For the Sake of Joy
My baby girl never heard me tell her I loved her the first two years of her life. It wasn't that I didn't love her, or that I didn't tell her every day, but rather that she had a hearing loss that went undetected for those two years, and was unable to hear any speech. There was no newborn hearing screening process in the hospital where she was born.
I remember the signs along the way. As a toddler, my daughter Sara would walk up to the TV and put her ear up to the speaker. If I entered her room, and she was looking away from me, she wouldn't turn to me, even if I had said "hello". I did the pan banging behind her head, and when she turned her head to that, my fears would be alleviated for awhile. When I thought of deafness, I understood it to be all or nothing. I didn't realize Sara could have a hearing loss and still be able to hear some noise, but not speech. I think there is an assumption by some people that if a child has a hearing loss, a parent will pick up on it right away, and seek out help for their child. It took several months for me to be able to follow through on my intuition that something was not quite right. I don't even understand why I wasn't able to seek help for my daughter the first time I questioned her ability to hear. I guess it was the hope that if I just waited, everything would turn out fine.
During that time in my daughters' life, I remember the frustration of not being able to communicate with Sara, and not understanding why. As a mother of three, and a daycare provider for fifteen years, I had a lot of confidence in my parenting skills. So the inability for me to understand Sara when she wanted something, was a mystery to me. And her inability to follow even the simplest directions was a very frustrating time in our lives.
When I think of those first two years of my daughters' life, there is a myriad of emotions that still flood my heart to this day: Self-reproach for not having the insight to follow up on the questions that came up about Sara. Sorrow for my daughter not having a language to use during that critical time of development. Anger over the fact that the hospital where Sara was born did not do a simple test that could have changed the life of our family, and perhaps the future of my daughters' life. By having the knowledge of a difference in our daughter from the start, we could have intervened on her behalf to facilitate communication from the start. I'm sure some of the frustrations that occurred over the span of those two years, having intervened, would not have happened.
When my daughter was finally identified, the help our family received from early intervention helped to set the framework for our attitudes. We also received much unbiased information to help us set a course for our daughters' education and the tools we needed to help her succeed in life. We are very thankful for the people who were able to provide their professional expertise, yet also gave us the respect as a family to make the choices we felt were appropriate.
I guess most of all, when you discover you have a child who is deaf, you come to discover that it is not an awful thing. It is just a part of who your child is. It does not change the way you love or accept your child. It does not change the hopes and dreams you have for your child, and who they will become. You just open your heart to a different way of interacting in the world around you. There is a joy in discovering your child as they grow, and I just wish that opportunity to know my child, a child with a hearing loss, had been there for me from the start. For the sake of joy, let's identify all children who are deaf or hard of hearing from birth, so families and communities can learn from the beginning how to get the message across..."I love you".