Being a Deaf Mom

By Jennifer Deconde Borgardt, Pennsylvania Hands & Voices

Being a mom is simultaneously rewarding, funny and heartbreaking because of what children do and say. Being a deaf mom adds an additional layer to everything, as would any type of ‘specialness’. We focus so much on what children and their unique nature bring to the family dynamic that we often overlook our own idiosyncrasies as parents.  What I bring to the table is a life-long severe to profound hearing loss in both ears; however, I only wear one hearing aid and thus I’m a unilateral hearer, if there is such a word.

Being a deaf mom can certainly add some spice to the challenges of raising children. One scenario:  how do you hear your children when they call for you in the middle of the night?  Usually that has never been an issue because I have a hearing husband. During the occasional times when he travels, I often had the children sleep with me especially when they were young, or I would sometimes sleep with my hearing aid on. However by the nature of my personality I’m a very deep sleeper -- hearing or deaf I’m still going to sleep through anything. All I got out of that experiment was a sore ear in the morning. 

One year my husband spent a summer working in a research lab across the country. One night, after a big day, the boys and I came home late and fell asleep together in my bed. One of the boys wet the bed.  I got up and moved to the guest bedroom. The youngest promptly woke up (he has excellent ‘mommy radar’- that kid could locate me in a tornado), found me and snuggled up and went to sleep.  However my oldest, then six, (this is the child who has high anxiety and wants to know exactly what the schedule is for the day several times before he is satisfied) woke up and realized that I wasn’t there. He got scared but amazingly he’s actually very level-headed.  He remembered what I had told him that if anytime I’m not around and he doesn’t know what to do he is to go to our neighbor’s house. Instead of looking for me in the guest bedroom, he went to our neighbor’s house and knocked on the door. He managed to wake up our neighbor at 2 a.m. -- he must be a light sleeper. Our good neighbor gave him a flashlight and told him to look in all of the bedrooms. My son found me and crawled into bed and snuggled up to me. I was completely unaware of what had transpired until the next morning.  My son told me that he tried to call for me. Hello -- deaf mom, and she sleeps like a log. From then on I was very religious in making sure that I always had a trail of light leading from his room to me.

My friends always point out to me that a wonderful benefit of being deaf is that I don’t have to listen to kids screaming or whining. I could just turn off my hearing aid and ignore it. True, those sounds don’t seem to bother me as much as it does others.  I’m able to tune it down but not necessarily out. I would never turn off the sound because 1) I never want my kids to think that I would ignore them by turning off my hearing aid or let them think that tuning out is okay, and 2) I’m afraid that I would miss a crucial change in voice tone that could signify danger such as choking from crying or a change in the crying that says “I’m ready to be approached, consoled or held.”  I’m not always able to understand all of the individual words but I am able to get the ‘tone’. I really enjoy being around my kids; children’s voices and antics put me in a good mood.  I often try to find a ‘chore’ to do in the area that they are playing so I can eavesdrop a little easier. I generally listen for the tone of voices rather than the words and watch the children’s demeanor. Every now and then I may get a snippet of a conversation. 

Another benefit of being a deaf mom is that my kids can explain things well or find many ways to say the same thing. My kids will give me a one word response such as ‘loss’ and I have no idea what they’re talking about. Is it gloss, floss, lost?  I will often ask them to give me an example of what they mean or give me background information such as ‘the loss of a game.’  I remember my toddler, then four years old, trying to tell me that a firetruck had gone by. He had a limited vocabulary but he acted it out. He used the words “red truck” and made a siren sound. I got it. I was pretty impressed and praised him for his persistent creativity.   

Just as there are upsides there are also downsides to being a deaf mom. I find that my kids are most contemplative in the car. Those contemplative times often provide insight into what they are thinking about or how their minds are evolving. However, though we shop for the quietest car on the lot, it is hard for me to hear in the car with all the engine and background noise and the necessity of putting kids in the backseat. Those contemplative discussions have been few and far between. I try to find other times when my children are thoughtful and talkative – bedtime can be one of those times. It’s sometimes hard to take advantage of those teachable moments because you have to know exactly what is being said or transpiring in order to make a timely comment or action. I wish I could be a fly on the wall while driving so that I could listen to what the kids are talking about with their friends. Those conversations can be quite illuminating. I can recall one instance, when the kids were in fourth grade.  They were talking about who they liked in class. Martin said, (I only know this because another adult was with me in the car and repeated the conversation for me) “I’m going to marry Raven.”  Aiden said, “Raven doesn’t like you.”  Martin says, “Don’t you think I know that!”  I laughed very hard because Martin didn’t feel that someone liking you was a necessary requirement for marriage plans. 

Parents know that we are mostly surrounded by joyful noise and then it gets real quiet - usually an indicator that we’d better investigate. My usual strategy is to check on the kids pretty frequently. One time I was painting the living room and of course my husband was gone again on a business trip. The kids were playing and having a merry time. Because I was so engrossed in my painting I did not check up on them as often I normally would. Suddenly, I heard a loud thud like a sonic boom. I immediately stopped painting and with trepidation started looking for my kids. As with any mom in this situation, a bunch of worst case scenarios flew through my head about what could have happened as I was racing to find them. I was thinking that one of the kids had climbed up on the bookshelf and knocked it over and could be seriously hurt.  My oldest came running, talking gibberish. I was really worried as I followed him downstairs. I saw my other son standing in the middle of the basement with a shocked look on his face and the sewage pipe broken behind him and sewage spilled on the basement floor. I was flabbergasted -- literally speechless. Then anger swelled up and I couldn’t trust myself to talk in fear that I would say words that I would regret. I did the next thing I could think of, I told the boys to get in the car. I drove them over to my friend’s house. She is one of those friends that I could ask anything of—no explanation needed.   I dropped them off and told her that I didn’t want to see my kids for a couple of days and I explained to her why. My oldest son had convinced my youngest son to go through the vent that opens from the laundry room into the basement and as part of the journey, he stood on the sewage pipe, which then broke. I think that they knew they did something terribly wrong and were trying to figure a way out of it.  My kids do not lack in the adventurous or creativity department. It took me two days to clean and sanitize that basement. I was further challenged that I had to trudge over to my neighbors to get water for cleaning the basement because I had to turn off the water to the house. I’m blessed that one of my best friends is quite a handywoman. That night she drove to the next town and got the parts to replace the PVC pipe that broke while I was home still cleaning the basement.  Together we were able to replace the broken section with new pipe and of course secure it better. I also wrote all over on the PVC pipe “DO NOT TOUCH!”

Having kids also means having pets. In addition to having the standard cat and dog, we also had a hamster, which had a tendency to escape.  My eldest son has the best hearing in the family. When the hamster was missing, he would be able to locate it by hearing it at night when it was active. Again, my husband had already left for his annual summer work and we were to meet up with him once the kids’ school got out. I planned on leaving by 7 a.m. the next morning. The kids were in their last day of school and I was cleaning house and packing up the van for our three day drive from Pennsylvania to Colorado. The hamster had escaped again that morning. I was not worried because I knew we would find the hamster that evening. So I went ahead and cleaned the hamster’s cage.  I stopped up the utility sink to soak the cage in a bleach solution and while waiting for the sink to fill, I moved on to other tasks. I went down to the basement to get some gear we would need and was confronted with a surreal scene: It was raining in the basement. Not just mist or drizzle, but literally, a hard rain throughout the basement.  I thought I was hallucinating--there is no way it could rain inside of a house.  I sat on the steps and rubbed my eyes and looked again trying to make sense of the scene. Then I realized that I left the utility sink running for at least 3 hours. I never heard it overflow. I quickly ran upstairs to turn off the sink. I tried to think of what to do next. I sat down and had a quick cry. I was feeling pretty overwhelmed because I knew I had to leave the next morning to make it to my rendezvous point in Colorado on time. I called my best friends - yes, the sewer pipe friends. They came over and we sprang into action mopping up all the water with towels and called the insurance agent hoping that the policy covered acts of stupidity. My insurance agent called in the professionals who take care of houses that have been flooded. They were there in a half an hour and life was good again. The flood specialists brought in massive dehumidifiers and placed them on the main floor and in the basement and told me that the machinery would need to run for about four days and that I would have a huge spike in the electric bill. I told them to do what was necessary so I would come home at the end of the summer to a mildew and mold free house.  They proceeded to tell me that I may need to have the flooring replaced. I hated the flooring and had wanted it replaced. I said, with a smile on my face, “No problem,” because I was already seeing the silver lining. The hamster was found and we left on time in the morning. My next dilemma was how to tell my husband. “Honey, remember, that flooring in the kitchen that I didn’t like?  I got it replaced free of charge for you.”

Things happen because of what we bring to the table whether it is deafness, organizational challenges, or something else.  All of these things add a layer of texture to our lives. Initially, these incidents may seem horrible but eventually we’ll laugh about them and the library of great family stories is built. I always tell my husband when he sometimes complains about my ‘selective’ hearing or we have our frequent communication mishaps that at least his life is not boring.  We must remember that we are humans first; our deafness or hearing loss is just a secondary characteristic.  Yes, it does add spice to our lives, a spice we are not used to but we learn to relish all the same. ~

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