I was born with a profound hearing loss, which in layman’s terms means I only had a tiny bit of residual hearing, but just in my right ear…and I mean only a tiny bit of residual hearing. Unfortunately, at the time of my birth, most hospitals did not conduct hearing tests on newborn babies. Thus, my parents would not discover my deafness until many months later, in early 1996.
For a while, my parents knew something was off. I would not respond when someone called my name, turn my head when someone made a loud noise, or curiously look at chirping birds flying in the sky, like most babies do. Finally, one night, my parents decided to watch the notable film, Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995), starring Richard Dreyfus. The film focuses on an eccentric high school music teacher, Glen Holland, and explores the dynamics of his relationships with his colleagues, students, friends, family, and especially his deaf son. After he discovers his son, Cole, is deaf, Holland struggles with coming to terms that he may never be able to teach the joys of music to his own son. Nonetheless, this story pinpointed a strong, yet somewhat startling comparison between baby Cole and baby Me. Like myself (baby Me), Cole would not respond to his parents’ incentives, such as calling his name. Thus, my parents decided to try something. The following morning, they sat me in my high chair in the kitchen, got behind me, and started banging pans, very loudly.
I never turned around. Nothing happened. I didn’t respond. I just sat there…staring at whatever was in front of me, not amused.
My nonchalant reaction really threw my parents off. Shortly, they took me to the doctor’s for a life changing appointment. My mother recently recounted the details of what went on during that appointment. She remembers me being hooked up to a listening machine, and the machine kept making beeping noises, while a monitor was supposed to show my auditory nerve fibers reacting.
Nothing happened. I didn’t react to any sounds.
At first, the audiologists were being very secretive with my parents. They had a strong look of concern on their faces, but kept making up excuses like “Oh maybe the machine is broken”.
The machine wasn’t broken.
Finally, my mom, frustrated at the secrecy so bluntly being displayed right before her, forced the doctor to tell her what exactly was going on. The doctor finally shares, “Well, it looks like your daughter has a severe to profound hearing loss.”
I’m sorry what?
Of course my mom started sobbing, while my dad sat in his chair in utter confusion. What just happened? My parents were not familiar with the concept of deafness. Why should they? Neither of them had ever met nor been acquainted with deaf people prior to having me.
Nonetheless, I was soon fitted with hearing aids. Since I had some residual hearing in my right ear, I would get some, and I mean only, some, benefit from having a hearing aid. I could hear faint sounds.
Shortly thereafter began the road to meeting with several doctors and audiologists. Many people were telling my parents they had to raise me in a certain way. Some were even absolutely negative about my future, saying things along the lines of: “Oh she’s never going to speak. She has to learn sign language. She’s going to have to go to an all-deaf school. She might be a mute. She’s going to have a very tough life. Good luck raising her.”
At first, my parents were feeling very discouraged. They weren’t upset with the fact that I was deaf, well actually yes that of course, but mostly because they were facing the prospect that I may never hear sounds, have friends, laugh, or even hear them say “I love you”. Luckily, everything changed, for the better, when one particular lady told my mom that I could certainly be raised learning how to speak. I would simply have to take speech lessons. Thus, with my hearing aid giving me some capability to hear, I began taking auditory verbal therapy, and learned to listen with the tiny amount of hearing I had. I needed to learn the differences in sounds, such as “Ahhh” versus “ooooo”. Since I missed out having hearing the first 10 months of my life, I lagged in understanding what sounds belong to which being. For instance, if a dog barked, I would not realize that that specific sound was coming from a dog and not a cat. As a baby, some of the sounds you hear are very critical in helping you identify certain sounds for the rest of your life: your mom’s voice, dad’s voice, birds chirping, cars honking, a church bell tolling, etc.
Certainly, my parents’ lives, as well as mine, changed after discovering I was deaf. My journey did not end here though. I endured many, many more obstacles, ups and downs, as I grew up. Nonetheless, finding out that I was deaf gave my parents a new, unique challenge…raising me.
*Side Note: All hospitals today are required by law to perform auditory tests on newborns to check for a potential hearing loss.