the night, until they can be in-processed in the morning.
That was the last time they were together. The mother worked in the facility for 19 years.Within four years of admittance, the four children were dead.
There’s a story told of a three-year old boy who cried constantly after being taken in, stared at the doors to the children’s ward. The only word he would speak was to call for his mother. The way it’s placed in the narrative suggests that it’s her youngest, and he was the first to die inside.
As a parent of three children, that age and younger, between the separation and the deaths, that was the moment that got to me, has haunted me. What would I do if faced with that sort of situation, torn apart from my children in such a way? Dark thoughts and madness, but still the images of the story linger.