Call The Midwife: I have the strangest job

Wednesday 23 January 2013, 16:41

Terri Coates Terri Coates Midwifery Advisor, Call The Midwife

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When I sat with a downright tatty manuscript and chose to read it rather than correct midwifery students’ assignments that morning, I had no idea where it would lead.

I didn’t think it would take long to skim through and dismiss. But Jennifer’s stories leapt off the page. I lost all track of time and nearly forgot to collect my children from school.

An article I had written for the Royal College of Midwives journal 12 months previously had struck a chord with newly-retired music teacher Jennifer Worth. She had read the article with interest, having worked as a midwife for only seven years in the late 50s and early 60s.

Jennifer said that she had always planned to write in her retirement and that my article provided the catalyst for her memoirs. The first book was Call The Midwife. I knew and worked with Jennifer for 13 years on the trilogy of her memoirs - I was her advisor and clinical editor.

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Sadly Jennifer died just before the stories were filmed for the BBC One series Call The Midwife but she had seen and approved early drafts of the scripts.

I feel that she would approve of the high standard of accuracy that we have achieved along with the series creator Heidi Thomas. During the long drawn-out process of turning the books into TV scripts for Call The Midwife, Jennifer asked if I could continue as the midwifery advisor on the show to provide medical and midwifery accuracy.

Now I probably have the strangest job that ever required a midwife.

Heidi's team of scriptwriters contact me at various points in the process of writing the clinical scenes and sometimes I suggest midwifery scenarios to fit the stories. I check that the medical conversations are appropriate.

For each of the scenes the sequence has to be accurate, or at least plausible. For example, a real ante natal examination of a pregnant woman may take 15 minutes, or in the case of the second (pushing) stage of labour, an hour or more.

The scenes portraying the birth or a clinic visit may only be a minute or two in an hour-long programme, so those moments have to look really convincing.

Trixie Franklin (Helen George) weighs a baby Trixie Franklin (Helen George) weighs a baby

I teach the actors a condensed version of the clinical techniques required to simulate the examination or procedure.

The action may only be required for a few seconds but the actors have to demonstrate enough of the clinical skill to convince the audience. I am always on the set when the clinical scenes are being filmed to help the actors and advise the director.

Heidi and the other series writers are very skilled at capturing these moments and I ensure that the examination or diagnosis is accurately portrayed.

I have also learned that, if for example, the actors need to put surgical gloves or a gown on I have to write that down in directions too or the costumes and props aren’t provided and the time required to put on the gown and gloves for example are not scheduled. All directions are written on the script. I now assume nothing!

So many medical dramas are spoilt when small details, such as a syringe used at the wrong angle are seen. The actors playing midwives and doctors have had to learn how to use the medical and midwifery equipment and pronounce medical terms.

I have taught the actors how to take blood pressure or listen to a baby’s heart beat through a pregnant abdomen using a Pinard (small trumpet shaped instrument) correctly using the (vintage) equipment.

When the professional aspects of the scene are right I feel that I’ve done my job well.

Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine), Trixie Franklin (Helen George), Cynthia Miller (Bryony Hannah) Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine), Trixie Franklin (Helen George), Cynthia Miller (Bryony Hannah) and babies

I’m used to looking after mothers and their babies but the usually unpleasantly cold sets for Call The Midwife have been a challenge.

However, the area immediately around the baby is heated to a point that most of the crew find uncomfortable but I find reassuring. The babies are usually naked for their scenes and chill rapidly.

We are very grateful that the mothers come to the set and allow their babies to be used for the filming and they watch everything that goes on via a monitor.

For the birth sequences I hold the baby until the last moment before handing over to the actress. I always remain very close to the baby, just out of shot.

In reality this usually means contorted under a bed or kneeling in a puddle. So, rather like my other day job delivering real babies.

Terri Coates is a practising midwife, lecturer and author and is the midwifery advisor on Call The Midwife.

Series two of Call The Midwife continues on BBC One and BBC One HD at 8pm on Sundays. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

More on Call The Midwife
BBC TV blog: Call The Midwife: In search of a new home

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC. 

 

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  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 1.

    Why is there not somebody advising the actors as to the pronunciation of medical terms? The "doctor" destroyed any illusion of reality with his mispronunciation of atelectasis in episode 2 of this series. It is not pronounced "at elec tarsis" but "eh tal ectasis", with the first "a" long and the second short, not the other was around.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 2.

    Historical inaccuracy sorry but I believe you got wrong in yesterday's episode, Jimmy met Jenny and was telling her that he working on a new housing project in Newham, well Newham as London Borough didn't come into being until 1965.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 3.

    I, my four daughters with their families and many acquaintences, are just loving this series, Congratulations to everyone in the cast and production. Of course we can look for faults but taken all in all, this is some of the best T.V that I can remember. We prefer it above Downton, probably because it seems real and believable. Reflects Jennifer's warmth and compassion found in her books. The Christmas special was particularly moving. Why are so many surprised at the success of this, after all, her books were already best sellers? So a big THANKYOU to the BBC. It has a five star rating in our book!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 4.

    I agree with Marie Jones. I am not a medical professional so I don't notice mispronunciations, nor am I a Londoner or an historian, so the Newham 'mistake' didn't bother me. I think the acting is great. The sets fantastic and it has a feeling of reality about it that I don't see in other dramas. A great series...I look forward to it each week. 5*****

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 5.

    I was a bit anxious before I watched last night's episode since Chummy seemed to be the only one of the 4 midwives who was a fully developed character who you could relate to. The remaining three midwives are still thinly drawn, but last night the writers did an excellent job of delivering an episode that had pace, structure and an emotional climax. As someone who cares about the quality of the writing on television, I think this episode took the show to a new level and I hope the writers will maintain this standard.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 6.

    Come on folks, if you want to pick apart how someone has pronounced a word, be it a medical one.... or got a historical fact slightly wrong, watch something different... this is meant to be DRAMA, and good drama it is..... ot os correct enough to be very believeable, pulls at heart strings to those not nitpicking, and as a retired medical person, I find it a total joy to watch.... and that is from someone who has never bothered with tv before but this has me hooked.... Good on you BBC... Keep it up and ignore those that dont appreciate what you are trying to do......

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 8.

    I was pleased that Call the Midwife at last tackled the issue of contraception. I'm a doctor, working in the East End, and 25 years ago some of the ladies who were forced into home abortions were still alive. Once I'd worked out why so many had had septicaemia as young women, some of them gave me more details of what they had had to do. If you are going to cover this issue again - with more locally accurate details (your story had important differences to what i was told) - I would be happy to share what the ladies told me. They spoke to me as women telling another woman, as they said, just in case I needed to know what to do. I think you can work out my email from my sign-in?
    Caroline

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 9.

    Brilliant Show,I know of many friends who watch this series Diligently every week without fail...And they have no complaints about Inaccuracies of the Series,They just believe it is a Good programme.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 10.

    This is a brilliant show and I speak as someone who does not have television. I saw part of an episode at Xmas and had to buy the DVDs of the series to watch more. I congratulate anyone who is involved in any way with this project - it really is superb. Taking up the issue of inaccuracies ... medical 'speak'? .. it would go past my head anyway ... but I do believe that New Ham which became Newham, has been a Ward of London since 1899 so Newham would have been where he said?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 11.

    University of North Carolina Public Broadcasting just showed the Christmas Special. I appreciated the pairing of Scout Troop leading and Christmas Pageant directing in Chummy's part. It was very familiar.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 12.

    I am not much of a TV watcher but this programme has moved me. It is warm, generous, it touches the soul - no I am no medic so to be honest pronunciation of medical terms would generally go past me and again, honestly, I don't much care about that kind of nit picking - over the series all the ''characters'' have developed and from what I have read the author of this story would be heart warmed by each and every performance and delivery (no pun intended) of her memories - for me this is a little bit of heaven - to the point where I worked a 15 hour overnight shift and refused to go to bed until I had seen the latest episode - a few tears were shed as Mr Masters passed away holding his grandchild but it was the two Jennys - sister and nurse - who moved me most. This is an outstanding series well done BBC it is a true gem.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 13.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed both series and the Christmas special, it's a 'never miss' series for me. I have laughed and cried and been well entertained. This is a brilliant series, well written, acted and believable. I am not sure if there is to be another series, judging by the last episode in this series where 'Nonnatus' is condemmed, i guess not. I will really miss it. Well done BBC.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 14.

    Sundays episode 10th March, who decided to do knitted squares when they were so obviously all crocheted. Was there no one on the set who knew the difference, or did they think that WE would not know the difference!!!
    Janet

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 15.

    Last nights programme talked of the nurses and sisters KNITTING squares. The squares used were acturally CROCHETED. There is a difference.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 16.

    A few months ago I listened to Heidi Thomas the Producer talk about the programme on Radio 2. I said to myself "This sounds like just my sort of entertainment", and it is. It takes me back to my childhood, and to how different life is now eg I am typing this on a computer not writing it to post by Royal Mail to Broadcasting House!!! It also makes me think, eg were there small trannys in the US in 1958???
    Thank you everyone who has worked on Call The Midwife. Dan
    It very well scripted

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 17.

    Would someone explain where the abused mother was going when she got into the car with her husband standing alongside it? The scene was vague. This was before their apartment caught fire.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 18.

    I was born in England in 1956 but grew up in Sydney. This series brings to life for me the stories that my mother told of her early years as a wife and mother. I never realised how different her life was to the life I remember as a child.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 19.

    I am thrilled with this new season and saw the first episode last night. I too was confused as to what happened to Molly when she started neglecting the baby and older sister. What "work" was
    her abusive husband doing???? was he a pimp????? It just didn't make much sense that she would leave her babies.

 

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