Christmas is well and truly over at Nonnatus House and we’re on to the next religious holiday. It’s Easter when we rejoin the midwives and Poplar is baking hot cross buns and planning bonnet parades.
The sun is shining and it matches Trixie’s mood. She’s taken up Keep Fit since she admitted she was an alcoholic, started wearing a slinky black leotard and qualified as an instructor, with the aim of turning Poplar into a district of lyrca-wearing gym bunnies.
For the 9 to 5, new “professional, practical and really rather pretty” uniforms have arrived in the post. The girls are still wearing dresses and the red cardigans remain but now they have nipped in waists and waspie belts for company.
To begin with the only thing that’s irking the residents of Nonnatus house is lent – there won’t be a cake crumb in the vicinity until Easter Sunday and Sister Monica Joan is terribly upset about it – but, as ever, it doesn’t take long before a darker storyline rears its head.
A baby in the neighbourhood has been born without thumbs. The nurses worry it’s because of poor housing, while Nurse Crane moans about diaphragms. Once women are picking and choosing their family size, they don’t know what to do when things don’t go exactly to plan… But out on the streets of Poplar we get a bigger hint at the reason behind the baby’s birth defeat. Rhoda Mullucks is heavily pregnant with her third child, and taking medication prescribed by Doctor Turner.
She soon goes into labour and is admitted to the maternity home, where Patsy and Shelagh keep an eye on her. When her baby arrives it’s clear she has been born with severe deformities. Patsy struggles to hide her shock, passing the newborn to Shelagh who swiftly takes the baby out of the room.
Meanwhile, Trixie and Barbara are propositioned by a photographer while cycling around Poplar. He’s tasked with compiling a record of life in the old East End before it vanishes for good, so they let him follow them around, snapping babies, mothers – and Trixie’s first Keep Fit class.
An upset Patsy “bucks up” to don her leotard while Shelagh remains at the maternity home. Rhoda still hasn’t seen her daughter, and is none the wiser but Doctor Turner has called the children’s hospital. It seems it’s a case of keeping the newborn comfortable and waiting for the inevitable, but Turner is startled when the baby’s hungry cries wake him in the early hours. He feeds her, uttering in surprise: “She wants to live.”
The next morning, it’s time to tell Rhoda the truth. Shelagh heads on to the ward, emergency cigarette in hand. But just as she does Mr Mullucks arrives, hears his baby crying and heads off to find his daughter.
“How could you even let that live? …There ain’t no way that thing is coming back to our house!” he shouts, before storming out, leaving his wife to meet their daughter alone, while Shelagh and Sister Mary Cynthia wait outside the door, holding hands.
“What a mess, eh?” Rhoda sobs as she unwraps her baby’s blanket. “We’ll sort something out, I promise. You’re mine.”
Meanwhile, Patsy is all dressed up in a fancy tea room to meet Delia. She’s been given a clean bill of health by her doctor and has been promised her job back. “It just seems too good to be true,” smiles Patsy, just as Delia’s mother arrives. She’s putting her foot down. She doesn’t want her leaving home ever again
A newspaper has arrived at Nonnatus House and the Keep Fit class has been given a full page spread, complete with big pictures of Trixie, Patsy and Barbara in their swanky new leotards. Trixie is delighted but the nuns are not. “Cavorting in their combinations!” cries Sister Evangelina in distress.
At the maternity home, Rhoda is having trouble dressing the newly-named baby Susan. Nothing fits correctly and all her own clothes are at home, where she can’t go. The situation takes its toll on Sister Mary Cynthia – she had a disabled brother and it’s bringing back all sorts of memories – so she heads to see Rhoda’s husband, telling him that the shock will pass and Susan will soon seem as beautiful to him as his other children do, before picking up some baby clothes to adapt for the newborn.
Trixie is simply refusing to let the nuns ruin her Keep Fit class and resiliently rallies her troops. They are having an early tea in the kitchen, breaking lent and indulging in some pre-exercise eclairs. Monica Joan is drawn in by the chocolatey treat, before deciding she’d quite like to try Keep Fit too.
Later on, the girls are getting back to it after a tea and biscuit break when Trixie suggests a more challenging move: exercising arms and legs at the same time.
Sister Monica Joan is taking part from a chair, but it proves too much for one attendee. Olive runs to the bathroom. She’s had an accident and her clothes are soaked. She doesn’t think it’s anything out of the ordinary for women, but Trixie is concerned and insists she sees the doctor first thing tomorrow. At the appointment it turns out she has a prolapsed womb so advanced that it’s periodically slipping down her vagina.
Olive balks at the word. “I’ve never heard that said before… we just used to call everything our down belows.”
Trixie frowns as Olive admits she’s tried to remedy the problem herself – “I’ve tried shoving things up there. I’ve heard of people using a bit of rolled up cardboard. Even apples, some of them, or a spud” – because she didn’t know what it was called, or that she could have the problem fixed for free on the NHS.
Back at Nonnatus, the girls fashion Easter bonnets and fluffy rabbit ears – Barbara has offered to source hats for Tom’s parade, and the pair are clearly growing closer, much to Trixie’s irritation – while at the maternity home, Mr Mullocks has finally brought in the family to meet Susan. “Sometimes in life you’ve got to be grateful for what you have got, not what you’ve not got,” says Rhoda, and her husband cries in agreement.
“We’ll manage. We always have. Bring her home,” he says.
Back at Nonnatus, Sister Julienne has insisted on a meeting to discuss the cavorting, but Trixie won’t be swayed. “There are women in my group who can’t name parts of their own anatomy… they haven’t been taught that owning a female body ought to be a joy,” she argues persuasively, and Julienne apologises, telling the gathered faces at Easter Monday lunch how much she “cherishes our young women,” adding: “They keep us on our toes… without them we would flounder.”
Among the guests for lunch is Delia who has come with her mum to say a final farewell to Patsy. She must leave the capital because Mrs Busby can’t be persuaded that London is a safe place for her to live – yet, to Patsy and Delia’s surprise, the warmth of Nonnatus House prompts her to change her mind.
“Your daughter is welcome to lodge here with us,” offers Sister Julienne and the matter is settled. Nonnatus officially has a new resident…
Call the Midwife continues on Sundays at 8:00pm on BBC1