First of all I just want to say that I am very thankful for ears. And, I suppose just like other important body parts, I had just taken normal hearing and ear structure for granted.
When Gia was born, her left ear was deformed. I figured that if it looked malformed on the outside, that something might be wrong on the inside. I pestered the NICU staff about when the hearing screening would take place and I was not surprised when she failed. They told me that it was not uncommon to fail the screening because it was a generalized test and the NICU was a noisy place. But when she had her first sedated hearing test with the audiologist, her hearing impairment was confirmed. Since then she’s had several more sedated hearing tests, wears bilateral hearing aids and we see the audiologists monthly.
Unfortunately, Gia’s hearing impairment has always taken a silent back seat to her other medical needs. Sure we attempt to have her wear her snazzy, purple hearing aids every waking hour, but she will often rip them out immediately. We put back in and she takes them out. It’s a frustrating ritual with an underlying paranoia for me. The less time she is wearing her hearing aids, the less conversation she will hear and the more likely she will have long-term speech issues (that is, if she speaks at all).
Thankfully, Gia’s medical issues have declined and I find myself with more energy to tackle the hard of hearing and communication component of her life; she has been in speech therapy since she was 7 months old, we meet regularly with an outreach specialist who works for the Montana School of the Deaf and Blind, and we are all learning sign language. And not to long ago we drove to Great Falls to attend the Family Learning Weekend. I sure did learn a few things too.
Among much information, I learned that, on average, one out of every 1000 newborns in the US fail the hearing screening test. And that in 2010, Montana was about at the national average with 13 babies born deaf or hard of hearing out of 12,687 newborns. So in our whole state, the school and outreach workers only see about 500 kids. These low numbers shock me, yet 1 out of 1000 seems pretty high (although when you have a child who is that “1″- statistics take a different meaning).
Yet at the same time I realize I shouldn’t be surprised, especially when thinking about my own childhood. Perhaps I was ‘sheltered’ by my school district, but I only knew of one child who was hear of hearing and that was only when I was in elementary school. I didn’t really know her, but I certainly remember her huge, beige, hearing aids. I’m not sure if it was because she was harder to understand, because I was extremely shy, or simply because our personalities were different, whatever the case we just didn’t hang out. To tell the truth, I’m not even sure if she was in class with me because my only memories of her were at recess. I don’t think about it often, but some days when I’m dealing with Gia’s hearing issues, my mind reminds me of this 7 year old from my distant past. I think of her and her parents’ struggles and I regret not getting to know her better and wonder what she is doing now. And I think of all the advances in hearing technology and how far we’ve come from holding large horns up to ears!
So, as I write this, I am just plain thankful for ears. I am grateful for being able to hear the birds sing early in the morning, the rain falling, the wind rustling the tree leaves and the rivers flow. And I am very thankful to hear Gia’s hardy laugh, Anna’s singing and Daddy’s silly noises. And with modern technology, I am thankful that Gia may hear it too.