Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

Genre: memoir
Secondary genre: medical, modern history
Rep: poverty
Format read: audiobook
Rating: planchet-4

We all know the show. But does the book match the drama and intensity of television?

Hell yes.

Following WWII, the UK made an effort to equalize things between the classes, instituting a large network of social services and welfare oportunities to increase health, sanitation, and access to services throughout the country.

Eastern London was poverty stricken, reeling from bombings during the war. The slums that had housed so many for centuries were in the process of being shut down, but with a housing shortage across the country and in London in particular, there were few other places for people to go. Residents of the now-famous Poplar neighborhood found themselves crammed 10-20 deep in 1-3 rooms, with no running water, except maybe a tap in the hall. Toilets were shared and located outdoors. Families scraped by on minimal food and income, wearing clothes until they became little more than rags.

The midwives of St. Nautilus house were a major part of the welfare initiative, proving free pre-natal screenings, delivery, post-natal care, and in home health services. At a time when one couldn’t simply go to the pharmacy to pick up a month’s supply of insulin–for starters most of their patients didn’t even have refrigerators–they administered medication, tended wounds, and checked in on the elderly or injured.

Jenny Worth was one such midwife and district nurse, working in the early 1950s. By bicycle she traveled all over London, mixing with the lowest members of society. Even on streets where policemen feared to walk, a midwife could go alone and be unmolested because of her uniform.

This book looks at several specific cases, some of which are interwoven as patients come back again and again. The last story in particular–which I won’t spoil here–was absolutely amazing to hear, and I have a hard time believing it’s even true.

Is it identical to the television show? Or rather, is the show identical to the book? Absolutely not. But I do think the show has done a great job of maintaining the heart of Mrs. Worth’s memoir, so if you enjoyed that, you should certainly pick up the book.

$2.00 a Day by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer

Genre: nonfiction
Secondary genre: sociology
Format read: audiobook
Rep: POC, disability, extreme poverty
Rating: planchet-4

This book takes a deep look at extreme poverty in the US. People so poor that on average, each member of the household lives on only $2.00/day. If you’re doing the math, that means only about $62 a month, or less. 

It was absolutely heartbreaking to read, and it hit so close to home. There have been many times in my life where I have been on the brink of eviction. When I haven’t been sure what I’ll eat for my next meal. When I’ve had to choose between feeding myself or my cat, or paying water or electric. 

And yet none of that can touch what some of these people have to do to survive. The book highlights the way prejudice forces people down, and the way that one small setback–like a cold–can send everything else spiraling downward, and the enormous gaps in the social support network. The gaps between WIC and food stamps, between healthcare and discount prescriptions, between homeless shelters and employment. 

Though it was a very stressful read and I had to break it up with other things for the sake of my mental health, I do highly recommend it, particularly for those who come from privileged backgrounds. If you think poor people “just need to try harder” or “aren’t working enough” or that they are all “welfare queens” then shut up, sit down, and read this book.