Deaf parenting: the silent bond

Dawn Colclasure has been deaf for over 15 years and has an active hearing toddler. Dawn, who lives in California, USA, shares her feelings and experience of being a deaf parent and explains how she began writing. For more information and details of her forthcoming book visit her website: http://dmcwriter.tripod.com/

For years deaf women have become deaf mothers. They’ve survived raising one or more children even though they couldn’t hear. No matter how much I remind myself of this, being a deaf parent is scary. It’s like treading through a brave new world, across a new frontier and the discrimination and conflicts deaf parents today face makes the notion that it’s been done for years one that leaves me with little comfort.

I admire anyone willing to take on the challenges associated with parenthood. It really is a huge responsibility. But when you are a deaf parent, standing up to the added challenges is downright remarkable. Before I became a parent to a hearing child, I never realised just how much would be involved. It’s not just the discrimination from the hearing world or lack of sufficient interpreters or equipment for deaf parents that a deaf parent has to cope with, but the fears, anxieties and personal conflicts popping up every day.

Fears and solutions

One of my fears is that my daughter, Jennifer, will get hurt or worse when I’m sleeping in another room. Every night as I fall asleep, I say a silent prayer that she will be safe, that no prowlers will climb through her window or that she will not hurt herself too badly during the few minutes in between times I check on her.

Like everyone who has to adapt to certain life situations, I’ve worked my way towards finding solutions to these fears. One solution is always to keep my doors and windows locked, bolted if possible, and to have a dog in the house at night while we sleep. There is a device that will alert a deaf person to sound from another room called the Baby Crier, which vibrates my mattress when sound enters the speaker. This is another way to counter my fear of my daughter sleeping in her own room at night. To resolve my second fear, I keep away any toys she can injure herself with (such as yo-yos and beads) and monitor her closely for ones she could fatally injure herself with.

“... if she goes into an area of the yard that I can’t see from my seat or window, I get up to check on her with my eyes since I can’t know she’s OK with my ears.”

The best solution I have found as a deaf parent is to keep an eye on Jennifer as much as possible, even if this means getting up every five minutes to check on her while she plays in another room or putting off activities like cooking or dishwashing until another adult is there to watch her for me. I can’t always see her, of course, but I try to keep an eye on her anytime possible. If we’re at the store and I need to look away at something, I keep my hand on her to know she is still there. Some people may find this tiring but if she goes into an area of the yard that I can’t see from my seat or window, I get up to check on her with my eyes since I can’t know she’s OK with my ears.

Still, there are some things I can’t really get over, such as how I can never hear Jennifer’s voice. Unless I am wearing a very strong hearing aid, which will only give me an idea of what her voice might sound like, I can’t hear her call me ‘mommy’ or tell me that she loves me. Like every other deaf parent, I must lip-read these things or see her sign them to me. This is how we communicate: by sight, not sound. This is just one of the ways we live because my child has a deaf parent. It’s not like every other kind of interaction which hearing parents get to enjoy with their children, but for us, it’s what works.

Being a ‘good deaf parent’

Outside of our home, though, society is a constant threat. Not only am I watched closely by anyone just waiting for me to mess up so they can call child services, but I’m also the object of curious stares and inconspicuous pointing. One thing I hate about being a deaf parent is that we’re viewed as some kind of novelty, a mysterious spectacle without the luxury of hearing our children talk to us behind our backs. The addition of using sign language to communicate only adds to this downside because everyone else who just doesn’t understand that there are deaf parents in this world can only chuckle over the use of a special language required between us two.

“... she and I have developed a strong bond because of my being there for her, caring for her, keeping her clean and healthy, and keeping her safe.”

Stories abound of deaf parents having their children taken away from them and while the hearing world isn’t struck with fear over how this could happen to them, it is a very real fear for me, one which I live with every day. No matter how much my mother, who can hear, assures me this won’t happen, I just can’t help but wonder.

It seems that it doesn’t matter how good a parent I am or how clean and safe my home is; the fact that I can’t hear suddenly makes me susceptible to the ‘unfit mother’ category. This is the category where children are taken away and one which I fear falling into.

All I can do is be the best deaf parent I can. The hearing world must understand that, because I am deaf, I can’t do the same job any other parent out there who can hear would. I can only try. And even as I keep trying, every day, to be a good deaf parent, my relationship with Jennifer doesn’t suffer for it. As a matter of fact, she and I have developed a strong bond because of my being there for her, caring for her, keeping her clean and healthy, and keeping her safe. I read to her every day, play with her, talk with her and take her on outings. Our bond as parent and child hasn’t faltered because I am deaf. In fact, I think that on some level, it has only made it that much stronger.

Opening doors

Being a deaf parent has opened doors for me. When I saw a call for writers for a new newspaper for the deaf called SIGNews, I applied for a position. The editor informed me that I’d get to write for two departments: deaf education and deaf parenting. Writing about deaf parenting has really been a wake-up call to the issues and problems facing deaf parents. It soon became a “mission’ for me, writing about, and speaking up about deaf parenting today.

The second door that opened for me is my forthcoming book Parenting pauses: life as a deaf parent. The “pauses” started out as journal entries on my website, but as I realised it was more than just a bunch of short notes on what it”s like being a deaf parent, I realised I had a book on my hands. The fact that there wasn”t another book like this on the market only convinced me to write one. In this book you”ll read about my personal struggles, dilemmas and a discussion of issues that relate to deaf parenting.

First published in Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood international, Issue 49, Spring 2005.

No

Want to share your thoughts about this?

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.