When I was born in 1973—decades before mandatory newborn hearing screenings—my mother suspected something was wrong with my hearing. The pediatrician kept pooh-poohing her and saying I was fine. She persevered, and finally found a vindication of sorts when I was diagnosed with a profound hearing loss at 14 months of age.
My parents knew nothing about deafness. Should they teach me how to sign or how to talk? Ultimately, they decided I could always learn how to sign, but couldn’t always learn how to talk. The window of development is small, and they wanted me to have all the tools to be independent. That meant taking the harder route, but one with the most long-term gain.
My mother took time off from her teaching job—which ended up being years longer than anticipated when my sister was born deaf three years later—to shuttle me to speech and language therapy every day. Her teaching skills came in handy as she worked with me at home. My mother couldn’t just relax and enjoy parenthood. Everything was a lesson. If I wanted a cookie, I couldn’t just point. I had to make a sound, even if it was just “coco.”
Once I started school, reams of notebooks were filled as my mother wrote back and forth to my teachers, sharing concerns, updates and lessons. Things were a lot more labor-intensive before email, but now I have a written, tangible record thanks to the notebooks that were saved. I didn’t expect to read about a successful poop or my paternal grandmother’s early death.
Because of my mother’s perseverance, I was mainstreamed in the public school system and continued speech therapy through high school. My sister and I were exposed to as much as possible and taught to be our own advocates. I went on to college and graduate school, married and had a family. Now I call upon what my mother went through when I face challenges with my kids.
Perseverance doesn’t even begin to cover everything Mom did for me. It’s because of her that I’m able to voice, “Thank you.”
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