Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Vera Drake

Last weekend I finally got around to renting Vera Drake.

The movie has been out for a year or more, so I'm guessing anyone who really wanted to see it would have already. If you haven't seen it and think, "well if it's fodder for doulicia, I may want to," let me give you this teaser: It is a Mike Leigh movie (think lots of dialogue, low-key pacing...) it concerns women and reproduction in the 1950s. It provides yet another example of humanity versus clinicality (?) in female care. 'Nuff said.

**now the spoilers**

The plot of Vera Drake unfolds very nicely. We see sweet, gentle Vera going her daily rounds. She works as a house cleaner. She stops in to visit and tend to several invalid relatives. She returns home to provide all the staples of a happy home: dinner, hot tea, love.

Only much later does the film reveal that occasionally her daily rounds occasionally include visiting "young girls in trouble." She scrubs her hands with a brush, grates carbonic soap into warm water, and uses a syphon to pump the liquid into women's wombs. With a tender smile and a pat she explains that in a week or two, bleeding will start. Off she goes. She doesn't charge women anything and leaves them with a pot of tea for comfort.

At the same time as this revelation is happening, the daughter from one of the homes Vera cleans gets raped. She can afford a more "professional" resolution to her ensuing pregnancy. And so we watch her move from physician examination to psychological examination (where she fabricates a crazy aunt and her own suicidal thoughts --is it really fabrication? -- to legitimize her need for an abortion) to her return home.

The movie focuses on Vera's ultimate arrest. Abortion is not legal. She has been breaking the law for roughly 20 years, we learn.

The arrest and trial were wrenching. What I keep thinking about, however, is the quality of care Vera provided and how it compared to the alternative. She cared for women in their homes, with friends and family present, and with empathy for the pregnant women. Though she is ultimately caught when one of her clients becomes infected and nearly dies, it remains unclear whether this was Vera's only sick patient or just the only one she is aware of. It is true that Vera did not sterilize her equipment between uses.

By comparison, the medical establishment separated the woman from her family. Indeed, by requiring "reasons" for the abortion (whether real or invented), it effectively woman from herself. She could not be wholly herself and get the treatment she desired.

Abortion issues aside (though I'll go there someday, I promise), one can compare the abortion situation in Vera's day to the homebirth situation today. Our homebirth midwives provide the personalized, wholistic (and thankfully more sterile) care. Our medical institutions often require the isolation of the laboring mother from her support structures and her true self.

Vera Drake made me think of homebirth midwives who are put on trial for illegally practicing medicine. In both the movie and real life the medical profession applies a double standard: it is both suspicious of lay-practitioners' technique and also less skilled at doing the same task in a humane way.


Blogger Louisa said...

I Loved it too.

2:12 AM  
Blogger I am a Milliner's Dream, a woman of many "hats"... said...

Fascinating post...I haven't seen it (and likely won't until after June, 2007 and graduation!)


1:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An excellent movie and one that teaches us much about humanity and caring people versus the "established" medical practices of our current times. I wish more medical practicioners were doing their job for the greater good of their patients rather than to more easily afford their next Mercedes.

4:51 AM  
Anonymous Sildenafil said...

the movie present a interesting thematic, the problems that have to suffer a women only for defend her beliefs and thoughts, from my part I gonna put a two thumbs up.

11:50 AM  

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