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Interview with hard of hearing mama Janna Cowper

hard of hearing mama

Janna Cowper is a Phonak hEARo and mother with hearing loss to two hard of hearing children. She has been making waves by sharing her stories and experiences on Instagram (@hardofhearingmama).

Hearing Like Me recently caught up with Janna to learn more about her hearing loss journey and how she’s raising her hard of hearing kiddos. 

HLM: Tell us a little bit about yourself. 
Janna: My name is Janna and I’m 42 years old. I’m originally from Montreal, Quebec, Canada. I left home after my first round of college to continue my education in Ontario. After my schooling was complete, I lived and worked in Toronto, Ontario for 15 years. I started my career as an HTML programmer and ended up working as a creative services manager for a large corporation. I met my husband in continuing education classes for marketing. When he got a job offer in Southern California, we decided to take the leap and move. Since we’ve been here, we got married, and had two beautiful daughters who are currently ages 5 and 2. They are also hard of hearing – inherited from me.

HLM: Now that we have some background about where you’re from, can you share some details about your hearing loss?
Janna: My hearing loss is a moderate-to-profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. It is genetic in my family. If you don’t pass it on, it never gets passed on. But if I do pass it on (which I did), there’s always a chance my kids will pass it on, too. I’ve worn hearing aids since I was two or three years old. My parents chose to mainstream me as a child and enrolled me in the Oral School for the Deaf as a preschool option before I was fully mainstreamed in elementary. Through elementary and most of high school, I had a speech therapist come to see me once a week.

Read more: Stresses and rewards of genetic testing for hearing loss

HLM: You mentioned that your kids inherited their hearing loss from you and that it is genetic in your family. What was it like growing up with people who had similar experiences to you?
Janna: This is an interesting question. My family comes from a long line of the same gene that causes hearing loss, but as far back as I can go, it doesn’t appear they were ever part of Deaf culture. They’ve always been part of an oral hearing world and worked hard to blend in. That mindset has been passed down, so when I grew up, I believed that I had to wear my hair down, cover my hearing aids, and try to be like everyone else. While I did grow up with my mother and sister also being hard of hearing, it wasn’t a topic of discussion in our house. We only talked about the technical details of needing to go to the audiologist or getting new hearing aids/ear molds and things like that. I don’t want this to reflect negatively on my parents’ choice to be oral only. They followed what had been passed down. However, my mother has always been a strong advocate regardless that I can do anything I want to do. Even when she wondered why I pursued photography or graphic design, she never discouraged me from the choices I made for my career. Instead, she encouraged me. I don’t think I’d be who I am without her support in my life. Even now, we don’t agree on our hearing loss being good vs. bad. But we do have the discussions now. And while we disagree, I love that we now talk about it. It allows me to understand a part of her that I hadn’t before.

HLM: That’s interesting, thanks for sharing! What is it like being a mother with hearing loss to children with hearing loss?
Janna: It’s hard to say as I have only ever had hearing loss and been a mother to kids with hearing loss. There’s nothing to compare it to. This is my normal. I would say that it’s exactly like being a mother or parent. Kids need to eat, play, sleep. They need to go to the doctor/dentist and all those fun things. The one difference is the extra appointments for audiology, teacher of the deaf, speech pathologist. They are extra and do require communication between partners to arrange. It’s a lot of extra time. There’s also the added expense of hearing devices for three of us. Beyond those two things – it’s like raising kids. Do I feel an extra connection to my kids because of our hearing loss? Yes. It is something I feel we’ll always be able to relate to each other about and talk about – or at least, I hope. I want to show them that their world is big, and their opportunities are constant. That said, I don’t want to put it above normal connections we feel. Such as the fact that my husband loves Mustangs and fixing cars. And our girls love Mustangs and learning about fixing cars, and that’s a connection they will always share that will be for them.

Sieh dir diesen Beitrag auf Instagram an

Ein Beitrag geteilt von Janna | Hard of Hearing Mama (@hardofhearingmama)


HLM: I want to go back for a second to your experiences growing up. Tell us a bit more about your hearing loss journey to date. How have others helped you through your hearing loss journey?
Janna: When I was young, I believed I had to hide my ears by wearing my hair down and act like everyone else. I wasn’t purposely taught this; it’s what I saw around me. What my family saw around them. I was very insecure and shy. Every time I did speak out, somehow, I was doing something wrong. As a child I was teased and in high school I was bullied. It was horrible and I had to talk myself into going to school every day.

By chance, I was introduced to a sleep away camp in Maine. This camp changed my life. I went there for three years, which was a major financial burden for my parents and one that I am forever grateful for. It was the first time I was truly on my own (age 13), in another country and meeting people from all around the world. When someone asked about my hearing loss, I had to answer. When I needed something, I had to tell someone. There was no one doing it for me. Even introducing myself – there was no single friend to hide behind to wait for an introduction. I had to step up and do it myself.

I always say now that in talking about oneself, you learn about yourself. Introducing myself to others, allowed me to not only show – but to see who I am. Slowly confidence started to emerge. And when I went home and back to high school, I slowly started to make my own friends, and my ability to speak for myself allowed the bullying to subside and by my final high school year (age 16), diminish. (High school in Quebec runs from Grade 7-11.)

The biggest thing I learned in going to camp was from someone who taught me that being different is good. It’s ok if you’re a bit strange or a bit weird. There are people who will love you for that no matter what.

Read more: Growing up with hearing loss: Gaining confidence to be yourself  

HLM: You’ve touched on this some already, but what specific obstacles have you had to overcome as someone with hearing loss? 
Janna: I think the biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome is my own anxiety about who I am. In accepting who I am, and speaking out about what I need, things got easier. I still struggle with insecurity and shyness, and fear of taking a chance. But it’s always easier to be open and honest and then that hurdle is out of the way – not keeping you from tripping over your own feet.

“In accepting who I am, and speaking out about what I need, things got easier.”

I’ve had to overcome anxiety about going out with friends. Working through my relationships with people to understand that I won’t always follow everything – and that sometimes I need a listening break. And sometimes I squeal (hearing aids) when someone hugs me.

I’d say that by looking at the issue such as anxiety about going to a restaurant and going anyway – you overcome a lot and learn a lot about how you navigate through that. And while being willing to face an environment like that head on, also knowing when you’re simply not up to it – and opting out.

Read more: The connection between hearing loss and anxiety 

HLM: Thank you for that wisdom! Shifting gears slightly, you have your own business and work in the marketing/design industry. What’s that experience been like? Have there been any particular work challenges where your hearing loss has worked to your advantage or maybe where you felt like you were at a disadvantage?
Janna: When I worked for a company, I felt an imposter syndrome that someone without disability needs would be looked at more favorably. It prevented me from asking for exactly what I needed. Starting my own business helped my confidence in this area. With my own business, for some reason I’m not afraid of being looked over because of my disability. I state my disability upfront and as a fact and people are really ok with it. I think because I work more directly with clients – decision makers who are hiring me for my expertise vs. working for managers and with large teams who are working up through a hierarchy of people, where you can get really lost in the trenches, and phone calls with 15 people that make you really conscious of your disability.

When asking for accommodations in a large corporation, there’s a lot of process and hoops to go through to get things approved. As my own boss, there’s no accommodation which I’m going to deny myself or turn down that will help me perform better. I got myself the right headphones. The right microphone. The right captioning software. I am responsible for my accommodations. I see now that they are not really as big a deal as I made them out to be – also easy to implement.

Read more: Employment rights for people with hearing loss

HLM: You’ve built up a great following and community on Instagram. What inspired you to share your story there? What do you hope people gain from what you share?
Janna: “It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you’re doing something.” I started my career in photography and then as an HTML coder. How did I end up leading creative teams and then starting a marketing business? One thing leads to another. Our path is never straight. I started my new business at the eve of the pandemic. Things were going great but with my kids ages 4 and 1 at home, I had to put it aside. I found myself sharing stories with my family about my kids and their language activities. This started Hard of Hearing Mama. My original goal was to show the fun you can have raising hard of hearing kids. That it doesn’t need to be “therapy.”

“It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you’re doing something.”

However, when I started sharing my own experiences growing up, I realized there was a combination need there. DHH people were having the same internal conversations. Hearing parents had questions about what their DHH kids were thinking. Hearing people suddenly understood why a deaf/hard of hearing family member behaved/reacted a certain way. People wrote to tell me how I’d improved their relationship with their partners or parents.

My goal is to reduce the stigmas around hearing loss on a more holistic level and bring some understanding to some of the deeper things that might be going on. When I can change that perspective for even one person – that means the world to me. That’s my goal.

Read more: Follow these inspiring deaf Instagrammers

HLM: That’s really powerful, and you are absolutely achieving that goal! You mentioned diving into this more and more with the pandemic and the circumstances around it. On that note, as you know, there have been many challenges surrounding the DHH community as we navigate life in a pandemic and with mask wearing. What have you found to be the most challenging barriers to conquer?
Janna: For the pandemic, I think one of the challenges to overcome is learning a whole new way to advocate for yourself on top of the advocating you do. Masks were a great quick solution to curb the spread of the virus, but accessibility, while not considered at first, still has a long way to go. While clear masks are being seen more, and are more accessible than in the beginning, they are still not used at doctors’ offices, dentists offices, and most ironically, not at the audiologist either (or at least my own). Even in those offices, there seems to be a lack of education on the topic of when someone is allowed to remove their mask. So, on top of advocating for ourselves, we are constantly disclosing, explaining, educating, and working in our head. It’s a lot of work.

HLM: I completely agree. A couple of final questions here. What do you wish hearing people knew about DHH people?
Janna: We do have accommodations we need to interact with a hearing dominant world, but we are otherwise the same as you. We drive, we like to dance, laugh, talk –and think.

HLM: And lastly, anything else you’d like to share with us?
Janna: Becoming comfortable with your deafness does not happen overnight. It’s a journey. Even when you do become comfortable, there’s always more to learn. I am so glad that I was able to come online and join a social channel in the midst of a crazy worldwide pandemic, and find people that I connected with, felt challenged by and made some new friends who just get it. There’s really always a community out there waiting for you to find it.

Author Details
Ashley is a 29-year-old who loves to travel and try new things. She has bi-lateral, severe hearing loss, and wears a Phonak Naída V-SP hearing aid in one ear and has an Esteem implant in the other. She plays soccer for the USA Women’s National Deaf Team. She’s currently traveling the world in pursuit of adventure and perspective while also learning about the deaf and hard of hearing communities in various countries. Her travels can be followed on instagram @ashley5chanel or on her blog deaftattooedandemployed.com.