The vital lesson we must take from Call The Midwife’s Christmas special

Warning: this article contains spoilers for the 2020 Christmas episode of BBC One’s Call The Midwife.  

The Call The Midwife’s musical intro is only 56 seconds long, but it has become as synonymous with Christmas Day as Jingle Bells or Silent Night.

The season premiere is always the plum pudding of BBC One’s festive TV schedule, airing in the evening after a day of gorging ourselves silly on turkey, sprouts, chocolates, and mulled wine. And this feeling of fullness and contentment pairs perfectly with the medical drama’s warmth. 

Because, despite the many, many emotional highs and lows, it is undeniably cosy – and this year’s Christmas episode of Call The Midwife is no different.

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There’s Sister Monica Joan’s tumble down the stairs (curses upon that undone bootlace!), which results in her being rushed to hospital for emergency treatment. Sadly, her injuries prove more serious than first assumed, and it seems as if she will be doomed to spend 25 December in the critical care ward.

“You speak of me as if I am an ancient crone, who cannot survive a simple stumble down the stairs,” she says indignantly. “Age rubs one out day after day, like an Indian rubber on a faded pencil sketch.”

Thankfully, Lucille persuades Sister Julienne to let the elderly nun return to Nonnatus House in time for the festivities. And so she’s right there in the middle of it all, beaming in excitement at being among those she loves the most.

There’s also the multi-faceted circus-comes-to-town storyline, which sees Reggie earn the respect he deserves, pregnant acrobat Jacetta learn the truth about her father’s chesty cough (it’s not good news, I’m afraid), and Nurse Crane’s dreams come true when she dons a sequinned costume and gives the trapeze a jolly good go.

Emboldened by the experience, she rings up her colleague Millicent for an extra-special “spinster Christmas” – which sees them shrug off societal expectations, tuck into a plate of trifle and beans on toast, and revel in their status as single women.

Which is… well, it’s heartening, to say the least. Especially considering that younger midwife Trixie has been signed up to a marriage bureau – essentially the era’s equivalent of Match.com – so “I don’t, and I quote, end up on the shelf”.

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The most important storyline of all, though, is Shelagh’s. 

Or, to be more accurate, it’s Gloria’s.

Gloria, for those who don’t remember, tragically suffered a miscarriage in the fourth episode of series six.

As Laura Main, who plays Shelagh, explains to Radio Times: “Shelagh was in a bed alongside this character Gloria, played by the brilliant Katie Lyons, who was completely devastating and heartbreaking in that episode, way back four years ago. But she’s now pregnant again and their paths cross and Shelagh is very much involved with that storyline.

“And what’s I think particularly nice about a long running series is, you know, this woman’s been through a pretty hellish few years where she keeps miscarrying – which is obviously some women’s reality, so it is a lengthy passage of time… it’s something that you could do on this issue, and revisit.”

Thank you for saying their names.

In this episode, Gloria is 38 weeks pregnant and nearing her due date – but she seems oddly withdrawn and unwilling to prepare for her baby’s arrival. A little gentle probing from Shelagh, though, soon uncovers the reason: Gloria has endured seven miscarriages already, and has been unable to talk about them with anyone.

“That’s a lot of not talking. And a lot of pain,” says Shelagh gently.

“[Everyone said,] ‘Put it out of your mind,’ and so I pretended that I had,” Gloria explains. “And all the time, my mind has been full of them. Everything I never saw I could imagine. I knew if they were boys, or girls. I knew the colour of their eyes.

“I knew everything, and I still know it, all of it. And all of them. Because I never let them go.”

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With Shelagh as her attending midwife, though, Gloria finally feels able to open up about the babies she has lost but never forgotten. As her labour pains begin, she spends time remembering each of her past little ones, telling Shelagh all of their names, and the futures she planned for them.

“Have you told us about all of your babies now, Gloria?” Shelagh asks, as Gloria readies herself to push.

“Bryan, David, Peter, Ruth, Rebecca, John, and Anthony?”

“Thank you for saying their names,” replies Gloria, voice cracking. 

It’s a staunch reminder of those women who feel isolated and alone in their grief after losing a baby. Of those who feel that, somehow, they aren’t allowed to grieve, perhaps because they miscarried early or never met their child.

But, as Tommy’s – the largest charity carrying out research into pregnancy loss and premature birth in the UK – reminds us, absolutely nothing should stop anyone from grieving for their baby and the future they had imagined. 

And something as simple as acknowledging their loss can really help with that.

Gloria’s story has a happy ending: she gives birth to a healthy baby girl, whom she names Rachel Rose (“I wanted R names,” she tells her husband. “Like the other two girls”).

Cradling her newborn in her arms, she turns to her friend and says: “I’m a mum, Shelagh. I’m a mother.”

But, as Shelagh reminds her gently, Gloria has “been a mother for a long, long time.”

Those simple words act as an important reminder: that those women who never had the opportunity to give birth to their conceived children are still mothers. 

Just talking about it, acknowledging their emotions and their loss, is one of the most beautiful things we can do for them.

Series 10 of Call the Midwife will air on BBC One in early 2021.

You can visit Tommy’s or the Miscarriage Association website for baby loss help and support.

The latter’s helpline is manned Monday to Friday, 9am-4pm – 01924 200799 or you can email [email protected]

Images: BBC One

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