“ Whenever Iíve been asked about hearing impairment, Iíve proudly talked of our daughterís success story. Why wouldnít I? She has had a marvellous start in life! Sheís achieved what hearing children have achieved. Thatís the story I tell. However, thereís another story, and itís the story of the emotional rocky road my husband and I have travelled as parents. I believe that most parents, with a child with a disability, have similar experiences but are never given the opportunity to relate the story, which has been running parallel to their childís development. No one wants to be seen as a whinger, but maybe if the word ďrelateĒ is used, we can give ourselves permission to relate the many different feelings of our journey with other parents of hard of hearing kids.
Itís been 10 years since my daughter was diagnosed; it seems such a long time ago. As our daughter has just had a beautifully smooth transition into secondary school, I can now say that Iím feeling the calmest Iíve ever felt in her lifetime. Itís hard to remember the intensity of what I felt when I found out she was deaf. I remember the numbness. A sort of disbelief at what I was hearing. Now I recognise it as shock. There was no time for tears, there was too much to be done. I wouldnít be able to do what was necessary if I couldnít control my emotions. There were countless appointments to make and baby sitters to arrange for my younger son so that I could manage the appointments as easily as possible.
Along with my husband we travelled the path that everyone does: Monash Hospital testing, Australian Hearing testing, hearing aids fitted and early intervention area chosen. By that time Iíd decided that I was going to be strong and no one would ever know otherwise. On my first meeting with Rita at the EEP, I confidently walked up to her and extended my hand and began to introduce myself, only to be ambushed by my emotions. I burst into tears and sobbed uncontrollably. None of this was in my comfort zone: I didnít know what to do. Seeing a bunch of little kids with hearing aids frightened and distressed me. For some reason it seemed wrong to give in and cry, cry, cry. I didnít think that Iíd be able to cope with any of it. But I learnt to cope with the help of all at the EEP. That was the first successful step; many more successful steps were to follow.
Looking back I think that a lot of my feelings were suppressed by the anxiety that I felt. My fear about the unknown was tremendous. I felt sick with worry so often that I was confused. Thoughts of rejection were constant. How would she or the rest of the family cope if other people saw her as unacceptable? What could we as a family do to make sure we all had a normal life? My emotions told me to protect her but at what cost. My fearful attitude towards our situation changed when I went to an information evening at the EEP and saw two young women who were deaf speak about their lives. Both women are profoundly deaf. I was tremendously inspired by both these young women who had gained amazing results in their VCE.
I went home that night thinking that the sky was the limit. There had been a huge shift in my heart. For the first time since the diagnosis things were looking up. A normal life was just around the corner. We decided to send our daughter to a school with a facility for deaf children. I think that I needed this more than she did. Leaving the EEP was a huge and frightening step and I didnít think that Iíd be able to cope without having people around who knew about hearing loss. At the facility she would be monitored by professional Teachers of the Deaf and there were other children around with hearing aids and cochlear implants. She wouldnít be the odd one out and I wouldnít be the odd parent out. Iíve always believed that if the foundations of education are solid then the rest of the education will successfully build on that and that there will be fewer problems in the future. We packed up our home that we loved and moved to a new area. It wasnít easy to hear people lightly say that our home was ďonly bricks and mortarĒ and it wasnít such a big thing to move. We told ourselves that, until we did it. We loved the home and we grieved for it after we left it. I never expressed my grief for the house and I didnít express my anger at the comments and the lack of empathy shown by people who had absolutely no idea what we were going through at that stage of our lives.
Together my husband and I constantly looked for opportunities that would broaden our daughterís life experiences and give her confidence for now and the future. She joined the school netball team and the Girl Guides. She enjoyed it all. The first Girl Guide camp she attended was at the age of 7. It was 6 nights away and she loved it. Every year there have been school camps and she has attended them all. She happily went and I happily worried. It was what I did best! Last year she was selected, along with 5 other children, to go on an overseas trip involving an international school exchange. It was the first time that a hard of hearing child had applied for such a trip and was selected to go. It was a fantastic experience for her. We took every opportunity to show her the experiences of hearing children and itís all paid off.
Something that has always been of great use to us is the opportunity that we have had to attend information evenings. Weíve found them to be invaluable. We always looked to learn more, to hear what the parents of older childrenís experiences were and to hear what other older deaf children had to say about their everyday lives. Look and listen and then act. Donít sit around waiting for good things to happen Ė make them happen. That has been our ongoing attitude.
Sometimes I forget how difficult things can be for her and I take our normal household for granted, then something will make me stop and think just what a remarkable young lady she is and I feel so proud of her and I realise how much I love her. Some of the decisions that weíve made have not been easy but the rewards are in every aspect of our lives and at times I feel overwhelmed with gratitude at how fortunate our lives are. As I said earlier, things just donít happen, itís dedication and love that brings good fortune into being. My husband and I will always nurture an awareness of our daughterís progress. This has become a way of life for us and we embrace it with love and happiness. ”