“Mommy!” called my son from his car seat as we drove. He wanted something, but I couldn’t hear him.
I turned the music off, rolled up the windows, and repeated “What’s that?” for the third time.
“Unintelligible something or another,” he called again out to me.
Finally, after a bit more of this incoherent exchange that caused us both frustration, I yelled back, “Mommy can’t hear you!”
Just like that, I was brought face-to-face with one of my greatest fears and disappointment: I can’t hear my kid.
I’ve worn hearing aids since I was about eight years old. My hearing loss isn’t anything biological, rather I suffered from nerve damage with no known cause. I wear these tiny machines in my ears because, otherwise, everyone around me sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. I’ve always been pretty good about the fact that I have to wear hearing aids because with them, I get to hear.
However, this disability concerned me when we started talking about having kids. Granted, the concern was minimal, but it was there, lurking like the annoying reality that it was. The worry didn’t stem from passing my hearing loss along, it stemmed from the idea that I wouldn’t hear my kid.
I tried to stay as positive as I could with the support from my family but, after my son was born, the fear and anxiety completely took over. I needed to hear every cry, every scream, every holler. Every. Single. Noise. I couldn’t miss anything. If my husband could hear it, I wanted to hear it too.
My husband pleaded with me to just trust him and leave my hearing aids out so that I could sleep, but I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it. It didn’t matter that my son was sleeping in a basinet right beside my bed, there was nothing anyone could say or do that would make me change my mind. I just could not trust anyone but myself, even though I couldn’t trust my ears. (Make no mistake, my husband’s hearing, to me, is impeccable. I believe he’s got super-sonic hearing, but then again, I believe most people have this amazing superpower. They just call it hearing.)
When we moved our son to his crib in his room down the hall, he transitioned like a superstar. I, however, did not. I became more intense. I continued sleeping with one hearing aid in at a time and introduced the video and sound monitor to the madness that was already brewing. It was bright and it was loud and it made sleep harder for both of us. It made a high frequency noise that I am deaf to but that my husband can hear.
Finally, after six months of being neurotic, I gave up control out of sheer exhaustion combined with the realization that I needed to trust my husband and let him hear for me. I know that my husband wants the best for our son and believes in his ability to hear the child if he cries.
Our son is now three and is becoming more and more curious about my hearing aids. We talk about them. I ask him to not touch or splash my special machinery. I explain to him that it’s actually quite painful when he shoves these electronics into my ears. We explain how Mommy can’t hear and that these are magical little devices help me hear what he hears.
Now that we’ve switched to the conversation-style-dialogue stage with our three-year-old, the stakes are higher and the challenges are greater. Not being able to hear him when he has something to say causes an uncomfortable mix of emotions. It’s frustrating and that makes me angry, which then takes the shape of sadness and finally morphs into fear.
Fear. I’m afraid to miss something important.
No matter. This is my life; this is our life. I make the best of my situation and do my best to keep the dialogue open with my son about my hearing or lack thereof. I lip read, and I’m teaching the boy to look at me when he speaks to me. The added bonus to him facing me is that I get to have a child yell in my face while spit goes flying every time he has something exciting to tell me.
Having a hearing impairment does not impair my ability to parent or to listen. It doesn’t impair my ability to be the mother I need to be for my child. Yes, there are setbacks and there are times the frustration can erupt like a volcano, but that’s all stuff we can handle.
No, I can’t hear everything my son tells me, but I will never stop trying. I’m determined to be the mom my son needs, with or without a disability.