Friday, January 18, 2013

Out Of Nappies

I don't know if this counts as something to do with history and/or historical fiction, but it's been on my mind so I'm hoping it's okay. Basically, I've been reading the Call The Midwife books - and watching the TV show - and loving both despite how Sunday evening twee that is of me. I know what people think of this TV show, but I don't care.

There's just something incredibly fun, warm and delightful about it. In part, it's due to Miranda Hart being totally orsum as Chummy in it - seriously, the woman is not only fooking hilarious and my twin in nearly every way, but she's also a damned good actress. However, there's another reason why Call The Midwives is on my mind.

The books are even better than the show. Oh my God, are the books good. They are the book version of Armie Hammer's other words, totally glorious and utterly addictive. And it's not because they're fantastically written or packed full of amazing character arcs or any of the usual stuff that gets my juices flowing.

It's because they're crammed with history. They're bursting at the seams with detail about this world I had no prior knowledge of, and which no one really talks about - the world of childbirth, prior to 1965. And believe me, it is not a world any person would want to visit, any time soon. I mean, I knew that childbirth was a dangerous business before certain advancements were made. Hell, it's a dangerous business now.

But I had no idea HOW dangerous. I didn't realise the true extent of some of the horrors. Like the doctors who rallied against the practice of midwifery, because they feared losing the guinea they got for delivering a child. Even though most of the women in the East End couldn't afford a guinea, and often died in childbirth because there simply wasn't anyone there who knew what they were doing. There were handywomen, who claimed to know how to deliver a baby. But no training for midwives, no establishments to help them, no maternity wards...nothing.

It's beyond belief what some of these women went through. How advanced most of medicine was becoming...and yet how stridently it refused to accept the process of childbirth as something that even needed any attention at all. It was like some dirty woman's secret. It amazed me, reading it, that women ever gave birth at all. It's a miracle the human race continued.

The ingratitude for the amazing thing women were bringing staggered me, even though I kind of knew in the abstract that this was the case.

And then there's the issue of poverty. And the workhouse. And all of this not so long ago, at all. We think we're civilised, but we're barely out of nappies, in terms of doing right by each other. Women selling their teeth and hair, women separated from their children, surgical rape and seventeen babies in a one room flat...the threat of death over your head all the time just because your husband hates wearing a condom and doctors want their guinea...

Scary stuff. But damn, it was a gripping, fascinating read.

P.S. My new book, Addicted, is out on the 24th - so I thought I'd just give it a little mention here. It's got a big, hot, sex addicted hero, and a rather more timid librarian heroine. You can pre-order it, here:


  1. Hi Charlotte!

    I've never heard of the midwives TV show. Is it on NETFLIX, because it sounds like something I'd like. Is it a British thing?

    My wife was once a midwife when she was a nurse in Panama and delivered many babies many many years ago. I don't think men have ever appreciated what a dangerous thing child birth is. I know it was barely a hundred years ago when getting pregnant after age 30 was considered a death trap for a woman. When Voltaire's aging mistress became pregnant she just accepted out of hand she was doomed and finished the book she was writing, sketched out her will and got her affairs in order. Nine months later she died in agony.


  2. Pregnancy and childbirth are both extremely risky, even now. It's hard to imagine how awful it was in the past. If men were the one who gave birth, you can bet they'd get the best care ever.

    And on another topic - can you explain what "twee" means? I've encountered it now and again, but really don't "get" it, even though I've looked it up!

  3. Garceus - yeah, I think so far it's only been on in Britain! But you might be able to get the first series on DVD. It's great - that story you just told is v. familiar.

    Lisabet - Word. And's like doilies and soft felt sofas and chintzy curtains. Too sweet and too nice with a hint of old fashioned!


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