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'Call the Midwife' Recap: Season 13 Episode 1

Daniel Hautzinger
The midwives and their pupils ride bikes down the street, smiling in their uniforms
A new set of midwife pupils has arrived in Poplar. Credit: BBC Studios/Neal Street Productions

Call the Midwife airs Sundays at 7:00 pm and is available to stream for a limited time. Recap the previous and following episodes and other seasons.
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Sister Julienne has restarted the midwife training program that brought Nancy to Nonnatus House, and the four new pupils arrive along with spring. There’s Kathy Downes, Norelle Morris, the accomplished student Joyce Highland, and Rosalind Clifford, who struggles with a map to find Nonnatus. Rosalind is a vegetarian, so she’ll be staying at Nonnatus, where Nurse Crane also doesn’t eat meat. She’s rooming with Joyce; whereas Rosalind grew up in a boys’ boarding school where her father worked, Joyce doesn’t really have any family besides her late grandmother in Trinidad. Despite the overtures of Mrs. Wallace to join her and Cyril’s church of Caribbean expats, Joyce is strongly against church-going.

Unlike those two pupils, Trixie has to commute to Nonnatus, now that she’s married and living with Matthew. He promises to buy her a sports car if she learns to drive. They’re waiting for a new estate closer to Nonnatus to be completed, where they’ll move into a well-appointed flat.

The Melia family is also waiting on a new home to be built. Iris is pregnant with a second child. At clinic, Nurse Crane notices a bruise on Iris’ arm and sends Joyce away in order to ask about it. Iris admits that her husband Les has been short-tempered lately because of issues with his livelihood. He works odd hours, hides money in the floorboards, and worries about paying people.

The father of Doreen Challis’ coming child has a more savory job: he’s a piano tuner. Doreen has cerebral palsy and is aided in her life by her mother, Ada, and sister, Anne. Her only regular time outside the house is a music club; that’s where she met Graham. She suspected she was pregnant and thus came to the clinic with Anne, despite its inaccessibility for a wheelchair, for a consultation with Dr. Turner. Ada doesn’t know about the pregnancy; Anne has helped Doreen hide it.

Doreen doesn’t have long to tell her mother: she’s due in the next few weeks. When she does, Ada is furious and attacks Graham, who is waiting outside. Anne stops the onslaught, and Graham tells Ada that he’s there for Doreen; he’s not going anywhere.

Graham accompanies Doreen to her first clinic visit, where she insists on walking the short way to the examination bed, with his help. She’s worried about doing everything right with the birth; she has heard her condition is a result of a lack of oxygen during her birth. Under a new scheme designed to reduce pressure on maternity wards as more and more pregnancies demand hospital referrals, Dr. Turner will deliver her baby, but at the hospital. Specialists can therefore step in if need be. Doreen will be the first mother under the scheme.

Doreen was born in very different circumstances, as Miss Higgins discovers by digging through records. Ada gave birth in a rough hospital during a trying time of German bombing raids on London. She was unmarried and so had a different last name, and Doreen’s cerebral palsy was only diagnosed some fourteen months later, when a broken clavicle was also noted – evidence of a traumatic birth.

By the time the Challises came to Dr. Turner, all of this was in the past and unknown to him. That explains why Sister Julienne doesn’t remember that she delivered Doreen.

Sister Julienne is horrified that she doesn’t remember Ada and Doreen, and that she may have caused Doreen’s cerebral palsy, even though others reassure her that the condition can have numerous causes. She prays for answers and decides to go directly to Ada.

Ada recalls a difficult birth – that was eased by Julienne’s kindness. Her reminiscences help Julienne remember the birth, in which Doreen’s shoulder was stuck – one of the more difficult situations for a delivery. Ada thanks Julienne for her work back then. Even though she was surrounded by bad men, she found a good husband because of Doreen: only a good man would marry her when it entailed also taking care of Doreen. This admission makes her realize that Graham, too, must be a good man. He and Doreen have also gotten engaged.

When Doreen goes into labor, she is rushed to the hospital, where the specialist defers to Dr. Turner – he knows as much about this situation as the specialist. Doreen struggles to push, but the team delivers a healthy boy, to her delight and pride.

Iris Melia will give birth at home. When she goes into labor, Trixie and Rosalind arrive to find Les leaving. He asks to be informed if anyone calls. Iris tells them that he got home very late and was angry; she asks Trixie to lock the door and keep him away during the birth. It’s a painful one, and Iris desperately asks for numbing gas – but the device is broken, so the midwives call Sister Veronica to bring a new one.

Unfortunately, Les has returned and is banging at the door. When the phone rings, he tries to shoot the bolts off the lock with a gun, insisting that he needs to answer it. Rosalind lets him in on the condition that he stay by the phone, to Trixie’s horror. The midwives use furniture to bar the door to the bedroom where Iris is in labor.

Meanwhile, a neighbor has called the police because of the gunshots. Iris admits that some of Les’ associates have recently gone to prison. He desperately pulls a parcel of drugs out of his floorboard hiding space and dumps it down the toilet after barring the door to the apartment.

When Sister Veronica arrives to this chaotic situation, the police won’t let her through – they’re in a standoff with Les, who is resisting arrest. She takes over a police bullhorn to berate Les and try to convince him to let her in as his wife gives birth.

Trixie and Rosalind have delivered a baby girl to Iris, but Iris is bleeding badly and her infant had a difficult birth. They both need a hospital. Trixie leaves the bedroom to confront Les, holding his new daughter. He finally throws his gun out the window to the police and surrenders.

As he is escorted to a police car and Iris is carried out on a stretcher to an ambulance, he shouts to his wife that he loves her. She doesn’t respond. After being stabilized at the hospital, she and her daughter are sent to the maternity home to stay for a while; she doesn’t want to go home.

The danger in which the midwives had to operate, and the difficult job they already do, has Nancy sympathetic to a burgeoning campaign arguing for better pay. Nurse Crane believes nursing is a priceless calling, and doesn’t want to hear anything about such things.

Happier things take place as Easter approaches. Reggie has organized a stroller-decorating contest, and Rosalind and Nancy have come up with an entry for Nonnatus House – it was something for them to do during the midwives’ organized recreation time, in which they all do handicrafts together without the TV on. Nancy, at least, is glad to have two more young women in the house.