Those of you who have been following my blog, will know that one of the challenges I am undertaking is to ask 20 friends to recommend a book and then read them all. Well, I have just completed book 1 of the challenge – Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth – courtesy of my mate Janine!
I have personally been through childbirth once and I have absolutely no desire to remind myself of the sheer horror of it. People talk about this metaphorical ‘switch’ that must go off in a woman’s head after giving birth, allowing her to forget all the pain and torment she has just gone through. Otherwise, no-one would ever have any more children! I think my switch malfunctioned, cause I still remember vividly – and it hurt, big time! Whilst friends ‘coo’ over programmes such as ‘One Born every Minute’, I avoid them like the plague, as I honestly can’t think of anything more detrimental to my mental well-being! I did turn it on once, thinking I must be missing out on something, what with the way everyone rambles on about it. I lasted about 30 seconds, before I had to change channels; reaffirming that childbirth is definitely not my thing! That’s not to say it’s not the most magical experience ever. The whole process is quite remarkable and I have my beautiful little boy as a result of it. But once was quite enough!!!!
So, needless to say, when my friend started rabbiting on about this great book she was reading – a true story all about a midwife in London in the 1950s, I can’t say it inspired a huge amount of interest! The only saving grace was that it was set in the 1950s, as I am quite interested in hearing about what life was like back in the ‘good old days’ of my parents childhood. Oh, and I do quite like a true story. I was just hoping that there weren’t too many gory giving birth bits!
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I was pleasantly surprised. It didn’t take me long to get truly absorbed. The writer has a great ability to draw you into her memories and anecdotes of times gone by. I think the best thing about this book though is how it makes you reflect on things nowadays that we take for granted. Life in the 1950s, and pre the introduction of the pill, would have been a very different life for today’s society of women. An incessant life of ‘knocking out’ children, cleaning, washing (without an actual washing machine!) and cooking in some of the most awful conditions is completely unimaginable for many of us. The slum families that lived in complete poverty, with their houses falling down around them, with no running water and some very basic shared (with the rest of the tenement block!) toilet facilities is imperceivable. Then there’s the woman who had 25 children!!!!! I wouldn’t even know where to put 25 children let alone what to do with them! But in those days large families were the norm. with everyone living in just a couple of rooms. And as for the story of old Mrs Jenkins – with her manky feet and nutty ways – well I was nearly in tears. The shocking reality of the workhouses, families torn apart by poverty and a gruelling life and death for many was simply heart-breaking. I couldn’t stop cuddling and kissing my little boy for days after; so glad that I would never have him torn away from me in that way!
But all of these awful conditions and the hard way of life never seemed to dampen the spirits of the hardy east-enders. I am amazed at the sheer will and determination of some of the people in this book. The strong communities and extended families held people together and in such tough times that support was their life-line.
Yes, we often moan about the loss of the family unit nowadays – which is sad in many ways, but we certainly have life a whole lot easier. The introduction of ante-natal care, contraception, the ongoing development of modern medicine make for a much safer experience for both mother and baby. Now women have the freedom to choose when to start a family, allowing them to pursue careers and other interests, to develop themselves as their own person; equal to men. This is a true luxury never had by the generations before us.
What can I say? This book is a real eye opener. It has made me reflect on things in a way I haven’t before. Yes, there were a few gory child-birth type bits in it – but to be honest the story is so riveting that I didn’t reel back in horror at them! A great read all round, and I was sorry to see it end!
Next up – Task Force Helmand by Doug Beattie MC (courtesy of Rob)!