Thursday, 12 March 2015

Call the Midwife: Deaf and Giving Birth

"Call the Midwife" had a very moving story about a deaf mother, who could not speak, and could only sign, mainly to her husband, who could sign back, and tell the Midwives what she was saying..

The part was played by actress Genevieve Barr, who is in fact deaf, although is able to get some sound with hearing aids. As the Telegraph reported:

“At four years old, she was fitted with her first hearing aids, so was able to match the mouth patterns she had seen to the sounds she now heard, and slowly started to speak out loud. Barr still wears hearing aids, but as she can’t hear all the details of sound she relies on lip-reading to complete the picture.”

Her story, which is set out on the Internet Movie Database, is an amazing tale of overcoming obstactles. Here is what it says:

Genevieve was known by her teachers to be doubly cheeky and passionate. She was also a dreamer. Whilst she loved acting, time and time again she was encouraged to go up for the main parts in school plays and was rejected every time. She never knew whether this was because of the speech impediment that came naturally with profound deafness or because of a lack of acting talent. This was a difficult and sensitive issue for her, and with her academic abilities she opted to go to Edinburgh University to study English and History.

Genevieve graduated Edinburgh University in 2008 with an MA(Hons) in English Literature and History, receiving the Anne Lewis History prize for outstanding results. Whilst at university, Genevieve continued to play lacrosse for Scotland.orn profoundly deaf, the doctors told her parents that she would never learn to speak or fully adapt to a hearing world.

Despite this, Genevieve attended mainstream primary school and went onto Harrogate Ladies College as a day pupil. She achieved top grades at GCSE and a full set of As at A Level. She also played sport at a high level, competing nationally and internationally in high-board diving, playing lacrosse for Scotland and rounders for England.

Whilst at University, Genevieve applied for the Teach First graduate scheme, similar to Teach America and was the first ever deaf person to get in. Teach First is a challenging graduate scheme, which provides six weeks gruelling teaching training before sending its graduates to failing or impoverished schools around the country. Genevieve went to teach English at an inner city secondary comprehensive in South London.

This was a huge challenge for her - her deafness was not a forgiving trait in the classroom, and it was a huge battle to earn the respect of pupils and teachers alike. However, she worked hard and embraced this steep learning curve and it prepared her for other battles in ways in which she could not have envisioned.

A few months into teaching, Genevieve was approached by a casting director who was auditioning deaf and hearing people to play the lead role in BBC1 drama 'The Silence'. 'The Silence' was the story of a deaf teenager who witnesses a murder, who is also adapting to hearing for the first time after a cochlea implant operation. Genevieve auditioned after school hours and finally got the part. Genevieve filmed in Dublin for four months, and 'The Silence' came out in July 2010 to rave reviews.Genevieve was nominated for a BAFTA and an International Emmy for best actress.

As the Telegraph notes, this involved learning how to sign:

“'I tried to learn it a few times, partly because I felt ashamed for not being able to communicate with deaf people who signed, and because I wanted to explore my deaf identity,’ she says. 'But there’s just so much to learn.’ Barr learnt to sign properly for the role. 'I had to come across like I was fluent and had been signing my whole life.’…. 'At the read-through Genevieve made it clear that when people were speaking to her she had to see their lips moving,”

Although she has in fact now also played hearing roles, in “Call the Midwife”, it was the part of a deaf pregnant lady – and one giving birth – that she took. It was beautifully played and signed.

Remark Training (in BSL) were involved in making sure the signing from the husband was accurate, and you can read their report here.

“Having had no prior TV experience, I assumed the couple would have met and would have had script readings or rehearsals together. It turns out that they had never set eyes on each other before. We plunged into the script reading and BSL tutorial straight away and before we knew it we were all merrily discussing child birth, deaf culture and everything in between.”

Genevieve wrote about her own experiences on her blog:

You can read her full account there and please do – it is very moving - but here are a few snippets:

“I've never given birth and even though I'm deaf, I am not fluent in sign - my modus operandi, communication wise, is certainly verbal. There was a lot to learn and it was important to get right.”

“Once the hairdresser had said decidedly that I was not suited to ringlets, but more to quaffs (think less Judy Garland, more Audrey Hepburn), I became a 'June Denton' faced with the prospects of bringing a child into a deaf world, or a hearing world. June is torn between the baby being able to hear, but she not being able to speak to it or vice versa - the baby being born deaf and therefore living in a silent world. A cruel dilemma - accentuated by the fact that hearing aids were not readily available and cochlea implants did not exist. A deaf person could not learn to speak so easily without those resources and segregation and discrimination were rife in society.”

“It's not an easy thing being deaf, and I know that more than most people. If it is a burden, then I carry it most times without being aware of it. If it is a burden and I am aware of it, then I carry it with pride and determination, therefore not really feeling it. But June's grace in her deafness, her delight in the small victories, her realisation that love can be conveyed without sound and without sound left me with more confidence than before - that regardless of which way my children go in the world, they will be loved and know they are loved.”

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