My Daughter Is Deaf
Here's what I want you to know about it.
Does your child always want to take a shower at the end of a long day? There’s a good chance that my 8-year-old daughter is very much like your child. Recently she needed to take a shower, and she vehemently did not want to. She told me, “I think you should go to Saturn or Jupiter but not to Pluto, because Pluto is not a planet anymore.”
If you replace the word “told” with “signed,” then you can imagine our reality. Our family communicates in American Sign Language (ASL). She, like all of us, has a myriad of attributes — and among them, she is Deaf. (Deaf should be capitalized when it is used as a shortened reference to being a member of the Deaf Community.)
A few hours after Sarah was born, a hospital worker told her father and me that she failed her newborn hearing screening test. Our daughter, all six pounds of her and perfect in every way, had failed a hearing test? How was this possible?
I still remember my feelings at that moment, which were an amalgam of love, shock and fear. I was a brand-new mother, so of course I felt ill-equipped to handle a sudden new reality. But I began putting one foot in front of the other and relying on people for guidance.
Thankfully, our hospital gave us information about Maryland School for the Deaf, which happened to be just a few minutes from where we lived. This soon led to teachers from the school visiting our home twice weekly for the first few years of Sarah’s life. Somehow, little by little, day by day, what first felt muddled and disordered became clear.
I still remember the moment Sarah signed her first word. She was approximately 6 months old, which is around the time hearing children speak their first words. We were sitting at the top of the stairs and she signed “shoes.”
I recall that tears gathered in my eyes, because after months of attending ASL and parent group classes and watching Sarah in a baby class taught by Deaf teachers and a hearing teacher who is called a CODA, or Child of a Deaf Adult, Sarah was doing all of the things that we were told would occur. Her language was blossoming.
For the first time in my life I felt compelled to truly have faith in something larger than myself, because I wanted Sarah to have abundant self-esteem as a Deaf individual living in a hearing world.
Maybe you can relate to having these emotions as a parent. Last Thanksgiving Sarah and I took a Greyhound bus from Frederick to Philadelphia to visit family — or at least that’s what we thought we were doing. It turns out the trip included an unplanned seven-hour layover in Delaware. I will never forget an older woman there. We chatted and taught her some sign. Sarah drank hot chocolate and exhibited such extreme patience considering an unforeseen delay, thereby helping me exhibit the same. At the end of the day, as we finally departed the bus, the woman told us, “You and Sarah are such a wonderful team.”
I thanked her and felt so very grateful, because that — being a team with my daughter — is what I truly desire, and work for. And that a stranger saw that! Wow! Many people ask me if it was hard to learn a new language. The answer is yes and no. It is hard; learning anything new is challenging, but really, it just IS. It is challenging and gratifying and meaningful and worth it.
There are at least a few minutes every day where I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. But I believe that we all feel like this; and I keep going. I persevere, because at the other side of that feeling is a deeper relationship with my daughter, one where she sees and feels that we are working hard and solving problems. I believe that at every moment the universe is somehow creating situations to give us what we truly need, and this has been evident each day since Sarah was born.
It is my hope that you will truly understand that this is not an article about how a Deaf child learns to “make do” in a hearing world. This is about how my daughter — a blond-haired, brown-eyed, tall, confident, strong-willed, sensitive child who is an avid reader and gymnastics lover — lives in both worlds: the Deaf community surrounded by mostly Deaf individuals and/or the hearing world.
Since her arrival into the world on March 22, 2011, she has been thriving in both environments.
Wherever we are, Sarah learns how to communicate with hearing people, which is an example of how we adapt to a largely hearing world, and I learn how to communicate with Deaf people, and it is not perfect but it happens and humans are patient.
From the time my daughter was born I can look back and see that I — and the rest of Sarah’s family — have been risking vulnerability, as researcher and author Brené Brown talks about. I believe that many of us struggle with uncertainty relating to parenting. I’ve had and can still have notions that I needed to do life, parenting, etc. perfectly in order to do anything at all. Some of you might be able to relate to that.
But being a parent asks me to truly and simply just show up, and trust that the answers and the path will become clear. Somehow, it always does, and in incredible, inspiring ways that I never could have anticipated.
If you would like to learn to sign so that you can communicate with Deaf individuals, there are a wealth of opportunities in our communities to do so. In addition, you can continue to ask how to sign something and to share your experiences with signing. This occurs frequently and I value the opportunity to engage in an open dialogue. I believe that this bridges the gaps that can exist between us but don’t need to be there.
Our lives are so much brighter when we reach out to one another. I write this because I have come to believe that we all have untapped reserves of bravery and courage that are inside us but not fully realized. As author Glennon Doyle says, “we can do hard things.” I will add that we need not do them alone.
It doesn’t matter if our children are hearing or Deaf or any of the other myriad attributes that children have. My child is unique and so is yours. My daughter has no problems to fix or solve or be sad about. What great joys this brings us as parents.