I just knew that this week’s first episode of the 5th Season of Call the Midwives on PBS would have a backstory that someone would cover and I found it in Vanity Fair.
This is my obligatory spoiler alert. If you missed it and plan to see it don’t read any further. If you’ve never seen the show I recommend trying to catch it on PBS’s online page if they go back to the first season. This is one compelling series that brings me to tears so regularly I try to hide my tears because I use more tissues than Claudia getting through it and, Damn it, I’m a guy.
The series is set in London’s East End just after the war. Sunday night I was little short of astonished when the baby depicted being birthed, cord and all, had flippers for hands and mangled legs. It almost certainly couldn’t have been CGI. The producers had found a rare infant born with the cataclysmic deformity to use in the episode. I knew immediately what it was because I was reading about it in my Scholastic magazines back in junior high school. thalidomide. It was drug used to ease the pain of morning sickness and it Japan extremely hard and I saw beautiful photographs taken of the babies with shrunken and/or missing limbs. I vaguely recall that it was mentioned in the fourth season at a time when no one had any idea what the drug would unleash overseas. The United States escaped the tragedy because our FDA hadn’t approved the drug for use here.
This particular program didn’t make me all that weepy but that might have been because my youngest grandson, a kindergartner, sat down at the beginning of the episode and watched it through with us. We had a lot of questions to answer. He grew quiet as he saw an angry father reject the baby whose limbs were not hidden from the television audience. Then again we saw the child swaddled and sweet as can be much of the time. This was a tender moment of learning that I was happy to share. It bore scant comparison with the PG-13 movies of cartoon mayhem our kids see routinely. My daughter reminded her son of Duluth’s latest phenom, Gaelynn Lee, who’s stunning musicianship brought her to the attention of the National Public Radio audience. My daughter made sure to show him the tiny concert video when it came out. Gaelynn has Brittle Bone disease but the consequences are similar.
According to the Variety article thalidomide will circle back through the season as it did all through the 1960’s when no one had any idea what brought it about.
Today its the Zika virus that threatens our newborns. Our kids will be hearing about that on the news like I heard about thalidomide.