Our Slowly Recalibrating Ears.

My daughter, age 3

I was hoping for something immediate; we’d put them in and every word she uttered would be comprehensible because she could hear the highs, the lows, the hisses of them, could distinguish the curling in of the lips around M’s and the baring of teeth for the N’s. And maybe the selfsame night, we would curve our bodies together like the twin-bed-sharing contortionists we so often become and have, for the very first time, an unconfused conversation.

You rush her along, her father insisted two nights before our audiology appointment. She’s only three. She’s a baby.

He is right; in my mind, I am rushing it all along — not just our daughter’s development, but ours, as parents, as co-parents, as individuals able to contentedly compromise. We still do not know how difficult all of this is for the other. Our feelings are passing ships. Afloat, alone, at the ends of our days, we are too busy nursing our private wounds to be beacons for one another.

The hearing aids are inconspicuous. The amplifiers, a deep indigo, tuck neatly behind her ears. The molds are translucent, two shades lighter than her skin; they curl around the cartilage and settle just inside the ear canals. Kim, the audiologist, urges us both to take turns pressing them in and demonstrates how to remove the batteries.

Both exercises take me two tries; her father does them by rote. Today, I am too ginger, a bit disengaged. Today, he is the one sitting with her in his lap, listening as though he lives with us.

This is his first trip to the audiologist’s office. It is my fourth. I am alone at the meetings with her hearing instructors, alone at her IEP meetings. He tells me, all the time, that I am not in fact alone; that he is also here: worrying, scheduling, purchasing, negotiating, budgeting.

But his here is too often metaphysical. He is here, but he resides across the country. He is here, but not in a way that allows me to remain asleep when our daughter wakes at 4 a.m. or to write when she needs a bath. He is here, but he cannot hear her when she asks for him, cannot discipline her when my patience is papery, brittle. He is here while ever urging me to uproot and move myself and our daughter there.

It is true that I rush. I am eager for that other shore, where this will be well resolved, but I do not wish to abandon my ship to reach it. Neither does he. These ships are tall, are sprawling. We’ve built them, for better or worse, apart. Our ships are all we have.

The batteries last just 7-10 days. Their strength can be determined in one of two ways:

1. Hold the hearing aid in the palm of a hand. Open, then close the fingers. Listen. If there is sound, not unlike a microphone’s feedback, the batteries are working.

2. Affix one end of an external tube to the part of the earmold that fits into her ear canal; hold the other end to my own ear. Say something. Listen. If I am louder, clearer, more distinct: the batteries are working.

She came home with the aids in her ears, and before long, my mother was teary. She had not taken discussions of buying them well, insisting that they were unnecessary, resolute about other speech and language methods we should try before conscripting her to what she felt was an ill and too-early fate. She just needs time, she would press. She just needs time.

But she was with me when the tests were run. We sat thigh to thigh while the baby was sedated, watched and waited in silence while the probes in her ears and on her forehead produced squiggles and ticks and graphs. We both heard the assessment, the recommendation: though this isn’t the type of hearing loss that will progress, it is also not the type that goes away.

This day was always coming. She just felt rushed along.

I, on the other hand, keep feeling like we’re lagging behind. Teachers have been asking for months when we would get these tiny devices. Her pediatrician has called me, questioning, pressing. Her deaf and hearing impaired instructors have called me in for meetings, have played sound files that simulate what noise sounds like in our ears compared to in hers. Everyone else with a stake in our girl has insisted: the sooner, the better.

When everyone wants to know when, it’s the mothers who are markers of time.

These decisions should ultimately be ours, her father says. Promise we’ll be the last word in making choices for our daughter. He is asking us to be noise-cancelers for each other.

We are, is what I tell him. But what’s truer is that, for now, these decisions are mine. I act as my own filter of what voices are welcomed in or canceled out. So often, I am hearing them alone. And explanations are expected, not of us, but of me.  He is the disembodied voice, enforcing via phone; I am the one who walks in through the door. Here.

It has never made much sense to me why he is not. But I’ve grown quite adept at pretending, at nodding my head as though it’s all coming in clearly.

She can take them out with one fluid movement. Mama, she says, extending them both in the cease of her hand. Ears. Maybe she thinks they’re an extra set, ears for their own sake, lonely for a body to befriend. Maybe when she hands them to me she is saying: these friends are beginning to bore me.

The goal is to get her to wear them at all times except during baths, naps, and bedtime. For now, she is primarily wearing them to school and when we are alone at home. A weariness befalls the house when she wears them with my mother and grandmother here. They do not like to handle them; they sneak skeptical glances. And in the hidden space where I am squirreling away private anxieties, their unease makes me question myself in ways that I cannot let on.

We are all being tested like her batteries. Opening, closing ourselves: waiting for feedback. I have no problem listening, but it’s my voice that needs to be amplified. If I am louder, clearer, more distinct, my daughter will hear what she needs.

Before, I imagined immediacy: her face lighting up, clear sentences coursing through her lips in streams. But now that they’re finally here, I can’t really tell what difference the hearing aids are making in her experience of sound. She never resists them. From the very first day, she has welcomed them — at least for awhile — without any protest at all.  Once or twice, with them in, I have heard her correcting her diction. It’s difficult not to make more of that than I should. I am impatient for witty repartee, for knock-knock jokes and endless questions, for clear, concise signals and measures that we’re truly communicating.

But this is a shifting that’s subtle. It cannot be rushed. Slowly, we are all being called to self-correct and all hoping, over time, that we will hear with more sensitive ears.

4 responses to “Our Slowly Recalibrating Ears.”

  1. Wonderful, well written article about your experience. Everything you have experienced is exactly what the families I work with in Babies Can’t Wait tell me happens. They hope they don’t have to do hearing aids, they feel pressured and when they do decide to aid their child other family members disagree, are nervous or even undermine the process. You hope that it’s going to be THE ANSWER and when it is really not completely at least immediately, it feels frustrating and depressing. As a parent of a special needs child with another issue, I always prayed for that one answer, a diagnosis that would lead to the right medication and a “cure that would allow us to go on as we did with our older daughter. Well, we eventually got the diagnosis, medicine but no immediate CURE because she had to learn the communication and social skills she missed early on and continued to miss because of the way she is wired neurologically. In a way, your situation is similar in that respect. It required a great deal of effort, but my daughter is generally doing well even though she still has lots of bumps in the road. Lots of people had plenty of advice for me. I listened to some, discarded others and listened to my heart even when her Dad disagreed because he preferred to deny there was a very serious problem. Be strong as you are, keep working with your daughter and you will have those wonderful conversations you want. Know that your article will comfort others experiencing the same thing and educate professionals how profound a situation this can be.

  2. Thank you for allowing me to share with my staff. There has been nothing but an outpouring of positive emotion. Everyone at Babies Can’t Wait thanks you for insight into your world and thoughts.

  3. Thank you for this. I was diagnosed with hereditary hearing loss as a child, and, while it has been at a manageable level (I thought) without hearing aids, my husband often encourages me to look into getting some. I, like your mother, resist because of stigma; although I know hearing aids will reduce the amount of times I have to ask for clarification, the sheepish request I make that people not talk to me when they are facing away from me. You are right: “the highs, the lows, the hisses of them,” there is a complete range of sound that gets lost on its way from my ears to my brain. Whistles, beeps, clinks…I don’t know how long I haven’t heard what I haven’t heard. But you aptly translate a child’s hearing impairment into the language of parenthood, a lingo I am slowly learning as well.

  4. I think as a mother of a child who has not yet found her full hearing capability, you write this out as if you’re in teaching mode to us. As if you want us to learn exactly what goes into making this type of decision for Story and why. I appreciate that. As a reader of a younger cousin who had to have ear tube surgery to aid in hearing loss (constant fluid was building in her ears) and watch her experience the deer in the headlight look to us as we spoke, the tilting of her head when my voice entered the room, the constant paces she would make when we sang as if she was keeping time, it helps me to read this. She had to go through Speech Therapy for at least two years (I may be a little off on the exact timing) so that she could learn and form words just as her peers were doing. Now, at the precious age of 16, I am happy to say that she is a lively, well-spoken (although, soft-spoken) young lady in her Junior year of High School. She’s extraordinary to me and I am thankful for that process for her.

    I hope Story gains every inch of auditory function and as she gets older, realizes that you guys are doing what’s best for her. Good luck Stacia, you’re an awesome mom. I don’t doubt her ability to advance with little to no problems.

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