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Why serious conversations about deafness on ‘The Bachelor’ are important

deaf bachelorette
It’s Week 5 of ‘The Bachelor,’ and our girl Abigail Heringer is still vying for Matt James’ heart. In the most recent episode, which aired February 1, Abigail has a serious conversation with Matt about her deafness.

We look at her status on the show, how her hearing loss is being portrayed, and why serious conversations about deafness are important to see on TV, especially with the first deaf contestant on “The Bachelor.”

*Warning: This review has spoilers!

The first deaf Bachelor contestant is one of many women

Before Abigail gets to her serious conversation with Matt about deafness, she’s part of a group date on a farm. They get to help with all sorts of farm chores, including shoveling manure. When Matt kisses one of the women in full view of another, much jealousy abounds.

Read more: My take on the first deaf contestant on ‘The Bachelor’ – Week 1

Abigail tells the camera, “It’s definitely settling in that we’re all dating the same guy. It’s hard to see the other women have that connection with him.”

That evening, a dejected Abigail says, “We’re halfway through this process and I definitely kind of cracked a little bit. I feel like my connection just isn’t as far along as the other girls. So the time that I get I need to make it meaningful. I don’t want to miss, like, a great opportunity to take our relationship to the next level.”

The serious conversation about hearing loss

Matt asks Abigail what she thought of the group date. She tells him that her grandparents actually have a farm, though she’s never been on it. Now she can finally understand what they’re going through. She admits she was kind of defeated. “I know, like, we joke around a lot, like obviously like about the group dates and stuff, but…”

“What’s wrong?” a concerned Matt asks.

“Nothing’s wrong. I think there’s just something about you, like I’m super excited, um, I don’t know,” Abigail says. “I literally get the biggest smile on my face when I’m around you, but I also wanna be as open with you through this process. My biggest fear has become that I’m gonna disappoint you. You want a wife and you want a family. You know I want those things too, but you know if I were to have a family, um, there is a really strong possibility, you know, that…my kids would be deaf. My birth dad did walk out on my mom and my sister right after we got our cochlear implants.

“In no way do I, you know, view my hearing loss as baggage. But when you have, you know, what should’ve been one of the most important people in your life [gentle music]…you know, walk out, it’s hard not to feel like, you know, if I fully open myself up to somebody, are they gonna do the same thing?”

“There is a really strong possibility, you know, that…my kids would be deaf.”

Matt’s reaction

“Can I tell you something?” Matt asks. “I can’t imagine what that’s been like for you, but I can relate to not having a dad growing up.” He adds that he’s not ashamed of it and it’s made him who he is.

“The things that you’re seeing as a barrier and a roadblock, these are things that I look at you and I admire about you and are encouraging to me about what a future with you would look like,” Matt says. Abigail feels a lot better and they make out.

Matt tells the camera that it was “extremely courageous” of Abigail to share that with him. He calls her extremely vulnerable by opening up about things that worry her. He’s looking for someone who will push and challenge him, and make him a better person. “I think Abigail does that,” he says.

Matt gives Abigail the Group Date Rose because, he says, she was extremely vulnerable to him tonight. In case you haven’t been paying attention, this means that opening up about your past and sharing your deep dark fears will get you further along on this show.

Read more: 7 Tips for Dating with Hearing Loss

Why we need to talk about hearing loss

The New York Times recently published an article entitled “As More Deaf People Are Seen on TV, Others Want to Be Heard.” It covers how onscreen representation often falls short by not showing deaf people who can speak and wear hearing aids and/or cochlear implants. Abigail is mentioned as an example of the kind of representation we need. Ashley Derrington, a writer for HearingLikeMe and Phonak “hEARo,” is quoted. She describes Abigail as one of the first speaking deaf people she’s seen in mainstream media.

So, not only is it a big deal that Abigail is on “The Bachelor,” but the serious conversation she has with Matt is too. It’s one of her longer scenes. This means viewers are really getting a chance to see *gasp!* a deaf person speak. And the topic is relatable to many of us with hearing significant others. I remember asking my now-husband, “What if our kids are deaf?” Being the engineer he is, he was focused on the logistics – i.e. saying we’d just move to where there was an oral school or program. That was his only concern.

Having the conversation yourself

Likewise, when Stacey Carroll – who is profoundly deaf and has a cochlear implant — had a similar conversation with her husband Matt, he “passed the test.” He was less concerned than she was about the possibility of having deaf kids. “I knew of the difficulties being deaf encompassed, whereas he just saw me and how well I was doing, and didn’t think it was that big a deal,” Stacey says. “He was much more concerned about other illnesses in his own family being passed onto the kids than he was about deafness. We figured that if our kids were deaf, they’re living in a time when CIs are done very young and with early intervention. They would do very well – even better than I have been able to do.”

Christine Anthony – who has cochlear implants – actually didn’t have this kind of serious conversation with her husband Jeremy. She calls having a child with a hearing loss a non-issue, because she’s an expert in what to do. But she says this brings up an interesting question. Is one obligated to tell a potential parent partner about any genetic potentials? She personally says no. “Why is the possibility of hearing loss genetically any different than, say, heart disease?” she asks. “I don’t think people usually say, Oh, by the way, if you and I have kids, they might have heart disease. You might want to reconsider kids with me.

Read more: How we pursued a cochlear implant for our child

However, it’s important to be upfront with a potential spouse. Failure to communicate things like this could result in problems down the line. Given how her own father reacted, of course Abigail would want to take measures to avoid the same outcome with a future partner.

Stacey, Christine, and I all ended up having hearing kids. Ironically, both of my kids have celiac disease and my daughter has a second autoimmune disease – both of which are larger threats to their health than deafness would have been.

Author Details
Lisa A. Goldstein has a Masters in Journalism from UC Berkeley, a digital hearing aid, a cochlear implant, and plenty of deaf-friendly communication equipment. She spends her days juggling life as a freelance journalist, wife, and mother of two in Pittsburgh, PA.