More Than We Know


By Bonnie Leiser, (Nana) H&V Oregon

Nana, Ashlin and Mikaylin

"We will teach all that we know.  You will teach us more than we know."  I reread these lines from a welcoming prayer I had written to my first granddaughter for her birth, as I tucked in both of my precious little girls this past New Year's Eve.  We were tending to them that night, so their Mom and Dad could go out for a date. As the year turned the final corner and a new one loomed ahead, I was given pause to think about the true depth of what these words had come to mean for me.

Our first Granddaughter, Ashlin, was born seven and a half years ago in a very successful waterbirth. We had the honor of being present for that miracle. Both Mama and baby were just fine, healthy, and robust. We even photographed the truly exceptional moment when Ashlin actually reached up toward her father's face, as he leaned in to say hello to his new daughter. Our son, Walker, and his beautiful wife, Helen, had made us grandparents, at long last.  We were ecstatic!

Ashlin was such a sweet little baby, so happy, responsive, so loved.  I remember bowing over her and talking to her and hearing her laugh and smile up at me.  As she grew, her sweet demeanor remained.  Time went by and yet she hadn't yet spoken any words.  She was nearly two and not talking yet. My son and I were convinced that she would speak up when she was good and ready to do it, on her own time frame.  I guess we were in denial, looking back. However, my husband and Helen had some concerns. One day at her doctor's appointment it was suggested that hearing tests should be done. 

The result of the test told us that Ashlin was profoundly deaf. It was the most shocking and devastating news I had ever heard. There was no family history of deafness that we knew of, nothing to help us understand how this could be. We reeled with the news, passing through the stages of grief, loss, confusion like moving through heavy water.  How would my beautiful granddaughter ever hear the rich beauty of music, so dear to my heart? How would she know the sounds of nature and life? How would she communicate with us?  How could she ever hear the words "I love you"?

Then the family had to move into action to find out what we could do. This was a fact of life for us and we simply had to move ahead. Helen and Walker began a search into all of the options which might be pursued. We all learned so much. They told us about an incredible procedure called cochlear implanting. I had never heard of this. It took me some time to come to acceptance of it, as I was concerned about the potential dangers to Ashlin. Through the help of a friend, I even found a family whose young son had been implanted. That family was gracious enough to meet with me and let me ask questions of the father and the boy. It really helped me to become willing to go down the path of cochlear implantation. I fully understood that I was just the NaNa and it was not my decision to make, but I desperately wanted to believe it was the right thing to do.

So, the day came when Ashlin was just over two years old that she had her first implant. It was so hard to see that little baby girl being carried off into the operating room. The family waited in agonizing tension for her return from surgery. I filled the air with my quiet prayers for her, asking that she come back to us; asking for her protection. At last she came out. The poor thing looked like she had been hit by a truck. But, after awhile her little spirit awakened and she was with us again.

Our second beautiful granddaughter, Mikaylin, was born three and a half years ago in another successful waterbirth. We all held our breath, wondering if she too would be deaf. This time the testing was done early on. We awaited the results with stilled hearts. The answer came back that she was, indeed, deaf. How could this be?  Again, we were thrown into sadness.  And yet, this time we had more hope.  We knew that there was a way for her to hear; and she had an older sister who was thriving.

Mikaylin had her first implant surgery when she was less than a year old.  I'll tell you, it doesn't get any easier to see a second baby girl carried off to the operating room.  The prayers were every bit as strong for her.  Even though we had been through this before, it was still so hard.  But, Mikaylin bounced back from her surgery very quickly and she was in her full force very soon.

I think, honestly, that it is a blessing that both of the girls are deaf. Both have now had bilateral cochlear implants.  They share a bond between themselves that none of us can even fully fathom, as hearing adults. They will always have this bond. Their relationship will always be strong and magical.

Both of our beautiful granddaughters are strong, healthy and smart. They love to dance and sing. Their speech is clear and their diction as good as or better than hearing kids of the same ages. They have been going to school since age three and had lots of special training from a wonderful school called Tucker Maxon. They are now even learning some sign language, which pleases me immensely.  I hope that they will master several languages in their lives. The girls have bright futures with unlimited possibilities.

My husband and I have tried to help in any way we could, from financial to child care, when needed.  We will always put those girls at the top of our priority list, no matter what.  We have made special arrangements for their education and for their futures.  We love them so deeply.  We thank them so much for being in our lives.  They have and will continue to, "teach us more than we know."

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