At 3 a.m., I was violently awakened from a deep sleep by my bed shaking and lamp flashing. Was I in a disco during an earthquake? No, I realized, as I slowly regained consciousness, the baby was crying again. Like a glutton for punishment, I was using this technology to alert me to her needs because I’m profoundly deaf.
As a first-time mom, it took a while to realize that I should be taking advantage of my slumbering husband’s hearing. Given the choice to be jarred awake or feel the gentle touch of his hand, the answer to our happily ever after was clear. Years later, my daughter is the “beneficiary” of this constantly changing territory I’m exploring: What it means to be a deaf mom. Her brother — who is three years younger – adds to the challenges. But there are infinite rewards, too.
Once I figured out the best way to deal with middle-of-the-night feedings, along came another challenge: Naps. During the day, I used a baby monitor — this version no longer exists — with lights that ramped up in accordance to the sound. It also vibrated and had a volume knob. In short, it was perfect – until my toddler started vocalizing. Then I had to listen carefully to determine whether she was vocalizing, crying, or on her way to la-la-land. The solution was a video monitor, which allowed me to see when she actually fell asleep, and then upon waking up, whether she was happily playing or needed attention.
As my kids navigated out of the baby phase, I was able to control whether I could understand their words face-to-face. That meant teaching my kids to communicate with me. From the beginning, we told them that to get my attention, they had to physically come over and tap me on the arm. When they talked to me, they had to look at my eyes so I could see their lips. Many times, I heard them calling for me, but pretended I couldn’t hear so they would learn.
Many kids are difficult for me to lip read, but I have no problem with my own. They learned to be excellent communicators who enunciate very clearly. That they don’t do this just with me but with others, as well, shows that this is a great lifelong social skill to have. Of course, my deafness prevents me from understanding whining and crying – they just had to calm down and try again! Another thing I learned was that lip reading is difficult when my eyes are still adjusting to light. We told the kids to always go to Daddy if they needed something during the night. In the morning, I was always surprised to discover what I missed and thankful for my uninterrupted sleep.
“Another thing I learned was that lip reading is difficult when my eyes are still adjusting to light.”
Elementary school was a whole new world. Being out of the loop with the school was a concern, but it was a more equal playing field thanks to technology. The staff all had email, and the school sent electronic newsletters. If anyone called the house, used my captioned phone.
When we’re in the car, they learned that when I’m driving, we can’t hold a normal conversation. I confess that at stops, I used the rear view mirror to check in with them. They, however, didn’t grasp the concept of prioritizing. “Mommy! Mommy! Mommmmmyyy!!” I heard, as they absolutely must tell me something trivial right as I turned into a lane of traffic. I recently heard of a tip I plan to try sometime soon: Surreptitiously turn on a speech-to-text app to capture the conversations your kids are having while you’re focusing on the road. A deaf friend was disappointed when she checked her transcript after; her sons were just talking about video games!
Read more: Speech-to-Text apps for the deaf community
There is a downside to needing a clear view of my kids. I’ve learned from my husband and relatives that they’ve become talented at using my blind spots. They know how to push each other’s buttons in that manipulative sibling way when I’m not looking! My fear was that when they became teenagers and my husband was out of town on a business trip, they would take advantage of my deafness and do something sneaky like have a party while I’m asleep. We tried to drill into them that doing this would be a big mistake. To keep them on their toes, I started busting them at random times. My engineer husband also become increasingly interested in motion sensors.
Now that my kids are both teenagers, I can report that the only things we’ve busted them for include staying up too late or abusing their screen time. They inherited our old smartphones when in middle school, since we live in a walking school district. Being able to text and FaceTime has made communication a lot smoother.
School communication continues to be conducted primarily via email. During COVID, there have been some important school board meetings over Zoom that I wanted to follow. Since they weren’t accessible, I had to rely on my transcription app.
We learned the hard way that when a child requests to be sent home from the school nurse, a parent has to call to confirm. We now have it pre-approved that an email from me is acceptable.
One benefit to being deaf is that I’m immune to annoying music. The kids have freedom to play whatever music and instruments they want, as often as they want. For all I know, my viola-wailing and guitar-screeching kids are musical virtuosos. I also had two extra helpers when I received a cochlear implant; they were excited to assist with my rehab.
My oldest will voluntarily oral interpret for me, especially when her brother is getting in trouble with my husband. The kids and I also get to have secret conversations. Both kids are more self reliant, more aware of others’ differences and quick to adapt. And just like being deaf is all I know, having a deaf mom is all they know. When I asked how they felt about having a deaf mom for the initial publication of this piece in 2012, my oldest said, “I don’t think it feels any different than having a different mom, because I’m used to you. It just feels regular. I do get frustrated sometimes when you can’t read my lips easily, but everyone gets frustrated with their moms.”