They say the best part of being a parent is becoming a grandparent. I’m sure that’s true for many people, but as a new grandma I’m still ironing out some of the kinks. (Note: Although my husband and I have only one 17-year-old child together, he is the father of four, one of whom made me an earlier-than-expected grandmother. They call me GG, for Grandma Gael, and we don’t use the ‘step’ word.)
Actually, there’s really only one kink: with my severe hearing loss, I have trouble understanding my three year-old grandson, Gage. I can understand his younger brother perfectly – but then, Owen is only eight months old. Held close enough, I can hear any sound from any body part that Owen makes, and his facial expressions are pretty basic.
But Gage – a gorgeous, intelligent, and kinetic being – doesn’t stay still long enough for me to successfully speechread him. We live half a continent apart and don’t speak often enough for that smooth ‘customization’ process to take place that allows a person with hearing loss to learn and adapt to another person’s speech. So every time Gage and I connect, whether in person or in a live chat through Facetime on iPad, I start the speechreading process over again – IF he sits still long enough.
I know it will eventually work out, just as it did with my own son. When I was expecting Joel, I was nervous about how my hearing loss would affect my child and our relationship. But, like any new mom, I learned on the job and he doesn’t (yet) appear to be traumatized by our communication challenges. In fact, he’s one of the best speakers and communicators I know.
For any new moms facing similar fears, here’s a Q&A of just a little of what I learned about communicating as a hard of hearing mother.
Q: Is my unborn baby making any sounds that I’m not hearing?
A: I don’t think so, but of course I’m not the best person to ask, am I? What I can say with certainty is that those 40 weeks were the most blessedly silent period of my life. When your baby is born, the noise will start, so enjoy the peace of pregnancy.
Q: How will I hear my baby crying at night?
A: The easiest method, although not necessarily the best, is to have a hearing partner. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting that baby-making-partners should be chosen for their ability to hear well, because there are many things more irksome in a spouse than hearing loss. (Inattentiveness and leaving the toilet seat up jump to mind.) But hearing spouses can be very useful in detecting a baby’s cry. They respond by lifting their head off the pillow to confirm that it’s the baby and not the cat, then they jab you in the ribs, saying, “Honey, baby’s crying…”
If you prefer to be awakened by a flashing light rather than a sharp elbow, use a baby monitor, an alerting system or a combination of the two to help you respond to your child. My daughter-in-law uses a video baby monitor, which I could have used years ago when my toddler decided to try climbing out of the crib by himself. I walked in just in time to find him tottering lengthwise along the rail, flying like an airplane, both excited and terrified.
Q: I have trouble understanding other people’s children with their high voices. I’m nervous that I’ll have difficulty understanding my own child!
A: While I don’t want to trivialize or underestimate the communication challenges that you will most certainly have from time to time, this is your child and hearing loss will not prevent the two of you from connecting and communicating. You will always watch the face of your child for the information you can’t hear, and your baby will thrive on a parent who is focused and caring. Your daughter will learn how to get your attention. Your son will discover how to communicate what he needs or wants from you. You will understand your child because you love your child and will do what it takes to keep communication flowing both ways.
Please reach out to your hearing local health organization or association such as HLAA or CHHA. I was six months pregnant when I connected with the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association and I received emotional support and practical advice that helped make me a better mom.
Q: What happens when my child becomes a teenager?
A: All the good communication the two of you have shared will go out the window. Seriously, I’m not kidding. I go into more detail on this subject in My Son’s Mom’s Hearing Loss (see also The Hard of Hearing Mommy). The good news is that good communication will come back. Be patient (I’m trying to be) and take heart in knowing that you are not the problem and neither is your child. It’s the inevitable but temporary teenager syndrome that turns your beautiful child into a mumbling idiot.
Q: What happens when I become a grandmother? Will my years of communicating with my own child make it easier to understand my grandchildren?
A: Please re-read the first four paragraphs of this article. Although you won’t have to go back to square one, as a grandma you will have to start a new process because communication is different with every child, whether your own child or a grandchild. Communication is a two-way street, between two people. But you will have experience on your side, and by then you will have learned that good eye contact and patience, plus the willingness to give your grandchild whatever he or she wants, will work in your favor. Good luck and happy parenting and grand-parenting.
Now, I think I’ll go call Gage……