The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

6114607Nonfiction — print. Penguin, 2002. 340 pgs. Library copy.

Subtitled “A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times”, Worth details her time as a nurse-midwife for the residents of East London’s docklands during the 1950s. Families with ten or more children lived in squalid conditions, crammed into two-room apartments in tenements later deemed unfit for human occupation.

Some of the chapters are dedicated to particular women — for example, Concita Warren and the premature delivery of her twenty-fifth child (yes, 25!) — while others were dedicated to the state of obstetrics during this time period.

Today, two percent of children are born at home (according to Worth), but in the 1950s almost all children were born at home. Other chapters explain the darker sides of life in East London — parental neglect, domestic abuse, young girls forced into prostitution, consequences of giving birth to a child of mixed descent at this time.

Worth’s way of telling her own story really makes it come alive. Well-written and a wonderful read. She really has away of capturing the personalities and dialect of her patients. Some of the stories she tells kept me on the edge of my seat, particularly the premature birth of Concita’s twenty-fifth child and Mary being forced into prostitution and the subsequent birth of her child. Such an interesting read!

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