Hearing loss & parenting
Kirsteen’s view …
I don’t think it fully hit me how deaf I was, and how much my hearing had deteriorated, until I became a mother to my daughter Niamh. My husband was unable to get a full two weeks off his work and therefore it was me alone in the house with a newborn baby daughter entirely dependent on me.
Whilst my family were great and my own mother especially came up every day to help, I still worried. I had cribs both upstairs and downstairs, and I carried my daughter in her baby bouncer from room to room.
I made contact with a social worker to see what equipment would be available and whilst she was helpful and tried her best to find the right equipment for me, none of it worked effectively.
Doorbells and alarms
The flashing doorbells did not go off when they should, the extra loud doorbells just woke Niamh up from her nap, the vibrating baby alarms went off all the time (or not when they should!).
I was determined to prove that my deafness would not stop me from being a good mother, to the extent that I insisted my husband woke me every time Niamh woke up, rather than leaving me to sleep and helping out himself. The result was an exhausted mother and a husband who felt he wasn’t being included.
Things got easier as my daughter got older. Its amazing how adaptive and perceptive children can be. Even as a baby, Niamh seemed to instinctively know that her mummy needed help. I learned to watch her body language. If she suddenly turned her head and looked in the direction of the door, then there was someone knocking! Even before she could speak, she was crawling, or bum-shuffling in the direction of noises, or she would simply point.
As she learned to speak, things became a bit harder as she did not yet have all the words to tell me what she wanted, and became very frustrated! We quickly developed a way of communicating to get around my deafness and her limited words. I simply asked her to ‘show mummy’. She would then take my hand and lead me to whatever it was. For example, she would lead me to the fridge if she was hungry, or the television if she wanted me to change the channel! I vividly remember a Niamh of about 15 months old, giving me a thumbs up when I guessed correctly what she wanted!
Mummy’s ears don’t work
She also began to grab my chin and turn my face towards her, as she knew, without really understanding, that I needed to lip-read and see her face. Unfortunately, she still does this with everyone she speaks to! She also hits people really hard on the arm for their attention, again a habit developed from having a mummy who cannot hear her. Apologies to all those people out there with bruises!
I feel that deafness is quite hard for a child under five to fully understand, so we have always described my hearing to Niamh as mummy having ‘broken ears’ or ears that ‘don’t work properly’. She does not really know what a hearing aid or a cochlear implant does, just that it helps to make mummy’s ears work. So every morning before speaking to me, she would always say ‘is your hearing aid in mummy?’ whilst pointing to her ears. Now that I have a cochlear implant, Niamh very proudly tells everyone to ‘look at mummy’s new ear’.
An older child
Niamh is now four and a half and has started school. I quickly became aware that she was in the classroom and talking very loud whilst in it! A few days into her first year, I made a point of taking her teacher aside and explaining exactly why Niamh spoke so loud, as well as the ‘grabbing faces’ thing and ‘hitting on the arm’. Hopefully I have avoided her getting unintentionally into trouble!
Being deaf makes teaching her road safety quite easy. I simply tell her that she needs to look for traffic because mummy can’t hear it. So she is extra careful to stop, look and listen, and she pulls me out the way whenever she sees a car approaching.
Niamh has also helped me in shops and other situations. I recall being at a soft play counter whilst Niamh played with some children she knew. I couldn’t hear the assistant very well. Suddenly a wee voice piped up “are you okay mummy? Do you need me to hear for you?” and turning to the assistant she said “My mummy is deaf. You have to look at her so she can see your lips”. All this from a four year old.
I’m sure she will continue to help me throughout her life. We are very close. However, I do not want to be completely reliant on either my daughter or my husband. I want Niamh to enjoy her childhood without worrying about me. For this reason, I am now on the waiting list for a Hearing Dog for Deaf People and I hope to be placed with one next year.
Isabelle says …
I find it hard at times, because I often can’t hear my 5-year old son and I need to ask him to repeat many times, especially when he speaks English. I speak French to him and since he’s learnt all his French through me, I find it easier to anticipate what he says in French.
Also, French has frequencies that I can hear better and I’ve taught him to speak very clearly in French, but in English, he speaks too fast and not always that clearly. He’s extremely sociable, he speaks to everyone, everywhere and has an amazing vocabulary for his age. It breaks my heart when he starts a conversation in a cafe, or a shop, or in the street and I can see that the adult he’s speaking to is finding him really interesting and smiling, but I have no idea what either is saying.
He is very good at repeating when I can’t hear him (or signing simple signs when I don’t have my hearing aid in), but it’s not so easy for him to tell me what he has just been talking about with other people. I also really miss not hearing him talk in his play alone, or with other children, which of course, is one way that parents learn so much about their children.
It’s also hard when meeting up with other parents, or at the playground, as it’s difficult to hear other people and start conversations that could lead to friendships. Sometimes I get funny looks at the playground. I don’t know if they’ve talked to me, or they expect me to respond to something my son said to someone else… it can be very frustrating.
Having said that, it’s compensated 1 billion times over by the joy that having such a wonderful son brings me. I miss many things my son says, but I would be missing so much more if he hadn’t been born!