One Family’s Journey:
An Implant for a Culturally Deaf Child 


By Jennifer Estes, Washington H&V

A rollercoaster…that’s one of the first terms my journey as a ‘hearie’ parent to a Deaf child, could be described as; an emotional rollercoaster to be more specific. At that time, my daughter was nearing the age of two when her unknown treasure was discovered (she is now 13). Maliki was diagnosed with a profound sensorineural hearing loss. At that time, we lived in a rural town in the eastern part of our state. As many parents in rural towns with Deaf or hard of hearing children know, services are hard to come by. I thought to myself, “an emotional rollercoaster? Nah!” I was honestly excited to have a Deaf child. I never grieved for her “hearing loss.”  My heart knew that I had been given a wonderful gift. Reflecting back now, I see how very right that person was to tell me it would be an emotional rollercoaster. Thus, I am sharing with you the most recent ride.

Maliki, the oldest of my three daughters, has been Deaf since birth. Let me make note, I knowingly use the capital D “Deaf” because, although raised in a hearing family, she has always possessed a sense of pride in who she is - a beautiful gift, most definitely. I, who was once naively “hearing minded,” have embraced all that Deafness entails and in essence, fallen in love with Deafness. 

Moving to the greater Seattle area for higher quality education, we were blessed to be even more immersed in the bounty and richness of Deaf culture there. While there, Maliki decided she wanted to pursue a cochlear implant. “Hang on,” my mind shouted, “this is going to get interesting.” 

My mind wandered to a memory of one of my first ASL classes. I remember explicitly watching a poem by Ella Mae Lentz and the impact it had on me. (The poem is titled “To a Hearing Mother” and can be found in a video called “The Treasure.”)  I encourage any hearing parent to watch this poem (with an open mind). I met Deaf people, I read the books, had taken class after class, and most importantly I accepted and embraced the philosophy of Deaf culture. I never wanted my child to ask me, “Mom, why can’t you just accept me the way I am?” Getting to my point, I do not accept audism. For parents new on their journey, I would strongly encourage you to learn about all this terms entails. I can’t depict the storm of emotions that ensued inside of me, and still rumbles I might add, when Maliki told me she wanted to be implanted.

Maliki is scheduled to have surgery on November 14th.  The process for her to gain her candidacy has been long and intense. I wanted to ensure that she be extremely informed when making her final decision. Going so far as even having her watch the surgery itself online (at bit graphic, I know). Maliki is fully aware of all the complexities, be it: surgery, the lengthy commitment to therapy services, and the cultural aspects involved. When I asked her how she would respond to a Deaf individual who opposed implants she, very maturely signed,” The decision is mine. I accept their decision to be who they are, they need to be respectful and accept mine. I will always be Deaf. It’s part of who I am. I am proud of that. A CI is a tool I want to try. If they don’t like it, well, that’s just too bad. It’s my decision.” That’s exactly how I wanted it to be…her decision!

Now that surgery is eminent, and so very soon, I believe my internal storm has now been upgraded to a category 5 hurricane. I work daily on keeping myself “neutrally” supportive. I will back my daughter’s decision with everything I’ve got. Let me tell you, not an easy task. I’ve come to a middle ground that the cochlear implant, for us, is a tool available to Maliki that she can utilize in her success.

I feel this story is fitting to share with the Hands & Voices readers for many reasons. In particular though, my journey has not been alone. Along the way I have been so honored to have people brought into my life that have impacted us significantly. One prominent figure in particular, Howie Seago, has done a tremendous amount of work for the advancement of Deaf people all over the world. We like to refer to him as “Our Daddy of the Deaf World.” As a hearing parent, one of the emotions I struggled with was how the Deaf community would react to me. A ‘hearie’ with a culturally Deaf child now going to be implanted. I have shared this process with Howie, timidly. I guess I feared his reaction (founded on my own insecurities as a hearie parent). Howie has done nothing but given us genuine, unbiased, support. It is this spirit that I believe Hands & Voices works to capture. Being there for each other. Authentically caring for the well being of all involved. No matter what your choices are.

I’ve been taken on a rollercoaster ride - one I don’t want to get off. A cochlear implant will add a new twisty track. My heart screams “Hang on, here we go!” I am extremely grateful!   ~


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