I have three wonderful, beautiful children. Really, I do. Of course I am biased, what parent isn’t? I am telling the truth though, my children are wonderful, amazing, beautiful inside and out, and everything a mother could ask for. At the time of this posting, my daughter is 12.5, my middle son is 8.5, and my youngest, is 2.25 years old. My older two share the same father, my ex-husband, who is Deaf and implanted 18 years ago. My youngest is from my current spouse, his first and only child, and my last baby.
O.k. You’re thinking: “How does she communicate with them?” Or, “Are they hearing or Deaf?” (All three are Hearing). “Doesn’t being Deaf make parenting harder for her?” And, “Don’t they struggle with having Deaf Parents?”. Or, “Do they take advantage of her deafness?” These are all good questions to ask, and I will take each question and answer it, and perhaps in doing so give insight into my life as a deaf parent.
First though, I see myself as a Mom first and foremost, after my role as an individual entity and wife of course. A happy and good mom has to be herself first, and have a good relationship second, before she can truly be a good parent. Then, and only then, does my Deafness become part of me. Therefore, I am me, a wife, and a mom, that happens to be Deaf. My deafness doesn’t rule my life, but there are times it does have a tremendous impact on those roles I live daily.
Basically, I parent the same way anyone else does, with love, patience, understanding, and structure. As I have previously mentioned, I have been around children since I was twelve years old. I started babysitting then, and frequently helped with my baby sister who is twelve years younger than I am. Over the years I started working at camps, as a camp counsellor, then in various Before and After programs, preschools, and teaching. Clearly I have a wealth of experience with children and a knowledge of developmental stages and strategies to deal with anything the children threw my way. It did not however, prepare me for my first year or so of motherhood. Being a first time parent is scary for any adult. While I felt somewhat knowledgable, in practice I winged it really for the first few years, and unfortunately, alone for the first nine months of my daughter’s life.
“Wait a minute!” you’re thinking.. “Doesn’t everybody go through that? What’s different for her?” Yes, you’re right. What I experienced was the same as many others experienced, except for a few crucial things. Can you guess? Her father is Deaf, as am I. That meant the following: neither of us could hear her cry at night while sleeping. We were also unable to hear differences in her cries as cues for hunger, tiredness, comfort or a dirty diaper. Communication became an issue as she started talking.
As I was alone for most of the first year, I co-slept with her, which as a nursing mom was the best way to get sleep, and allowed me to keep her close for when she woke. I did sleep with a hearing aid on, and we did have an Alertmaster system with accessories to flash a light at noise (unreliable to me as she had to be screaming for it to go off). During the day I would keep her close and as I could hear her with my hearing aids, I was much more confident and comfortable than I was at night.
Then as she got older, she started babbling, and I immediately became concerned about her linguistic development. How do I ensure proper speech, when her father did not speak as well as I do. How do we understand HER, and what she was trying to tell us. We were living in Virginia, and as Canadians had no access to the appropriate resources we might need if we felt there was a problem. So we signed and we spoke the words at the same time. It took months for the signs to click in. We had the TV on all day so she would have constant exposure to proper speech. I took her to play groups, and a gym class. And we crossed our fingers, prayed, and did our best. I constantly said, “I’m sorry sweetie, I can’t understand you.” Which royally sucked, and killed me, especially when she was having a meltdown. I gave her the vocabulary and tools to cope anyway, and to our relief, she eventually started signing, and speaking right on target. By the time we returned to Canada, she was 2, and speaking in full sentences and paragraphs. I did have moments of frustration over trying to understand her, but by then we had family and friends around to help. Any concerns we had about her speech were laid to rest, and by the time she was three, she had also developed ways of communicating with us both.
It was easier when we had our son, as we learned from our experience with his sister. This time though, at four, she became a helper to us. She alerted us when he cried, helped decipher his babbling, and after their father and I split, became instrumental in his communication and linguistic development. They lived with their father, and when they were with me, I took the responsibility off her shoulders, because she in essence, became his second mom in their home. My daughter still to this day helps her father understand her brother, and helped for quite some time with his speech, teaching him. She was not really asked to do this, but she was fully aware of her father’s limitations, and being a bit of a natural with kids even at that age, she just did it.
Despite those challenges, both of them have learned to cope with having Deaf parents and have developed a variety of strategies to communicate with us. Signing, writing, using an intermediary like their aunt or nana, and as they gained access to modern technology, instant messaging, FaceTime or Skype; and for our daughter, a smartphone which allowed her to text us at any time. (She received the cellphone at age nine.) With me it was obviously easier to communicate as they got older, as my lip reading skills were far superior than their father’s, and I could I hear them with my hearing aids.
“Whoa, wait, didn’t you say their Dad had a cochlear implant?”, you ask. Yeah, indeed I did. He did not wear his processor. His reasons for not wearing it are his own, and while I did not agree with them, and neither did our families, he made that choice. Consequently, he did not develop his speech comprehension as he should have, and thus compounded the communication aspects of his life with our children. They’ve coped, but as they approach the teen years, I worry it will become a major issue. I pray that I am wrong.
My youngest, I cannot forget him in this, as he is experiencing a different life than his older brother and sister. His father is hearing, and his siblings are only around on weekends. They both went to preschool, and he most likely will not. We live in the country, and rarely see my family and his as a result. Those things will impact his experience and his own linguistic development. I still have the TV on for him, just as I did for his siblings. He gets exposure to preschool language apps on the iPad, which I believe will benefit him. The biggest difference is that for me, I received my implant when he was nine months old, at the start of his linguistic development.
Raising my toddler is easier this time, and not just because I am experienced, and he is my third. His father being able to hear at night meant I could sleep without my hearing aids in, as I could rely on him to wake up and respond. It meant I had someone else to hear him whenever he cried, or indicated he needed something. When he falls and gets hurt, it still startles me to see his father hurrying towards him, even though I have already responded. His sister is a second mama to him too, and he gets plenty of attention, and help. I relaxed more this time, secure in my knowledge, experience, and the support from my husband. I learned for the first time to hear the difference in his cries, and what they meant. When I received my cochlear implant, I had to reacclimate to his sounds, cries and babbles.
I have been concerned about his linguistic development, because he was a bit behind based on my experience with his siblings. He babbled, and did have the right sounds, but didn’t seem inclined to form words. I could hear those sounds, and we played mimicking games, giving him, and thus me practice. Building his auditory memory bank did not seem to be an issue as he demonstrated understanding of the words we used, and consequently appropriate body language and communication skills. His sister seemed to be the only one to understand him, when he did begin to verbalize words. Prior to starting the auditory verbal therapy study, I was struggling to understand him. Previous experience did not help because this time, like my toddler, I was rebuilding my auditory memory bank, except I wasn’t actively hearing those speech sounds, or listening for them. Now that I am, I am loving this part of being his mom, as I am sharing his journey with him as he figures out how to put the sounds together to form the words. I can now reinforce him in his attempts, in fact, better than I could when his siblings were younger.
Does being Deaf make parenting harder for me? No, it only presents challenges for which I find solutions to. Do my children take advantage of my being Deaf? Of course they do, but never anything inappropriate. Of course, when we hit the teen years, we shall see what happens. Do they struggle with it? Yes, but the older two accept my limitations and we work at getting around them together.
To sum it up, I am a mother, who happens to be Deaf.