Like clockwork, Call the Midwife fans have got used to visiting Nonnatus House at the most wonderful time of the year when the Christmas special rolls around.


Since 2012, viewers have come to expect dramatic and lighthearted comedic moments that leave us with our hearts positively warmed. And this year is no different.

The festive special returns to Poplar in 1967 following the previous year's devastating train crash. As well as the midwives moving into a brand new maternity clinic, Trixie (Helen George) has made an anticipated return from Portofino.

But like any good Call the Midwife episode, the 1 hour and 29 minute-long special also centres around a pressing maternity issue.

The theme of thalidomide poisoning is woven throughout the episode as fan-favourite character Rhoda Mullucks (Liz White) returns to the show. This time round, she's heavily pregnant and nervous about her unborn child as her first daughter, who was born in season 5, lives with limbs that have been affected by thalidomide.

But what is the drug exactly? What was it used for and how did it come to be at the centre of such tragedy?

What is thalidomide?

Call The Midwife Christmas 2022
Liz White as Rhoda Mullucks in Call the Midwife Christmas special. BBC, Neal Street Productions, Olly Courtenay

Thalidomide has been sold under the names Contergan and Thalomid among many others, but the drug was initially marketed back in 1957 in West Germany.

The oral medication was promoted for easing anxiety, sleeping troubles, morning sickness and tension. Subsequently, the drug was soon prescribed to many pregnant women to combat severe morning sickness.

The drug became licensed in the UK in 1958 but was eventually withdrawn in 1961.

Today, thalidomide is used as a treatment for leprosy and cancers such as multiple myeloma.

Speaking previously to about the inclusion of the topic in season 5, actor Stephen McGann, who plays Dr Patrick Turner, told us: "The sense of responsibility with covering something so big and so important as thalidomide was felt by everybody at all levels in the production.

"For the actors, it was very easy for us to see just how much this meant, how much care needed to be taken and everybody has to step up for that. We still feel that because with the theme of thalidomide there is still more of the story to be unfolded."

How did thalidomide affect pregnancies?

Because of its uses in combatting nausea and morning sickness, the drug was prescribed to pregnant women.

The drug was initially thought to be safe to use during pregnancy but soon, concerns around the rise in nerve issues and birth defects started to point at something more worrying going on.

Women started to find that their babies were being born without limbs or limbs that weren't fully formed and very short.

In total throughout the early 1950s to the late 1960s, the estimated number of infants affected by thalidomide during pregnancy stands at a staggering 10,000 across 46 countries, with a reported 40% of those babies dying around the time of birth. The infants that did survive had limb, eye, heart and urinary tract problems.

More like this

Is this the first time that thalidomide has been discussed in Call the Midwife?

Call The Midwife Christmas 2022
Max Macmillan as Timothy Turner and Linda Basset as Nurse Phyllis Crane in Call The Midwife Christmas special. BBC, Neal Street Productions, Olly Courtenay

In Call the Midwife, Dr Turner previously prescribed the medication to Rhoda and in the season 5 premiere, the topic was explored when her first daughter was born with limbs affected by thalidomide.

Season 6 also tackled the issue when we revisited one of the babies who was born with birth defects, and this time round, the Call the Midwife Christmas 2022 special sees the theme explored once more.

Rhoda is not only understandably nervous about her second child, but Dr Turner's son, Patrick (Stephen McGann), is now a trainee doctor who is struggling to wrap his mind around the fact that such a deadly drug was in wide circulation.

Speaking to and other press, cast member Laura Main spoke about the return of Liz White, saying: "It was lovely to see Liz White again, she’s such a phenomenal actress. And Chris Reilly I thought was sensational as well.

"There are so many wonderful guest artists over the years but very rarely does somebody return and I think it's important to keep following that storyline. People are still fighting for justice, so it's important that we still see the struggles that Susan is going through and all the complex emotions that Liz feels about being pregnant again. It’s a fascinating storyline. So well written and so well performed. There's so much history with that family."

Talking about the research that was conducted in order to pull off an informed approach to their thalidomide story, Main also revealed: "We had a visit from the Thalidomide Society and people who have been affected by that, so that was such a great day to have.

"They’ve become members of the family almost because you do have a closeness once you learn more and get to meet new people. That’s the great thing about the show, learning about issues that you maybe hadn’t known about but ought to."

Once again, the beloved BBC series has managed to shine a light on an important slice of history, while also providing a Christmas episode that heaps on the levels of comfort and hope at the same time.

Read more:

Call the Midwife Christmas 2022 special airs on Christmas Day at 7:55pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. Call the Midwife is available to stream on BBC iPlayer.

Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to see what's on tonight.


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