Joining the cast of Call the Midwife is a little different from joining most other dramas. For starters, some of your co-stars are only a few weeks old…
Charlotte Ritchie, the newest member of the Midwives, was, understandably, “a bit stressed” when it came to her first birth scene.
“It was strange. I was really fascinated because I’ve watched the show but I didn’t know how they did it,” she tells us. “You’ve got quite a lot to think about. You’ve got to fake a lot of things and also make sure that a real life baby is okay.”
“That stresses you out more than getting it technically right. That has to come above everything else,” she says, which is a concern – especially if you’re not super confident with a newborn in your arms: “It’s a real art. I remember holding a baby for the first time when I was eight. It took every part of my focus to not drop the baby. And that’s the number one rule: don’t drop it!”
Those real life babies are more than a little distracting on set too, says Ritchie. “I find it hard to fully engage with what I’m doing if I’m more worried about the reality of it being a baby.”
But having tiny tots around does have its positives. “It’s way easier to act happy and euphoric about about a birth when there’s actually a real, sweet baby there. You automatically have these feelings of tenderness and excitement. They evoke good stuff in people; in terms of emotion, they really bring it out of you.”
Ritchie did her research before she stepped into the Nonnatus delivery room – “I watched educational videos on YouTube and read a couple of 1960s midwifery books. It was a mix of anecdotes and practical help” – but she deliberately avoided Channel 4’s maternity-based ob doc One Born Every Minute.
“I was told by Terry Coates, the midwife on set, not to watch it. She says that she doesn’t think it’s accurate, even though it’s a documentary. Because it’s heightened, because there’s cameras everywhere, it’s much more dramatic than real life, she thinks. Childbirth is often quite meditative and quiet but in that programme they are always shrieking. It’s enough to put anyone off!”
She’s learned a lot about the miracle of life – “I knew nothing about childbirth before. I say nothing, I mean, I didn’t think it came out of your bellybutton…” – but she won’t be offering to help out at any real-life deliveries.
“I will be helping with any births anybody needs!” she jokes. “I could just like turn up at hospitals and freak everybody out saying, ‘Don’t worry guys – I’m trained on the television!’”
“But I definitely wouldn’t be as scared as I thought I would be. I think it’s just all more miraculous than I believed. I was like, ‘It can’t be all that great’, but now I think it probably is.”
Call the Midwife returns on Sunday at 8:00pm on BBC1