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Hello and welcome, “Call the Midwife” friends! Your prayers have been answered. We’ve survived the long, cold months of winter and are crawling out of hibernation just in time for the premiere of Season 9. The chirping of bicycle bells. Vanessa Redgrave’s soothing narration. Ah, it’s good to be back.
It’s 1965, and as we return to Poplar to join the ladies on this wild ride, the death of former prime minister Sir Winston Churchill marks a somber start to the year. His passing closes a significant chapter in England’s history and change is widespread across the country. In addition to the news of this fallen leader, the midwives and their patients are met with housing demolition across the city, most notably in London’s slums, and cases of diphtheria have been spreading throughout Poplar. It seems that we’re in for quite the season.
New Digs and an Upgrade
While much of the country in mourning focuses on funeral arrangements for Churchill, it’s all work all the time at Nonnatus House. As this first episode kicks off, Phyllis and Lucille make the first call of the season to Dena Bowland, a single mother who’s living at a local homeless shelter with her son Terry. Though the women are no strangers to the at times squalid living conditions that some of their most poverty-stricken patients are exposed to, they’re in disbelief when they arrive at the shelter. Dead rodents, bed bugs and other creepy crawlies infest the building and they realize they need to get the Bowlands out of there, and fast, before Dena gives birth to her second child.
After discovering the family has been on a waitlist to move into a council flat for seven months, Nurse Crane takes it upon herself to reach out to Poplar’s Housing Officer. Lo and behold, a quick phone call and stern “do better” does the trick and the Bowlands finally receive the keys to a brand new apartment to call home.
As the midwives celebrate their victory finding accomodations for one family, they’re faced with housing yet another patient who, much tinier and fending for herself, arrives at the maternity home. Fred is the first to stumble upon their new guest when he hears her distressed cries, only to discover that the sound is coming from a newborn baby who has been abandoned in the maternity home’s back alley.
With no parents in sight, he calls on Sister Frances, Dr. Turner and Sgt. Woolf for guidance. Ultimately however, with no one to look after her long term, the team decides that they should send her to St. Cuthbert’s Hospital for proper care and examination. Fred and Sister Frances, having grown fond of the child, say goodbye to her with one last parting gift, the name Primrose, before she finally departs.
Once baby Primrose is sent on her way, the police release her photo to the press in hopes that more information will be revealed about her parents. As luck would have it, very little searching is needed in this investigation. As Sister Frances closes up the maternity home for the night, a mystery woman arrives with a jacket for Primrose, claiming she heard her story in the papers and wanted to help with a donation. Sure sure sure.
During this brief encounter, Sister Frances is quick to spot her unease after explaining that Primrose has already been transported to St. Cuthberts. Emotionally distressed, the stranger books it out of there, taking the jacket with her, and it’s then that Sister Frances observes lactation stains on the woman’s blouse signaling that she must be a new mother. So that’s pretty telling. Unable to chase her down, Sister Frances contacts Sgt. Woolf to report a possible identification of Primrose’s mother.
Following the Bowlands move into their new apartment, Dena agrees to receive the full-time care she needs from the midwives, allowing her protective son Terry to return to school feeling comforted by her safety. He’s excited to begin his studies for his eleven-plus exam but upon his first day back, he begins to display signs of discomfort and fatigue. When he returns home from class, he finds that no one is there, because unbeknownst to him, Dena has actually gone into labor and won’t be back anytime soon. Without the wonderful advantage of texting and/or use of carrier pigeon, he collapses onto his bed in exhaustion to await his mother.
Baby Number Two
At the maternity home, Lucille cares for Dena and sends Miss Higgins to deliver a message to Terry regarding his mother’s whereabouts. During labor, the women are met with a slight complication (because what is “Call the Midwife” without one?) when Lucille realizes that Dena’s cord has been born before the baby, also known as a cord prolapse, which will require additional assistance from Phyllis. Despite this minor setback, Dena handles it like a champ and births another baby boy.
Trouble at the Bowlands
While the women rejoice over a successful birth, at the Bowlands, trouble arises. Miss Higgins arrives at the residence and is surprised when she doesn’t receive a response at the door, but decides to leave assuming that Terry isn’t home. Before she makes it down the hallway, a muffled, distressed sound rises up from beyond the walls. After peering through the Bowlands’ mail slot, she discovers that Terry has fainted in the apartment. She lets herself in and sees that the young boy is barely conscious before sending for help.
When Dr. Turner arrives at the scene he examines Terry, who’s having trouble breathing, and finds a large, grey membrane across his throat. Warning: it’s not a pretty sight. This shocks both Dr. Turner and Miss Higgins when they realize this is a symptom of diphtheria, a sometimes fatal bacterial infection which hasn’t been widespread in years.
A Call for Vaccinations
As the revelation of Terry’s illness comes to light, the midwives take extra precautions at Nonnatus House, ensuring that everyone around them is up-to-date on their vaccinations. After all, friends don’t let friends skip their doctor’s shots. Or something like that.
Meanwhile, chaos ensues at the maternity home when a second diphtheria patient falls, quite literally, into their hands. See? Vaccinations, my friends. This time, a young woman, Carole, faints shortly after arriving at the maternity home with a worried aunt accompanying her. After she’s taken to the hospital, Dr. Turner takes swabbing samples from her aunt to test for diphtheria and learns from their conversation that prior to Carole’s symptoms, she had been living in a homeless shelter. This raises a red flag when Dr. Turner realizes this is the same shelter that the Bowland family had lived in.
A Hostile Exchange
While a few midwives immediately take to the homeless shelter to begin diphtheria testing, Sgt. Woolf notifies Nonnatus House of a disturbance at St. Cuthbert’s maternity ward involving a woman who claims she is Primrose’s mother. Trixie and Mother Mildred meet with the woman, Brenda, hoping to get a better understanding behind her child’s abandonment. They later learn that she’s the same late night visitor who Sister Frances met at the maternity home.
Though it takes some coaxing, Trixie squeezes her way into Brenda’s circle of trust, promising to help with custody of Primrose in exchange for more information about her birth. Brenda tells Trixie that she’s the priest’s housekeeper at St Genistus' Presbytery, and this immediately raises suspicions amongst the midwives as to the events surrounding her pregnancy. Mother Mildred visits Brenda’s supervisor, Father Duncombe, who claims that throughout the nine months of Brenda’s pregnancy, he never once suspected she was carrying a child. Even though she worked under his roof. Ok, guy, we believe you.
Their conversation escalates when Father Duncombe throws out the option of adoption, threatening Brenda’s job if she keeps her child. When he further begins to question Brenda’s ability to be a capable mother, noting her history with mental illness, Mother Mildred becomes enraged at his total lack of empathy. Prepared to storm out, a sewing basket in the priest’s study catches her eye. She notices that the same silk ribbon which had been used to tie Primrose’s umbilical cord is in this very basket and finds it curious when Father Duncombe admits Brenda sometimes did her garment mending in his study. Boy bye.
Call in the Hospital for Tropical Diseases
While Mother Mildred contemplates how to handle this alarming discovery, the rest of the Nonnatans are determined to get to the bottom of the growing number of diphtheria cases across Poplar and locate patient zero. Yet another student, Terry’s classmate Sufiyah Ahmad, reveals similar symptoms in addition to a massive ulcer on her arm, which she believed to be a bug bite she received prior to moving to England. Sister Hilda alerts Dr. Turner who learns that Sufiyah and her family had also lived in the homeless shelter on Rakesby Street. The team quickly notifies authorities to fumigate the entire building to prevent bacteria from spreading any further.
A Visit from Father Duncombe
Meanwhile, Trixie accompanies Brenda back to St. Cuthbert’s to formally meet her daughter. In what should have been a joyous reunion, things go sour when Father Duncombe decides to crash the party. In an attempt to encourage Brenda to give up her baby (honestly, who asked you sir?), he says she’s not capable of caring for Primrose, and nearly convinces her of looking into adoption agencies until Mother Mildred steps in. Sister has zero time for shady men.
A New Life for Brenda and Primrose
Following Father Duncombe’s completely unwelcome visit, Brenda confides in Trixie about her past as an orphan herself and later, the survivor of an abusive ex-husband. Despite rough beginnings between mother and daughter, Brenda says she wants to be better for Primrose. So with the support of Mother Mildred and Trixie, Brenda finds the courage to raise Primrose as a single mother. To help her on this journey, Mother Mildred announces she’ll be leaving Nonnatus House to join the new family at the Mother House.
The Father Revealed
Of course, before Brenda has time to make her escape, Father Duncombe visits her at Nonnatus House because he just doesn’t know when to quit. He offers her money, insisting that it’s a reimbursement to Mother Mildred for allowing Brenda to stay with them. Mhm. When Mother Mildred leaves the two to speak alone, Father Duncombe makes a truly weak apology to Brenda, says he loved her, and ultimately reveals that he is in fact the father. Gasp! But really, no one’s surprised. Despite his refusal to publicly come forward and step up for his daughter, Brenda receives the closure she needs before moving on to the next chapter of her life.
The Future of Nonnatus House
Speaking of new chapters, this doesn’t stop with Mother Mildred’s farewell to the midwives. Remember that demolition occurring all around Poplar? Well, as it turns out, even sacred spaces such as Nonnatus House aren’t safe from its grasp. Sister Julienne receives a demolition notice from the Greater London Council announcing that many of the buildings sitting on the street where their house resides will be taken down for new housing. Eek, but we’re only one episode in! Let us live!
Despite this utterly devastating notice, Sister Julienne along with Sister Hilda choose to keep the fate of the house to themselves. In more uplifting news, the initial diphtheria panic subsides after the fumigation of Rakesby Street proves successful and Terry is released from the hospital to reunite with his mother and new brother. At Nonnatus House, Mother Mildred, Brenda and Primrose receive an emotional sendoff from the midwives, leaving us to wonder what other changes to expect as we dive deeper into this season. As for the fate of Nonnatus House and our favorite lady gang? Guess we’ll have to tune in for Episode 2!
Forgot how we got here? Catch up on “Call the Midwife” with the 2019 Holiday Special.
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