What Republicans Can Learn about Marriage from Call the Midwife. (Plus: A giveaway!)

Call the Midwife's bride and groom

First things first: There’s an election tomorrow! So vote! Okay, now on with it.

Last night’s episode of Call the Midwife featured theft, love, senility, class snobbery, and even triplets — but mostly, it was about marriage. We discover that Gerald, the man who broke Jenny Lee’s heart, is married. Chummy Browne and Constable Noakes almost lose each other when Chummy’s mother visits and very vocally expresses her displeasure, but in the end the bride walks down the aisle in a crimplene skirt suit. Cynthia, a very pregnant patient, waits desperately for her sailor boyfriend to return from sea and make an honest woman out of her — which in the end, he does. All the while, Sister Josephine and the other nuns, the prototypical unamarried women, provide a backdrop for all the drama. And so the first season of Call the Midwife adheres to convention and ends with a wedding.

Ah, marriage. It’s a preoccupation with Republicans: the destruction of it, sex outside of it, the redefinition of it. Promoting marriage was a significant part of the Bush administration’s domestic-policy agenda, presumably in an attempt to protect women from the horrors of birth control, single motherhood, abortion, and illicit sexual activity. Whether it’s correlating single motherhood with gun violence or railing against the destruction of the sacred institution by the gays, the right wing has a deep-seated jones for getting (straight) couples to the church on time.

Yet as this episode of Call the Midwife demonstrates nicely, marriage provides its own set of complications. Here are five surprising facts about marriage and reproductive health in this country.

1. Four out of ten unintended pregnancies in married women end in abortion. Although the majority of abortions are sought by unmarried women in their twenties, about 15 percent are performed on married women. And most of these women’s husbands know about these abortions and are supportive of the choice. It’s rarely mentioned, presumably because it contradicts the shameless, unmarried straw hussy beloved by right-wing politicians and pundits, but many hetero married women — even those who already have children — decide for a variety of reasons that they can’t mother another one.

2. Most women, no matter their religion, attempt to avoid pregnancy for most of their married lives. According to a 2003 report by the Guttmacher Institute, most American families pursue the “replace yourselves” ideal of two children, spaced 2–3 years apart. That means hetero married women spend approximately five years trying to get pregnant, being pregnant, and recovering from being pregnant. The rest of their reproductive years are spent trying to avoid pregnancy. So when Paul Ryan advocates for an end to legislation that will protect women’s access to contraception, he’s making life not just more difficult from the young strumpets he wants to safely marry off, but also for many already-married women.

3. Sterilization is the second most popular form of contraception in America. Surprised? While condoms in schools and emergency contraception get most of the press, the Centers for Disease Controland Prevention has found that the second most common way to prevent pregnancy in the United States (after the birth-control pill) is tubal ligation. And most of the women who choose this method are married.

4. Outlawing gay marriage is a drain on federal health dollars. The United States has a work-related healthcare policy, and for hetero couples, that means that children can be covered on one partner’s health-insurance policy. For most gay and lesbian couples, only the biological parent can have their child covered under their health insurance. That means that if one parent works and the other doesn’t, the child could be eligible for Medicaid even if the household income exceeds the poverty line. Of course, one way to solve this problem would be to make healthcare available to everyone, regardless of employment status.

5. Unmarried parents can raise great kids. Hey, everyone loves a wedding. But being married isn’t a good barometer of the happiness of your children, or of whether you will be a good parent. Parents who are divorced can do a great job of raising their children, and parents who never tie the knot can also be excellent parents. And, as was confirmed by a recent study, lesbian couples, whether married or not, are raising some of the nation’s happiest, well-adjusted children.

Do you have a favorite Call the Midwife moment or episode? Tell me about it in the comments field, and we’ll pick one lucky commenter to win the first season of the program on DVD, courtesy of BBC Home Entertainment. Thanks for reading!

Previously: Call the Midwife: What Nuns Know about Reproductive Justice; Call the Midwife: Three Questions to Ask Republicans about Reproductive Healthcare that Have Nothing to Do with Abortion

by Jill Moffett
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14 Comments Have Been Posted

It's really difficult to pick

It's really difficult to pick a favorite part! I think some of the most moving parts of the series were when Jenny came face to face with the real circumstances of poverty--like her relationship with Mary, or when Joe's house was condemned. However, my favorite character is a tie between Chummy and Sister Monica Joan.

The moment when Chummy tells

The moment when Chummy tells her mother what her wedding outfit will be made of!

Between this and downton, BBC has been bringing it on women's health issues.

Fave Call the Midwife

My favorite episode is the finale, simply because I loved seeing the loose ends tied up. Jenny's secret pain was just driving me crazy...it was relieving to finally see what was behind her hesitance to let herself open up to love. And though I though Chummy might succumb to her evil mother's wishes, I was glad to see her marry the cop. I adored this series. It was wonderfully eye-opening of the period and place in which it was set. i wish it had been longer.

The breech birth scene. WOW,

The breech birth scene. WOW, that was the most riveting moment of TV I've seen in a long time.

I agree. I couldn't pick

I agree. I couldn't pick just one at first, but I think the breech birth scene is my favorite, how calm and professional Chummy is, and how she gains some respect from Sister Evangelina (or at least, that's how I interpreted it.)

Love this show!

I had a midwife at a birth center for the birth of my daughter four months ago, so this show has a special place in my heart. The breech birth scene with Chummy put me on the edge of my couch. Also, in that same episode, the girl being forced to have her baby girl placed for adoption was heart wrenching. As she suffered through engorgement and mastitis, it brought tears to my eyes.

It advocated for context and compassion

I thought the series was excellent, and the fifth episode was my particular favorite. I loved that the show asked the young nurses (and the viewers that took in the show through their experiences) to re-frame unilateral morality judgements in a way that makes room for context and compassion.

Also, I will always heart the show for bringing two of my favorite British actresses together: Pam Ferris and Miranda Hart stole the show.

My favorite moment is

My favorite moment is definitely Chummy's sultry line: 'Fish and chips, please. And can you put the vinegar on first?'


Hey, Korri, congratulations—you'll be receiving the DVD of Call the Midwife! Please send your mailing address to
info@b-word.org so we can get it out to you!

I haven't been able to watch

I haven't been able to watch the show, but LOVE this series, so consider my interest very high! I would love to see these programs but don't know how to access them.

pbs.org and you're all set!

pbs.org and you're all set!

Love the complexities of Sr. Monica Joan

I have to say, the moment Chummy told her mother she no longer qualified to wear white made me laugh out loud! But I think the scenes I have most enjoyed in this series have been the ones involving Sister Monica Joan. Almost always when there is a dotty old woman on TV, she's there as a comic caricature and nothing more. How refreshing, then, to have Sister Monica Joan depicted as a valued member of her community and her declining mental health shown as one part of her character, alongside her compassion and insight. Judy Parfitt does a truly excellent job bringing this complex character to life.


As a student midwife, the breech birth with Chummy as the sole midwife is by far my favorite scene in the entire first season. I didn't realize until after the scene was over, but I hadn't breathed the entire time! Go Chummy!

"And most of the women who

"And most of the women who choose [tubal ligation] are married."

Is this possibly because doctors will refuse to do this procedure on young or unmarried women, or on women who have never given birth?

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