Let's make World Hearing Day a day of appreciation and prevention

I am a complainer. Almost a professional one. And, yes, that is a thing, but I think they call them comedians. But, now seriously, aren't we all? Like many others, I spend too much of my time complaining about lack of time, sleep, money, excess of work, the impossibility of balancing said work, family and self, about all the things I want but can't have, about distance, about aging and about the price of blueberries, since we are at it.

Complaining so much takes time and energy that could be better used in appreciating all I have. A house. A job. A family. Amazing friends. Those are the stereotypes. The typical. The cliché.

But every now and then, something or other helps me focus and appreciate something in particular. And today, I would like for you to join me in it.

Today, March 3rd, is World Hearing Day. I normally laugh at many of these things (National Margarita Day, anyone?). But some have a particular significance, specially if they bring awareness to illnesses, conditions or needs that most people don't even think about. Because, why would you? They didn't resonate with me either. Until they did, and they actually became part of my daily life.

As I grew up, I had never stopped to think much about my senses. All worked, and that was that. I knew a deaf boy, and a blind girl. But that was about it. We all played together, and they were pretty well integrated. It was the 80s, and we were kids. I never thought that being able to enjoy music, nature, or just being able to communicate or learn a language without much effort was a privilege. It was more of a given.

Then, one day, and without much warning, I learned that my brand new baby was deaf. And at that, profoundly deaf. Since before birth.

There I was, at the audiologist's office, completely stunned, speechless for once, with the only company of a ten month old who relied on me for absolutely everything, even more so after that moment. I had felt for a while that something was going on, but it took rational me months to follow my instinct. It actually took "empirical proof". I couldn't go to the pediatrician with a gut feeling I couldn't even pinpoint. But my little experiment consisting of banging doors, and pans, and blasting GNRs to no reaction from him seemed like a good enough case. It turned out it was.

Going back to that moment, I kind of blanked. All I was able to think, on a loop, was that my baby had never heard me say "I love you". "Te quiero". "Maite zaitut".

Boom.

As a mother, and an overwhelmingly huggey, and kissey, and cheesy one at that, that was the first thing that crushed me. That was what brought me to tears. And, almost stuttering, I asked the audi. "So that means he has never heard me say "I love you"?". She answered. "I am afraid not. But I am sure he knows you love him." Well, that wasn't good enough for me.

In my head, in my silly head of mom who spends the pregnancy playing music and reading poetry to and increasingly growing human containing belly, that was impossible to grasp. I needed time to process it.

That was the first and last day that I cried over this whole deal. I was scared, and surprised, and lost. I had no idea what was coming our way, but even that early I already knew that it would most likely involve surgery. Which would freak any parents out of their minds. And I was dealing with all this in a foreign country, with a diabolically complex health system (even with the best insurance), and in a language that wasn't native to me. Believe it or not, that adds a whole other layer of worry.

Still shocked, I put my baby in his winter gear, strapped him in his stroller, and walked out of the hospital. We were close enough to our house that I hadn't brought the car, and, boy, did I need that walk.

For the first time ever I stopped to listen. And I heard things that I normally tune out. That are such a normal part of our background that we give them for granted, for better or for worse: car engines; dogs, so many dogs barking in our neighborhood; people talking; the siren of an ambulance; an audacious bird chirping in late February in Chicago.

Then, as I kept walking, I realized that he had never heard music, rattles, his brother's voice, or anyone else's for that matter. He had never heard two blocks knock each other, or the sound a wooden train makes against the wooden rails. The leaves of a book as you pass them while you read to them. His own laugh.

img_5027And in that moment, I decided that the only way there was for us was forward, and that I would do all I could to help him live life to the fullest. Whatever that would take, with the exception of his happiness and a certain degree of normalcy. And life to the fullest for me had to include music.

After that day, I spent months without turning on the radio in the car, or playing music at home. No more concerts for me. I guess that was my way of mourning the loss of something we had never had. But I felt I wouldn't be able to enjoy it again until I could share it with him, that it would be unfair to him.

It has taken two surgeries, thousands of miles driving back and forth to doctors and providers, three schools, a wonderful and dedicated team of professionals and hundreds of hours of therapy. But by now, he hears pretty much like you and I, he enjoys music, and he is becoming fluent in two languages, all while having a pretty happy and typical childhood.

In November, we had that "aha!" moment when we realized we had gotten there, even if we didn't know what "there" meant five minutes before. But at a restaurant, while celebrating my birthday, he was able to order his dinner and drink with no intervention or interpreting on our part. The server understood every single word of it. "I want an orange juice and pizza with cheese". He was six. And I was in tears for the second time in this five year journey, but this time I was crying tears of happiness and pride. I will never get a better birthday gift. And although we still have a long way to go, I have now the certainty that he will reach the top of his potential. And soon he will go to a concert with me.

Now, just so you can appreciate your hearing as I do now, cover your ears and go for a walk outside. Earplugs, headphones, your hands, anything will do. But walk for ten minutes trying not to hear, covering your ears with something. Then, when you go back to the hearing world, try to name the things you are hearing. I can assure you you will be surprised. And very, very appreciative.

 

*Note from a bossy mom: on this day, I would also like to remind you to protect your hearing. Every morning on the train I have to hold myself from ripping off the headphones from some twentysomething year old who is listening to music at a decibel level that I know is hurting their hearing. Here are some links to advice on how to preserve your hearing intact for as long as you can:

https://www.hear-the-world.com/en/engagement/campaigns-and-events/make-listening-safe

http://www.hearingloss.org/content/prevention-hearing-loss

http://www.betterhearing.org/hearingpedia/hearing-loss-prevention

 

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