TV midwives and this cruel betrayal of single mums

Along with 8.6 million other viewers, I was gripped by Sunday night’s second episode of Call The Midwife — which made me fervently thankful I didn’t have to give birth in the Fifties.

No detail of the brutal business is spared, from the wince-making horrors of enemas — administered, terrifyingly, via a glass tube — to the squalor of East End tenements where so many deliveries took place.

In those not-so-long-ago days, complications we now view as minor inconveniences could sometimes kill both baby and mother, as we were movingly reminded in a spell-binding scene with Miranda Hart as a ludicrously posh midwife pulling off a successful breech delivery.

Call the Midwife: The popular BBC series made Sandra Parsons fervently thankful she didnt have to give birth in the Fifties

Call the Midwife: The popular BBC series made Sandra Parsons fervently thankful she didn't have to give birth in the Fifties

Meanwhile, over on Channel 4 on Wednesday nights, the equally gripping award-winning documentary series One Born Every Minute is providing a detailed look at birth in the 21st century. Last week’s episode showed a first-time mother at risk of dangerous bleeding giving birth safely and calmly by Caesarean — a procedure that had only recently become available on the NHS in the Fifties.

This series is filmed in the clean and comfortable maternity unit of a Leeds teaching hospital. Pain relief is freely available, together with state-of-the-art technology and a constant flow of midwives and doctors. You don’t have to be a social historian to realise just how huge the advances in childbirth have been.

Except, that is, in one area. I’m thinking of single mothers, who were so badly treated in the Fifties, and continue to be let down today but in a very different way.

Call The Midwife featured the heart-rending story of a 15-year-old girl tricked by a pimp into working in a brothel. When she discovers she’s pregnant, she knows she faces the horrors of a backstreet abortion (‘there’s a woman comes, with a hook’) so she runs away, and ends up in a Catholic home for single mothers.

Having given birth, she falls in love with her daughter. But the baby is taken away for adoption anyway, despite her agonised wails.

Meanwhile, on One Born Every Minute, we watched with equally appalled fascination as 18-year-old Leanne told us she was determined to keep her baby, even though the father ‘didn’t want to know’.

One Born Every Minute: This Channel 4 documentary series proves how far we have come - and how far we still need to go...

One Born Every Minute: This Channel 4 documentary series proves how far we have come – and how far we still need to go…

At 18, of course, Leanne is too young to
understand just how difficult it will be to bring up her son, Alfie,
without a father — not just physically, but emotionally and mentally.
Nor does she have the faintest inkling of the likely consequences: that,
as the son of a single mother, Alfie is far more likely to grow up in
poverty, to do less well at school, to suffer from behavioural problems
and depression, and to turn to drugs and heavy drinking.

Don’t misunderstand me: the last thing
I’m advocating is a return to the days when single mothers had their
babies forcibly removed and given up for adoption. But I do believe
strongly that our policies for dealing with girls like Leanne are just
as hopelessly misguided.

In the past 20 years, the proportion
of British mothers bringing up a child on their own has doubled, from 10
per cent to 20 per cent — the highest rate of any major European
country. Politicians have naively assumed that this is because their
partners have walked out on them, but the truth is that, increasingly,
they have no partners at all.

reasons for having a baby are often to do with wanting unconditional
love and the material changes in their lives that, thanks to income
support and housing benefit, not to mention child benefit of 20 a week,
will follow.

There are
other reasons why Britain has so many young mothers. As we grow ever
more secular, religion no longer acts as a brake — unlike in Germany,
Austria, Spain, France and Italy. And, unlike many of those countries,
we still don’t offer tax relief for those who choose to marry.

addition, our education system has been short-changing children for
decades, sending too many 16-year-olds into the world with poor literacy
and numeracy — not to mention a total lack of aspiration.

The result is that for many young girls today, getting pregnant is not something to be avoided at all costs, as it was back in the Fifities, but an active choice that they make. A choice most of our political leaders have been too timid to condemn for fear of being seen as ‘judgmental’.

So yes, let’s pat ourselves on the back for transforming the experience of childbirth since the Fifties.

But we could also learn some valuable lessons from that much-derided decade — not by bringing back baby-snatching in maternity units, but by promoting a simple truth: for a new life coming into the world, nothing beats having a married mother and father to support you.

Versace is strictly tasteless
Fashion for the super-rich: Versace's new collection includes dresses that make Tess Daly's frocks look stylish by comparison

Fashion for the super-rich: Versace's new collection includes dresses that make Tess Daly's frocks look stylish by comparison

With the global economy still in crisis and most of the world in recession, Donatella Versace has deemed it the right time to reintroduce, after an absence of eight years, her eye-wateringly expensive fashion line for the super-rich.

The extortionately priced couture designs, shown in Paris on Monday, were notable for their almost total lack of desirability.

The off-the-shoulder sequinned lime number even managed to achieve what I’d always thought impossible — making Tess Daly’s outfits seem stylish by comparison.


This week’s issue of the fashion magazine Grazia devotes an entire page to the vexed question: should you wear a fascinator I can help with this one. The answer is ‘No’.


I loved the book, but I’m afraid I found the first part of the BBC’s adaptation of Birdsong too long and too slow. Its Old Etonian star Eddie Redmayne also left me cold. Like Douglas Booth, who played Pip in Great Expectations, he’s far too girly, with a baby face and lips like Angelina Jolie’s. Where have all the real men gone Not to drama school, that’s for sure.

It's the click of death

My heart sank when I saw those photographs of Theresa May posing for a magazine. Why do women politicians do this

Of course, the idea is seductive. Who wouldn’t want to be cosseted for three hours while you have your hair and make-up done before putting on expensive clothes and having a professional photographer tell you how fantastic you look

But for women MPs, the glossy magazine photograph is the death knell that ends careers. Mark my words: the minute a promising woman politician agrees to pose for the camera, her career goes into decline.

Edwina Currie and Caroline Flint made the cardinal mistake of posing coquettishly for the camera; Betty Boothroyd, Shirley Williams and Margaret Thatcher never did. Advice to women MPs: just say no!

An exhibition of photographs of Lucian Freud taken by the great painter’s assistant includes the most extraordinary image of Kate Moss I’ve ever seen.

Taken two years ago, they are snuggled up, fully clothed, in bed — and she is blissfully content. If that’s not a picture of pure love, I don’t know what is.

Blissfully content: Sandra says if this picture of Kate Moss and Lucien Freud is not a picture of pure love, she doesn't know what is

Blissfully content: Sandra says if this picture of Kate Moss and Lucien Freud is not a picture of pure love, she doesn't know what is

Setbacks breed success

More from Sandra Parsons…

Spare us the honeymoon night tales, Mr Cameron

Where are the Iron Ladies of today Our female politicians are too concerned with power and publicity


What Harry Judd could teach Nick Clegg about marriage

For less mess and more fun, let men run Christmas!

The advert that urges girls to lose self respect


We need more men like magical Mr Malone


SANDRA PARSONS: Why more TV means less family viewing

Does a perfect wife always dress to please her husband



All mothers want their children to be happy, but that’s an increasingly elusive goal, as Kirsty Young pointed out in an interview this week. Instead, she says, we should all be hoping that our children develop a sense of self-worth.

But to me, self-worth sounds dangerously like self-esteem, and there’s far too much of that around these days. Researchers in the U.S. — where self-esteem became the damaging mantra of the most-indulged generation ever — are saying that if we really want our children to succeed, they need to fail.

It’s only by experiencing failure and learning how to overcome it that you develop the resilience you need for adult life.

What’s more, it’s even more important than IQ as a predictor of future success. So the Westerns had it right all along: what we need is true grit.

Victoria Beckham has posed for a Japanese fashion magazine in a white corset. Six months after giving birth to her fourth child, her waist is predictably tiny. What I don’t understand, though, is why someone so fantastically image-conscious has failed to notice she’s got the posture of an old lady. Don’t bend it, Beckham — stand up straight!

Don't bend it like Beckham: Victoria shows off an impressive post-pregnancy body... but the posture of an old lady

Don't bend it like Beckham: Victoria shows off an impressive post-pregnancy body… but the posture of an old lady

However you dress it up, nature isn't gender neutral

A Cambridgeshire couple who pride themselves on bringing up their son to be ‘gender neutral’ have encouraged him to wear girls’ clothes whenever the fancy takes him.

There’s nothing new in this idea: after all, feminists have argued for years that girls need to be encouraged to think beyond pink princesses, while boys should be encouraged to play with dolls. Can they be right Not according to a new book by a professor of linguistics, John Locke, who concludes that men tend to ‘duel’ when they talk, while women ‘duet’.

No gender neutrality there — and that’s not surprising, says Professor Locke, because nature isn’t gender neutral, either.

The mistake we make, he argues, is to assume that children can be encouraged to be more male or female when, in fact, their behaviour is innate.

A few years ago, he adds, the President of Harvard University decided to give his twin two-year-old daughters trucks to play with instead of dolls.

Then one day he heard the girls saying to each other: ‘Look! Daddy truck is carrying the baby truck.’