Irit Specktor, "I am constantly learning the importance of advocating for my child, fighting for her rights, embracing her wholly and opening up to worlds where she can have a sense of belonging."
Being a hard-of-hearing person does not always prepare you to parent a hard-of-hearing child. When my first daughter Alma (now 6) was born, it took her three times to pass the newborn hearing screening test at the hospital, but she did pass and it was a great relief for me. When my second daughter, Zohar (now 4) arrived and did not pass the screening test I was deep in denial. The doctors kept telling me that c-section babies often have fluids in their ears and I was hoping she'd pass the repeat test a couple of weeks later. But she did not. An ABR at House Ear Clinic produced an audiogram that looked worse than mine. "Impossible" I thought to myself, "she wasn't sleeping deep enough - the results are not reliable".
I then scheduled another test at John Tracy Clinic. As I anxiously awaited in the clinic for the test to begin I was examining the collage in the main hall: numerous pictures of adorable babies, all of them wearing hearing aids. It was an uncomfortable image for me. I was wearing two completely-in-the-canal hearing aids at the time, carefully concealed behind my long hair. Then the test began and ended, and the audiologist declared my baby "deaf". "A moderate-to-severe hearing loss is considered deafness?!" - I wondered. I was offended by her bluntness. I considered myself hard-of-hearing. I didn't see myself as part of the deaf world which I barely knew. I didn't see myself as part of the hearing world either. I only knew that I was different.
When I was born in Israel of 1976, there were no hearing screening tests in maternity wards. I don't know if I was born HOH/Deaf or not. A straight-A student, mastering Hebrew and English, Math and Physics, I napped through most of my high-school classes, learning everything from my books alone at home. A friend told me she believed had a hearing problem and I learned that she was right, but I had no idea how to address it. After high-school I served in the IDF, teaching soldiers history and geography. The fear of not hearing their questions and embarrassing myself in front of everyone was immense. After the army, I signed up to Tel-Aviv university's law school, hiding my hearing problem from my professors. I was convinced that if anybody were to find out, I'd be encouraged to leave school. How could I ever appear in Court? I could not hear a word in those large classrooms. I only graduated law school thanks to my friends, who were kind enough to let me photocopy all their notebooks.
I was also a member of a professional Flamenco dance company back then. My teacher and mentor, Michal, and my boyfriend (now husband) Nadav, kept asking me to get my hearing tested and to at least try using hearing aids. And so I did, at the age of 23, but I still suffered. Embarrassed to ask people to speak louder or reduce background noises, ashamed to let my hearing aids show and too fearful to acknowledge that I needed better ones, I suffered socially. I missed out on a lot. But that was the reality of my life. It was good enough for me, but I knew it was just not good enough for my baby.
I was fortunate to have Lydia, our Early Start teacher, enter our lives right from the start. She would spend an hour with us every week, patiently answering all our questions (and we had plenty). She had so much experience and knowledge, and she did NOT have an agenda. We never felt like we were being forced into anything or ever criticized for our decisions. In a gentle and respectful way she helped us realize there is so much we can do for our child, but she didn't lay it all out at once. She took baby steps with us. Every time she came over we found ourselves playing fun games and singing-signing songs. Every time we were surprised to discover how much our little one could do and learn. We learned how important it was for Zohar to use her hearing-aids as much as possible, but we also learned to respect her cues when she was too tired and needed a break. At first, we were just three individuals: a HOH mom full of fear and guilt, a hearing dad who was afraid to damage the hearing aids while replacing a battery and a hearing older sister who's endless chattering seemed to interfere and interrupt the adults. Lydia easily incorporated the whole family in this journey. Mom learned to let go of her misconceptions and fears, dad learned how valuable his hearing was when testing the hearing aids every morning and Alma turned out to be the best teacher and partner-in-learning for her baby sister, talking around the clock and setting a great example of use of spoken language! Lydia encouraged us to take part in family groups and parent classes, and to share our story with others. I gradually gave up my prejudice against hearing aids and how they "looked" to outsiders. They were now all around me, decorating the ears of proud little people. I started learning about Deaf culture and now I am taking ASL classes (thank you, Deaf Education And Families Project!!!!).
I am constantly learning the importance of advocating for my child, fighting for her rights, embracing her wholly and opening up to worlds where she can have a sense of belonging. One can not learn these lessons without applying the same for oneself: self-advocacy, acceptance and pride in who you are, hope and positive thinking and a sense of belonging. Parenting a deaf child turned out to be an empowering personal experience!Contact Irit: firstname.lastname@example.org