I’ll never forget the time I was standing on a dock in the middle of a lake, casually draining my long hair of water, soaking in the summer heat surrounding me. Little did I know, my right breast had escaped the clutches of my bikini top; it must have popped out when I dove into the cool lake. But because I wasn’t wearing my hearing aids—I can’t wear those babies in the water—I couldn’t hear those back on land who were calling at me to shove it back in.
So, there I stood, clueless of the fact that I was exposing myself to the whole world—or just those I was with at the cottage with. It must have been three hours or three minutes—when I looked down and found said breast hanging out, basking in the fresh air.
Had I been like one of you hearing folk, I probably would have popped that baby back in hiding in seconds flat. But I’m not.
If I don’t wear my hearing aids, I cannot hear you.
Being without my hearing aids can feel like I’m paused in time. The laughter and chatter that goes on around me is missed until I put my small electronics in. You can find me standing there, oblivious to what’s being said because the conversations are too quick and sporadic.
“How bad is your hearing?” and “How much can you hear?” are typical questions people ask me, looking to see what it’s like to live without hearing. No matter what my answers are, you will never fully grasp the challenges I live with each and every day. These questions are based on curiosity, I get it. However, the only way I can help people understand is by describing my bare hearing as the likes of Charlie Brown’s teacher.
I’ve worn hearing aids since I was seven years old. As a child, I never really cared much about it because children are resilient and don’t pay much attention to differences, at least they didn’t when I was a kid. I had friends and I can’t remember a time when I was viciously picked on. Sure friends crack jokes about my hearing, but it was never serious enough to the point where I ran home crying because someone made me feel different.
However, as I grew up, I started having insecurities. I mean, I was the only one I knew who had a hearing problem, let alone any kind of disability. For some reason I never classified someone who wore glasses as having a disability. It just wasn’t the same.
Despite my feelings, I still had friends and boyfriends and was always treated as if I was the same as everyone else.
As an adult, I’m more insecure about my hearing disability than I ever was. Over the past 10 years or so, you would see me leave my long curly hair down around my shoulders, covering my ears more often than not, despite how warm it was outside. I wanted to conceal the giant plastic tools that can be found in my ears. I wanted to hide the fact that I was, in fact, different.
While I’m a competent lip-reader, there was a stretch of time where you wouldn’t know that, as I purposely refrained from doing it. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself because heaven forbid know you know I can’t hear well and need to read your lips. I sacrificed my hearing for vanity.
I wanted to be “normal”, whatever that meant.
Things became more intense for me when we had our first and only child.
Life as a parent with hearing aids has its pros and cons. I mean, when my little human cry-yells incessantly over something I’ve said no to, I have the option of turning the volume off—and I have. However, while that may seem glorious to the hearing person, I would much prefer it if I didn’t have that option.
Parenting with a hearing impairment can heighten your already present anxiety, leaving you in constant worry that something will happen to your child and you won’t hear him call for you. It can leave you frustrated because your child isn’t yet capable of understanding what “mommy can’t hear you” fully entails.
“Come here if you have something to say to me.”
“Look at my when you’re speaking to me.”
“Wait until I put my hearing aids in.”
“I can’t hear you.”
These are usual responses given to my kid when he’s speaking to me. The constant reminders hurt my heart a little bit each and every time I have to say the words.
Why? Because, they are reminders that I can’t hear him. They are reminders that I live with a disability that encroaches on my life and in my relationships with everyone.
I do the best I can because there isn’t any other choice, as I assume most people with a disability do. The reminder I give myself—and to you—is this: you are not your disability. You are a person with a disability. Your disability does not define you. It makes you different. And different is good. Different is interesting. Different is OK.