last week i had a two and a half hour conversation with a mom whose 7 month old baby was born profoundly deaf. i haven't met her in person yet, but she had posted online with questions about the implant process, among other "i have a deaf baby" questions. it's already a sharp learning curve to have your first baby; throw in something unexpected, like profound hearing loss and it can be pretty overwhelming.
the aspect of hearing loss that i think makes it even harder is that there is no clear and correct course of action. it is a choose your own adventure sort of thing where you have to make tons of decisions along the way, each of which affect your child's development in one way or another. that's a lot of pressure when you aren't even getting 7 hours of sleep a night.
you don't just decide who your implant surgeon is going to be. first you need to see if your child is even eligible for implants. then you have to decide if you even want to get your child implants. you have to choose the mode of communication: total communication? auditory verbal? see sign? asl? which type of school? therapists? you decide. you are suddenly the expert in a world that you probably didn't even know existed.
and you have this little baby crying in your arms as you make your arsenal of phone calls, sleeping in the car seat as you trek to doctor's offices, or nursing as you finish a therapy session. in a sense you are learning a new language, a new way of navigating the world as you simultaneously learn how to be a parent and process the fact that your baby is deaf.
it's a lot.
but you do it, because there is no other choice.
the first time we walked up to this booth to register for m's audiology appointment she had already "referred" (ahem, failed) multiple newborn hearing tests. she was a brand new little baby, about a month old. the first day we walked up to this booth was the day they told us she was deaf. we left in a fog, with a screaming baby who couldn't hear her own cries or our voices soothing her.
now, four years later, we come back here, to children's hospital, to get her implant settings adjusted. it's just routine, and we adore the people who work here, so it is always fun to see our friends here. some days i see a couple with a little baby leaving their appointment, looking dazed or crying, and i want to run over and hug them or tell them it will be ok no matter what. but i don't, because this is a moment when they need their space.
i thought i'd give you a glimpse of where m goes and what she does when her implants get adjusted from an appointment we had a few months ago.
we love, love, love her audiologist sarah, who happens to be the very same person who told us she was deaf. she has been with us from the beginning, back when i was a hot mess, nursing m in her office and trying to jam hearing aids in her tiny little three month ears. hot mess, you guys. really.
she is so patient with m, and always tracks down the best toys for her to "play" with while she checks all of her settings. appointments usually take a few hours, so the more to distract, the better. m is used to long appointments since this is all she has ever known, but that doesn't mean she is always very compliant.
this day m had already driven to school (1 hour), gone to school and therapy(3 1/2 hours) and driven home (1 hour), only to head straight to this appointment. that's a lot for a three year old.
here m is in computer mode. when she hears a beep she stacks one of the toys.
here sarah checks her in live mode by telling her what ingredients to put on the pizza.
all implant kiddos know this "game" well- hold the object to your ear until you hear the sound. then when you hear it...
put it down (on the pizza, in the bowl, on the stack, etc.) m gets bored pretty quickly with this activity, but that's good in a way, because she likes more complex listening games.
sarah really is amazing-
she can figure out what m is hearing (or isn't hearing) from the slightest facial expression.
and she can distract m or keep her on task hours longer than i ever could.
(of course she has three of her own kiddos, so she has experience)
i love seeing people doing their jobs when they love them-
and she is such a good pediatric audiologist.
we so lucked out.
plus she's fun to hang out with in real life.
two and a half hours later m has happy new implant settings & she checks out the rest of the hospital from the audiology floor.
these days we only have to go to children's once or twice a year,
butwhen m was teeny tiny, we were there all the time.
when she was little it held such sadness to be going there,
but it also was a reminder to me of how many other families had children with cancer or severe impairments or children whose lifespans may be very brief.
it kind of put things in perspective back in those early days.
my little trooper!
i told m we could go on a date when she was all done,
so she (wisely) picked fenton's for some ice cream!
fenton's is actually a nightmare for a kiddo with implants- it has horrible acoustics and is incredibly LOUD, but when ice cream calls, ice cream calls:
a child size sundae- i tell you the truth.
a child after my own heart-scraping out her chocolate syrup to get every last drop.
killing me with her ice cream face.
about 30 seconds after getting in the car, this girl was sound asleep.
commuting, school, an implant mapping and ice cream
meant that she was absolutely tired out.
long day, good day!
when i was talking to that mom last week,
i realized how much of an expert i'd inadvertently become in a few brief years
on this little subculture of cochlear implants and deafness.
who knew that walking up to that audiology registration desk
would so radically change my life?