Findlay considers herself lucky. She has a job that she loves, and every day is different: “Every day I am involved in life-changing and life-affirming situations. The people I work for will never forget how I made them feel. Every day I get to see the very best in humanity: love, support, bravery and strength.”
Many people see midwifery as a dream job filled with immensely rewarding daily challenges. However, Findlay also happens to have severe-to-profound hearing loss. Being a deaf midwife has its challenges, but Findlay doesn’t let that stop her from living her passions.
A midwife’s work is highly skilled and involves communication at its heart.
“Some may say surely that could be a good thing, laboring women can be loud!” says Findlay. “But a midwife is also there when a woman can’t get the words out for crying with happiness as she holds her newborn, or in devastation at realizing she never will. A midwife is there when a woman suffers such anxiety she can’t look at you and covers her face with her hands. A midwife is there when a woman cannot speak English and is doing her best to tell you something in what few words she knows.”
How has Findlay overcome what she herself sees as a disability, in order to help these women who need her?
The short answer to this question is easy, because she hasn’t exactly overcome it. She has learned to adapt and accept the limitations that being a deaf midwife can pose.
“It’s a busy Monday morning and I’ve popped into the midwives’ office at the hospital to pick up some equipment,” Findlay says. “I am going out to see a lady who had her baby yesterday and she’s had a difficult night. I am keen to get on my way. Then the phone rings. There’s no one else around. I feel a surge of panic, my heart rate increases, and the adrenaline starts pumping. Should I just slip out of the door? No one would know. This is my disability taking control. I am a midwife, I remind myself. Someone may need my help.”
Because of her hearing loss, Findlay has developed a fear of telephones. Many of us with hearing loss can understand this particular phobia. So at times she has to remind herself of her duty of care and force her trembling hand to pick up the phone.
The hardest thing at times like these is the phone conversation, which can feel almost one-sided with Lucy attempting to understand the caller’s needs and information.
Having hearing loss affect your job can feel far more than merely frustrating, especially if the situation at the other end of the line may be desperate. To cope, Findlay will often ask random questions in the hopes of hearing a “yes” to one of them. Sometimes, she has to mute the phone and run to find a hearing colleague to take the message down for her. Hearing colleagues can find this odd, to say the least, and Findlay says she is often left feeling helpless and embarrassed by the whole situation.
On these occasions, Findlay has experienced irritability, negativity, and anger. These emotions are a long way from the ideal qualities set out by The Royal College of Midwives in 2012 which are: be patient, compassionate, caring, and a good communicator.
Of course it wasn’t that she lacked any of the qualities of a good midwife. Instead, in order to do the job she loved so much, Findlay knew that she would have to find better ways of coping.
“I am ashamed to say I really should have come to terms with this sooner,” says Findlay. “I developed mild to moderate hearing loss in my late teens – that’s nearly 20 years to get used to it! But when you are an image conscious 18-year-old, big brown hearing aids just aren’t part of your identity. So I hid them, or didn’t wear them at all. I tried to keep up with my hearing friends who were unaware as they shouted over the music in the club.
“Sleepovers and whispers left me feeling isolated and left out, but I could not tell anyone about my loss without getting upset. I so wanted to be ‘normal.’ I thought I was managing; I thought no one knew. But really they knew all along. It gets to a point where you can’t hide it anymore. I very slowly realized that if people knew I was deaf, they wouldn’t think I was stupid, which was even worse. My loss is thought to be linked to auto-immunity which means it will slowly continue to worsen. Twenty years on, I have no hearing in my right ear and my left is now classified as severe.”
“I very slowly realized that if people knew I was deaf, they wouldn’t think I was stupid, which was even worse.”
It was through a near family tragedy that Findlay found the strength and the resolve to really do something about her hearing loss. Her sister’s first child, Noah, had bacterial meningitis when he was only a few days old. Noah struggled with the illness for weeks, as his body — with the help of antibiotics — waged its own little war. The very antibiotics given to help save his life also damaged his ears, leaving him with hearing loss.
“When that brave baby smiled at my voice, with his little blue hearing aids in, I realized how lucky we were that we had such technology to help us to hear the voices of our loved ones and manage in a hearing world,” Findlay says. “I vowed to confront my own hearing loss as an example to Noah that it was not a disability that should limit his choices in any way.”
After that, Findlay began to talk openly about being hard of hearing to her colleagues and friends. As a deaf midwife, she also joined online support groups and chat rooms for hearing loss. She began turning her life around, by encouraging and helping others in similar situations. This helped her find herself in a position where she could advise others.
“Now that people are aware of my disability, they get my attention before speaking,” says Findlay. “They face me; they speak clearly. If I can’t hear a woman I am caring for, I have learned how to let her know. I have finally realized she doesn’t think less of me as a midwife because of it.”
One good thing that came from sharing her deafness with others was that Findlay learned about the UK’s Access To Work scheme. This helps provide equipment for workplaces in the UK to ensure that a person with a disability can do his/her job to the best of his/her ability.
“I am now a bit of a RoboMidwife!” says Findlay. “I have a Phonak Roger Mic, which helps so much in seminars and meetings, and a Phonak Roger Pen, which acts as a microphone I can pop on the desk when I am speaking to women. I have even finally made friends with the phone by using my Roger Select telephone adapter. The caller’s voice comes through both of my hearing aids loud and clear. I’ve even found myself saying the unthinkable ‘I’ll get it’ when it rings!”
Having the right support, both with her technology and within her community, has given Findlay new confidence and has enabled her to formulate new coping strategies and success as a deaf midwife.
She has been offered a Cochlear Implant Assessment, however, Findlay’s audiology team feels that she is doing very well as she is at this time. She knows that they will offer her full support should she decide to go down that road at a later date.
“A good friend once said to me, ‘You don’t hear well, so you listen more,'” says Findlay. “I suppose that when you look at it that way, it might even be a blessing.”
She has been recently promoted to senior midwife, something she once felt her hearing loss would prevent. This deaf midwife is definitely ready to answer the next call.