Monday, October 22, 2012

A Parent's Perspective

Time to give you a break from me.  My story began 32 years ago.  Here's how my dad tells it.  I'm breaking it into several posts, but here's the beginning of the story. I thought it would be especially appropriate, as I approach Activation Day on Wednesday, to start with the first time that I heard a sound. I wonder if my reaction will be similar. 

First, a bit of background. Rebecca’s hearing loss was not formally diagnosed until she was about 13 months old. We had noticed that she did not always respond as expected as an infant. For example, I remember standing in her bedroom doorway and talking to her without her apparent notice until I walked up to the crib so that I was in her field of vision. (If she had been a teenager, I would have thought that this was completely normal.) Then she would kick her legs and almost quake in excitement. (That would certainly have been abnormal for a teenager.)

One night I thought that I would “test” her hearing by clapping while she was sitting on the floor with her back to me. She immediately jumped, so I concluded that she could hear just fine, but was just an unusually serene child. Later, after her hearing loss had been confirmed, it occurred to me that she had not “heard” the clap as much as she “felt” the concussion of it.
Her pediatrician had not seemed particularly alarmed by our concerns about her hearing. I think that he dismissed our anecdotal evidence as typical of new parents of a first child. (Incidentally, this is why I often refer to Rebecca as “my firstborn in the wilderness of my affliction”: we lived in Corpus Christi when she was born. Anyone who has lived there would understand.)

Anyway, we moved to New Braunfels and got a new pediatrician. Testing infants’ hearing must have been a new technology in those days, not a routine procedure as it is today. It must have been the new pediatrician, Dr. Frank Hampel, who encouraged us to take her for testing, which was done at Texas State University (then SWTSU). We were expecting to hear that she needed to have tubes inserted in her ears for drainage and that they would solve the problem.
I think that we handled the diagnosis of “profound hearing loss in both ears” pretty calmly. Looking back, though, I cannot understand why we would have been so calm. We must not have understood all the implications for her – and for us.
I don’t know who it was that recommended that we take her to the Sunshine Cottage in San Antonio for evaluation and therapy, but it was a God-send. The faculty there recommended to us that we follow the philosophy of making use of whatever hearing she had, assisted by hearing aids, and teaching her to hear and talk without resorting to sign language. I know that this is a highly charged controversy among the hearing-impaired. But for Rebecca it has been a blessing.
In those days technology was such that the hearing aids best suited for her were small rectangular boxes about the size of a package of cigarettes. She would need to wear them at chest level, with the aids connected to ear-pieces in both ears by thin wires. Her mother was supposed to sew several elastic “halters” with tight loops in them to hold the hearing aids securely. Yes, this made them very conspicuous, and we worried that she might reject them as being “unfashionable” even at that tender age. I told my wife, “We’ll just tell her that it is a training bra and she won’t mind at all.” We have very few pictures of Rebecca wearing the halters, but she was as cute as a bug in them.
I well remember the day that her hearing aids were installed for the first time. The therapist, Dan, at Sunshine Cottage had “warned” us that the experience could be traumatic for her, since it would be the first time for her to ever hear any sound. He was very gentle. Rebecca sat in my lap while he inserted the hearing aids into the halters, and then inserted the ear pieces into her ears. He was sensitive to any reaction on her part that would indicate that she was uncomfortable or upset at any stage. Then he turned on one of the aids. We waited in eager anticipation to see what miracle was about to unfold before our very eyes.
She promptly fell asleep in my arms.
More to come from my dad soon.  And just to give you an idea about the difficult decisions that parents make for a deaf child, here's a great blog post from the New York Times that ran last year.


  1. Your dad is a wonderful writer, funny too! It is fascinating to come across anyone's life story, but this is easily one of the best I've read. I smile every time your name comes up in my Google Reader.

  2. I'm so glad to hear about this from your parents' perspective. This seems like it would be a hard decision, but it doesn't seem like it was for your parents. I love the blog post you linked to too. This has become a recent fascination of mine as I have more and more people around me who are deaf and who sign. I think I would be overwhelmed at making such huge decisions for my kids, but both your dad and this family in the article moved ahead with such confidence. Wow! Can't wait to read more from your dad (or mom!).