Archive for April 17, 2017

From Bystander to Believer: My journey as a Hearing Mother

April 17, 2017

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I am a hearing wife of a Deaf man and a hearing mother of four children, three of whom are Deaf. I was born in a hearing family with all hearing siblings. Although I learned a bit of sign language, and even performed a song in sign at my 8th grade graduation, I had never met a deaf person.

When I was fourteen, my sister, who was just two years older then I, was losing her hearing. She saw an audiologist, who gave her hearing aids, but my wise mother knew that there was something more, something better for her. She found a program for the deaf and my sister switched schools, started learning ASL, and using an interpreter. I didn’t want to be left behind! I started learning and my sister would ‘help’ me by not using her hearing aids on weekends and forcing me to sign with her.

Learning ASL led me to involvement in the ASL community; however I was reluctant to become fully involved. In college, I was a little bit involved with the deaf community and decided that I wanted to teach deaf children.  I became a huge advocate for Bi-lingual/ Bi-cultural education and looked forward to teaching. In my naivete, I said I believed deaf people could do anything hearing people do. I was convinced that I really believed it too.

In my senior year of college, I met my husband who was the ASL lab instructor. We started dating and just after graduating, married. When he felt moments of discouragement regarding his success in life, I encouraged him. I believed he could do anything he wanted to. . . except run a business of his own. His experience was in construction and that’s where he wanted to start out. Eventually he wanted to do something big that would inspire deaf youth to succeed.

The first few years of marriage were rocky as I finished my degree and started teaching and he ran into difficulties finding a steady job in construction. After much thought, he decided to go back to school, major in history and become a teacher.  I was secretly relieved that the big talk of starting a business had stopped. I knew he would be a wonderful teacher, and he had a passion for that. It would also provide us with a steady income. That’s what I needed.

Our first child was born and I worked full time while my husband attended school. My son was hearing and began signing at six months of age. We were a happy family.

Then, my second son was born deaf. No big deal, I thought. I still thought I believed that deaf children, and deaf adults, could succeed and do whatever they wanted. I had no idea how it (his birth) would shake my beliefs and my marriage.

My mind filled with questions and doubt.

What if he doesn’t want me as his mom because I’m hearing?

What if I don’t know how to teach him to read?

What if he never learns to read above the 4th grade reading level?

What if he says he wants to be a fireman?

How do I best support him?

Should he get hearing aids?

Should I make sure he has speech?

If he can talk, won’t he have a better chance at success in the future?

Only a parent understands the dreams and desires her or she has for her children. Only a parent can understand the gravity of having those dreams crushed. It’s natural for someone who gives birth to a child who is different than herself to grieve. But I was the hearing wife of a Deaf man! The hearing sister of a Deaf adult! The teacher of d/hh children! What was my problem? Didn’t I believe my child could do anything he wanted to?

I realized that as much as I had thought I ‘believed’ in the Deaf individual, it just wasn’t true. As much as I thought I had been truly accepted and enculturated into the Deaf community, I felt alienated. I was only a bystander after all.

After going through the grief and seeing a counselor who understood Deaf culture; making decisions and moving forward as a hearing mom of a Deaf child, I had nagging thoughts. Nagging, negative thoughts that would come to me as my little boy grew. They didn’t disappear as my 3rd child was born: a Deaf girl. In fact, they probably became a little worse.

I remember my son telling me, “I want to be a fireman someday.”  That was a moment when I put on a face without expression and said, “Ok! That’s awesome.” However, inside, my nagging mind was posing questions the whole time: They won’t let him be a fireman! He’s deaf! He can’t hear! How can he become a fireman? You are feeding him false hope! STOP! He also said he wanted to become a policeman or a soldier. I felt all of these jobs were impossible.

It was during this time that my husband began to dream again. He was in his Master’s program and doing a research project on Deaf Culture and History. He wanted to develop a poster that would show the world that Deaf individuals can and DO succeed, in many different careers. He finished that poster, (link “that poster” to www.deafsense.com/store)  featuring 48 deaf individuals in 48 different career pathways. To my amazement I saw on the poster a Deaf fireman, a Deaf police officer, and a Deaf ROTC participant. What? My mind went into shock. It couldn’t be. My husband must be wrong.

So I did my own research. I found that not only was he correct, but that these men weren’t the only ones who were changing the career field for my son. There were 50 documented firemen who were d/hh. There were other d/hh men who were serving on a police force. The ROTC participant is still lobbying to change the laws to where d/hh people could serve in non- combat positions.

At this same time, I began to go through a personal transformation. I began to see that I, with my bystander beliefs, was holding my husband, and my children, back from succeeding. It wasn’t his deafness that was holding him back; it was his insecurities coupled with my insecurities and beliefs that we couldn’t succeed in achieving our dreams.

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The world today teaches us to settle for less than what we might want to achieve. The world says go to school, get a job, settle down, the end. Our hearts, deaf or hearing, tell us differently. They tell us to set our expectations high and go for them through whatever challenges beset us.

The truth is, we all have challenges we must overcome. As parents, as spouses, we have a huge impact on what our loved ones will attempt to achieve in their lives. Will we stand by, allowing ourselves to be bystanders because we are hearing? Will we give into the nagging thoughts and beliefs that life is hard, and that there are only certain jobs a deaf person can do, and our children just won’t be able to achieve their dreams?

Or can we reach into our hearts and find true belief? Can we open our minds to the possibility that others are changing the dynamics in the career world and that what may not have been possible only years before, just might be as our children grow? Can we begin to see that, in reality, it has always been possible?

Can we see that we can become believers? And through believing, inspire those around us to become believers too?

Come follow us at www.deafsense.com where we believe everyone can and should succeed!

Lynell Smith

 

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A New Book for Families with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children

April 11, 2017

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Maria Renninger recalls seeing the word “refer” flash on the screen after her baby girl’s hearing screening hours after birth, and wondered what it meant. “Refer to what? The operating manual?” She found herself wishing for an operating manual many times during her early years as a new mom and on her unexpected journey raising a child who is deaf or hard of hearing.

This is just one of the 26 personal reflections shared in a new book by Hands & Voices, We Are Hands & Voices: Stories for Families Raising Children Who Are Deaf/Hard of Hearing, from moms and dads raising children who are deaf or hard of hearing, with a few insights from young people finding their way, and six gems from women who are Deaf or hard of hearing themselves.

“It wasn’t cheating, it was playing fair,” notes Stephanie Olson, when her sister and brother signaled her how to get to home base during nighttime games in her neighborhood, in the darkness only imaginable far from city lights. Over time, hearing parents learn much from their children and from adults who have hearing differences that begin to shed light on what daily life is like, and CAN be like, when we begin to experience the world as our children do. Playing fair means understanding access and appreciating differences.

Knowing that there is no better way to connect than the art of story, four experienced moms (Karen Putz,  Stephanie Olson, Janet Des Georges and Sara Kennedy) put this book together to shed light on the journey and to celebrate our children, who teach us again and again that “the little things are not little at all,” just as author and mom Bianca Birdsey says about raising her daughters who are deaf in South Africa in her story.

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Here is what others are saying about the book:

“I was overwhelmed when our daughter was diagnosed as deaf, and I searched for the stories of other parents who had helped their children navigate through a hearing world and lead productive, fulfilling lives.  It was these connections, like the ones detailed in “We Are Hands & Voices,” that allowed me to understand that I was part of a larger, welcoming community.  The powerful insights and wisdom you will find in this book will inspire you.  I wish it had been around 16 years ago!”

– Lee Woodruff, parent and best-selling author

 

“Positive parental supports is an integral part of a child’s life.  Having the support of other families who have walked a similar path, well, that’s priceless.”

 – Andrea Marwah, parent and Illinois Hands & Voices, President

 

“One of the best outcomes of a book of stories is that it illustrates the varying experiences, individual characteristics, and often unpredictable paths taken by individuals and families. Stories break down walls. In this book you will find that it is not hearing status that defines who these people are; rather it is their life experiences that shape who they become.”

– Cheryl Johnson, parent and advocate, Co-Founder of Hands & Voices

 

“These deaf kids may have a hearing loss, but their hearing loss doesn’t necessary mean that it has, controls, operates or owns them. This book has great and incredible insight on how our hearing loss doesn’t necessarily define us, but that we define who we really are.”

– Justin Osmond, member of the world-renowned Osmond Family, motivational speaker and author

The digital copy is available on Amazon: HV Stories for Families

To order hard copies or bulk orders:

We are Hands & Voices 2017 order form (1)

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