On Being a Deaf Mom
At 3 a.m., I’m violently awakened from a deep sleep by my bed shaking and lamp flashing. Am I in a disco during an earthquake? No, I realize, as I slowly regain consciousness, the baby is crying again. Like a glutton for punishment, I’m 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.
Eleven 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 have 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’m always surprised to discover what I missed and thankful for my uninterrupted sleep.
Now that my kids are in elementary school, I’m exploring a new world. Being out of the loop with the school was a concern, but in this age of technology, it’s a more equal playing field. The staff all has email, and the school sends electronic newsletters. If anyone calls the house, I have a captioned phone.
My daughter will be starting middle school next year, which is when many of the area kids get cell phones. She recently inherited my old smartphone – with no phone service – so now we’re able to text one another. I envision relying on text and video chat when we activate her phone service. Now, if only I can get my kids to practice touch typing instead of the hunting and pecking that drives me insane…
When we’re in the car, they’ve learned that when I’m driving, we can’t hold a normal conversation. I confess that at stops, I use the rear view mirror to check in with them. They, however, have yet to grasp the concept of prioritizing. “Mommy! Mommy! Mommmmmyyy!!” I’ll hear, as they absolutely must tell me something trivial right that minute as I’m turning into a lane of traffic.
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 is that when they’re teenagers and my husband is out of town on a business trip, they’ll take advantage of my deafness and do something sneaky like have a party while I’m asleep. We’ve tried to drill into them that doing this will be a big mistake. To keep them on their toes, I started busting them at random times. My engineer husband has also become increasingly interested in motion sensors.
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, 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.”