Call The Midwife: Who was midwife Jennifer Worth who inspired the series?

Call the Midwife: Helen George recalls early days on the show

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Call The Midwife has returned for a 10th season on BBC One and the historical drama was inspired by true events. The series is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Lee, who later became Jennifer Worth. Motherhood and pregnancy blogger Vicki Renz spoke exclusively to about the show’s hero.

Who was midwife Jennifer Worth?

Call The Midwife is an emotional and uplifting series documenting the personal and working lives of the nuns and midwives at Nonnatus House.

The series is set in London during the 1950s and 60s, and it addresses many challenging social issues.

While it is well-known that the series is based on real-life, not many fans know a great deal about the original midwife.

Jennifer Lee, who later became Worth, was born in 1935 in Clacton-on-Sea in Essex and she trained as a nurse at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.

She then moved to London to receive training as a midwife. Like in the series, she eventually left midwifery to work in palliative care.

Vicki Renz, a mother and blogger, talked through the midwife and musician’s life.

She said: “Jennifer Worth was an incredibly talented lady who progressed from a secretarial job to nursing through to midwifery and on to teaching music and authoring the bestselling trilogy Call the Midwife.

“Certainly a woman who was not afraid to change direction in order to follow her calling.  

“She started work as a nurse in the early 1950s after leaving her secretarial job at a local grammar school. She was not one to feel trapped and bored.

“She followed her calling to help others which she found through nursing and midwifery.”

Some of Jenny’s (played by Jessica Raine) storylines are based on Worth’s personal life, but there were some aspects of her life she kept private.

Renz said: “Jennifer kept the details private life very much to herself and her family whilst she was alive.

“After Call the Midwife became such a hit, her family opened up with details about her personal life and history.

“Jennifer grew up in Amersham, however, her parents separated and she became like a mother to her younger sister Christine.

“She left school to work as a secretary at a local grammar school at the age of 14.”

Her family always described her as a free spirit who would always act on her ideas and beliefs.

Renz added: “She reminds me of Sister Maria from the Sound of Music with her singing and impulsiveness.

“After her love affair with a married man ended, it was her vivacious spirit that drove her to take off and discover her purpose in life.

“Jennifer’s journey took her to East London where she started a nursing career which led her to train as a midwife with the nuns of Sisters of St John the Divine.

“She met her husband Philip after delivering his sister’s child and they married in 1963. They had two daughters together.”

As a midwife, she got much more than a glimpse into the lives of 1950s East End families.

Renz said: “Her books describe families living in poor conditions in the slums of the East End, illnesses, disease, bombsites and crime.

“Midwives were respected and protected by all. She was able to ride her bike through streets notorious for high crime levels without being touched.

“Jennifer observed women struggling through dire conditions whilst successfully giving birth at home. There was no birth control available and she recounts a woman having over 25 children.

“She also covers the more hushed-up side of lost babies who were perhaps given away, suffocated or even sold. All officially documented as stillbirths.

“The series also shows how religion played such an important role in her work and her life with the nuns of Sisters of St John the Divine. Jennifer found herself gradually turning to religion as she worked with the nuns which inspired her towards the Christianity faith.”

Ten years after Worth got married, she left nursing and became a music teacher at the London College of Music.  

Renz added: “Jennifer started writing in her 60s. Her first book was published in 1997.

“Call the Midwife was published in 2002 and went on to be a bestseller. The first series of Call the Midwife was aired in 2011, unfortunately, Jennifer died shortly before.”

The creators of the series paid tribute to the hero in the debut episode and she is still remembered to this day.  

Call The Midwife airs on BBC One on Sundays at 8pm. 

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