How My Child with Hearing Loss Taught Me to Listen

Silence was all around me as I swayed in the rocking chair with my sleeping four-month-old son. Fancy electrodes covered his tiny forehead, and squishy ear buds lay in his baby ears. Silence mixed with the hushed voices of pediatric audiologists and the faint tones coming from the ear buds. My son didn’t move a muscle, but my stomach churned with anxiety. Silence was my response to the compassionate explanation of his bilateral, sensorineural hearing loss. And I wondered if silence was all he would hear for the rest of his life.

Identifying his hearing loss was just the beginning. My husband and I were immediately faced with big decisions, and following a listening and spoken language model felt right for our family (the how and why of this is another post for another day). After crying a lot wrapping my head around the facts, my life became one giant blur of appointments, therapy sessions, and surgeries. The pediatric audiologist, ENT, infectious disease specialist, physical therapist, and auditory-verbal therapist all became part of my son’s team. These professionals were and still are godsends. San Antonio has some of the best when it comes to taking care of children who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.

Despite my son’s caring team of experts, I found myself struggling with feelings of bitterness and irritation. Bitterness crept in every time my son woke up and I had to rush to put on his hearing technology instead of just snuggling. I was irritated that outings for my three-year-old daughter consisted of following her brother to therapy or another doctor’s appointment. I had yet to take my baby boy to Baby Time at the library or do any of the things that I had done with my daughter when she was his age. I constantly wondered if I was talking enough to provide adequate auditory input or if I correctly implemented the strategies we went over in therapy. All of this bitter irritation stemmed from my thinking that hearing loss was somehow stealing my baby from me. 

One night I prayed for relief from these feelings. I wanted to feel wholeheartedly present with both of my children. As I sat talking to God, it occurred to me that my son may have been the answer to my prayer before I even prayed it. If I could change my thinking, I could be more present because of his hearing loss and not in spite of his hearing loss. For example, his therapist had stressed the importance of staying close to him, talking with him, and monitoring the background noise in his environment. You may need a degree to effectively explain why this is vital for a child with hearing loss, but you do not need one to see that those are all behaviors of a present parent. I just didn’t see it at first. You might say that, despite my ears being physiologically sound, I wasn’t listening. Perhaps in part because true listening is a matter of the mind and heart.

I’m doing better with my listening now, and so is my little guy. He is working on listening for one-step directions, consonant-vowel syllables, and nursery rhymes. I’m working on listening in a few other ways:

  • Listening for the happiness in every circumstance. If this made you roll your eyes and say, “Yeah, right,” I get it. It’s bold to say that we can choose happiness in every circumstance, and one year ago I would have dismissed that idea. It’s amazing to me, though, that two people can see the same circumstance so differently. For example, in the waiting rooms I sat in for my son’s various appointments, I saw holding cells crawling with germs, applesauce pouch explosions, and potential for more things I didn’t want to hear about my son’s situation. My daughter, on the other hand, saw a playscape filled with interesting toys, time with her mom and brother, and the possibility a latex glove balloon. The waiting room itself was not the problem. Our thoughts tell us what to listen for, and whatever we listen for, we find. So why not listen for happiness?
  • Listening for opportunities, not limitations. At first I viewed the act of putting on my son’s hearing technology as a limitation, another thing I had to do. Typing that makes me cringe now because that technology is an incredible opportunity. Consider the fact that of the 11 million people in the world who may benefit from a cochlear implant, only 400,000 have them. Consider that not everyone has health insurance that will cover cochlear implant procedures or hearing aids. Consider that of all the places on the planet, our family was led to San Antonio, Texas, where there is a phenomenal school for children who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. Opportunities. Now I gladly rush to put on his hearing technology so that when we snuggle he hears the “I love you’s” and the songs and the giggles—which he tolerates for five seconds before climbing, running, jumping, or doing some other dangerous, crazy boy thing. 
  • Being still and just listening. The first year of my son’s life was completely different from what I had experienced with my daughter. I created many a to-do list to rectify the situation, as if completing a set of random tasks would make his life look the way it was “supposed to.” It didn’t help. Busyness on the outside doesn’t heal chaos on the inside; no amount of meal planning, cleaning, primping, or scheduling could organize my unsettled soul. I needed pause and stillness to reconnect with myself. Once I allowed that, I was able to contribute so much more as a mother and in all aspects of my life. Don’t get me wrong—my cutesy Day Designer planner is still my prized possession. Now I just make sure its pages contain way more scheduled “listening” time. 

When we gathered for the little man’s initial cochlear implant stimulation, I was filled with uncertainty. What would he think of the listening world we were introducing him to? I will always remember the way he perked up and smiled as his CI was activated. He started rocking out on a xylophone and playfully raised an eyebrow as if to say, “Isn’t this awesome?!” Listening is awesome. For him and for all of us.

Whitney
When Whitney fell in love with a handsome Texan, she just knew that someday they would call Texas home. Her family has been in San Antonio for two years now and they couldn't be happier. She loves the heat, the tacos, and the family-friendly feel of the Alamo City. A typical day for Whitney consists of taming her two wild ginger children with some running, reading, and resting sprinkled throughout. Her son has profound hearing loss and wears both a hearing aid and a cochlear implant. Her daughter has selective, self-imposed hearing loss that I'm told cannot be corrected with any form of technology. Simply put, those crazy kiddos are her world. In Whitney's former, non-mom life, she taught ninth grade English. Working with students on their writing was her absolute favorite and she's always been passionate about helping kids become writers.