11th February 2013
I’m not sure what it is about period dramas – maybe it’s the rosy nostalgic glow that they paint of times gone by – but they sure can spark a trend. A few years ago everyone was donning 1960s power dress when Mad Men hit our screens, and last autumn’s catwalk shows looked to the elegant fashions worn by the women of Downton Abbey for inspiration.
But now the RCM is hoping the success of another period drama, BBC One’s Call the Midwife, may lead to another new trend among UK women. Thankfully, it’s not envisaging them rushing out and buy a maroon cardigan, or a pair of NHS-issue spectacles (I don’t think Nonnatus House-chic would catch on anyway). Instead it's predicting that they will be emulating the women of the 1950s East End by giving birth at home.
Not all Call the Midwife viewers will share the RCM’s optimism; the programme often shows the grim reality of the area the midwives worked in, with births taking place in cramped flats in crumbling tower blocks, where women are lying on flimsy mattresses lined with newspaper. Why would anyone want to labour in those conditions instead of in the comfort of a clean, modern hospital?
Yet the RCM has a point; once you see past the 1950s setting, Call the Midwife does, overall, paint a positive picture of home birth. The professionalism of the midwives, and the compassion they show to the women in their care, shines through every time there’s an on-screen birth. Even when things get dramatic – who can forget the episode in the first series where Chummy successfully managed a breech birth singlehandedly – the mothers never think twice about their decision to give birth in their own homes under the supervision of the ‘Nonnatuns’.
Hygiene standards in birthing environments have come a long way since Jennifer Worth was practising in Poplar. In fact, giving birth at home has never been safer than it is now. So perhaps we will see more women take inspiration from Call the Midwife – after all, if the East End women could have a safe home birth all those years ago, then a low-risk modern-day mother can too.