What Would the Midwives Do?


My husband and I were in a conversation recently about something we are struggling with. As we were walking and talking, reflecting and observing, I suddenly said to him “What would the midwives do?”

We both laughed. I was referring to the show Call the Midwife where real life happens and grace abounds. Where values and beliefs are solid but love trumps all.

It’s really the truth and grace dilemma. The argument that goes on in my mind when I’m faced with that which I can’t agree with, that which I believe to be wrong. One part of me shouts “But it’s wrong. I can’t condone it! I hate this!” The other responds, quietly but insistently “But what about grace? What about love? How should you respond now that it’s a reality?”

In almost every episode of Call the Midwife real life happens. And life in the East End of London in the 1950s is not pretty. There is poverty, squalor, death, conflict, abuse, abortions, incest, domestic violence – all of life in its broken horror. But every show a baby is delivered – “God’s opinion that the world must go on.”* And with that baby comes hope and new life, new chances.

At the end of the day these midwives do all they can to preserve life, to preserve the dignity of human beings, to protect, to build relationships. Truth is never compromised but Grace is always given. That is their mission in this tiny slice of life in the East End. I have friends who are midwives and I was fortunate to have a midwife at the birth of my first child. Whether in Haiti or Pakistan, the Appalachian mountains or Chicago this is how I see them live, how I see them work. They do all they can to preserve life, to preserve the dignity of human beings, made in the image of God, to preserve relationships.

So when I posed the question “What would the midwives do?” to my husband that is what I was asking. What is Truth and Grace in this situation? What preserves life, dignity, and relationships?

It’s “what would Jesus do” with a midwife twist. 

*Quote from Carl Sandburg

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/baby-hands-with-mom-mom-and-baby-251273/

When Truth and Grace Collide

Every week on the show “Call the Midwife” I watch truth and grace collide. And I cry.

For those who know the show, I think you’ll understand. For those who don’t – you’ll have to trust me on this one. The show is based on the memoir of a midwife and takes place in the 1950’s in London’s East End, an impoverished area of the city where babies are birthed and life happens raw. Flats are small and crowded with kids, husbands are dock workers, and wives share walls with other wives, everyone in each other’s business. Into this landscape come a group of nuns and young midwives on bicycles, going into homes to birth babies, check up on mums, and sit with the weeping and rejoicing.

The nuns have their complines after their evening meals and their standards. They love God and they love people. They disagree with abortion, infidelity, abuse and neglect. But when those things come their way, which they do in every episode, they meet the issue with grace and common sense.

The viewer never feels like these nuns are giving up their standards; never feels like they are not living true to their values. Instead, you feel buoyed by their strong faith, enabling them to walk into the worst of situations and with a silent prayer do what they need to do. If it’s finding a home for a baby whose father finds out he’s not the real father, they do it. If it’s helping a young woman who has tried a self-induced abortion and is dying from bleeding, they help to ensure her safety. If it’s protecting someone from an abusive husband, they protect. If they lived in the 1990’s they could, without hypocrisy wear the WWJD bracelet….only they wouldn’t because if you’re living it, you don’t need to wear it.

In “Call the Midwife” – Truth and Grace collide and the result is astonishing. People are changed, healed, comforted, but above all loved.

Truth and Grace

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Mercy Triumphs Over Justice

call the midwife 2In Season One, Episode 2 of Call the Midwife, we have an overwhelming picture of love and mercy.

The beginning of the show has us at a clinic watching women come in for their regular maternity check ups. A couple walks in, he – older, she – clearly uncomfortable. The midwives check her and give her a perfect bill of health, but they are uneasy and intuitively know something is not right.

Throughout the show we are taken to the home of the couple, privy to the conversations between midwife and patient. But still we don’t find out much – just that she is surprised she is pregnant and worried about something.

Toward the end of the show the woman is in labor. And it is while in labor that we find out why she is worried. She is worried that the baby will be black –  the husband we have met is white. And we are suddenly part of her story, part of the drama unfolding onscreen. What is going to happen? The birth is imminent – what will the outcome be?

The midwife with complete authority reminds the woman that there is a baby coming whether she likes it or not: “I don’t care if it’s green, red, or orange. Your child’s heart rate is dropping, and I need you to start pushing. Now.”

In all the pain and work that is childbirth, the baby is birthed….and the baby is black. It’s obvious that the husband, so excited by this pregnancy, so zealous for the welfare of his wife, so ready to welcome his son into the world, is not the father.

And we don’t know what is going to happen. Will he rage and accuse? Will he leave or throw her out? Will he demean and demand?

At this point there are two midwives, a doctor, the mom, and the perfectly formed, healthy newborn in the bedroom together. The husband is outside, taking a much-needed cigarette. The doctor heads outside and stands silently with him, revealing nothing, just waiting alongside. And finally the midwife comes to tell the husband he can come see her, come see the baby.

And so the dad rushes in.

All is silent as he looks at his son. None of us can breathe as he takes in the obvious. All of life hangs on this moment.

The man takes the baby in his arms. “I don’t reckon to know much about babies” pause “But I can see how this is the most beautiful baby in the world.”   

And so we breathe. For a moment we were the pregnant woman – would he accept or reject? Would we see mercy, or would we see justice? In that instant mercy and love triumphed. Sacrificial love, love that bears a cost, takes a stand; love that would forgive and move forward.

And we respond the only way we know how, with tears, relief, and a small sigh of gratitude escaping our lips.