Like any parent, I had visions for my daughter’s future. Having passed her newborn hearing screening, my husband and I spent the first year of Ryland’s life without giving much thought as to whether or not she was hearing the world around her. At approximately one year of age, Ryland began to show more prominent signs that she was not receiving any auditory stimulation. We began paying closer attention. Without even realizing it, I was buying visual toys to excite Ryland and tapping her consistently to get her attention. At the same time, her heightened visual awareness led me to believe she was hearing environmental sounds.
I will never forget the phone call that changed my life and initiated this journey. My husband was working a 24-hour shift at the fire station and I was home alone with Ryland. My in-laws called our home with a concerned tone, insisting their suspicion was turning to worry as Ryland wasn’t startling or turning to certain sounds. This was the final confirmation that I needed to take action. Up until that point, I excused the warning signals as coincidental. My denial prevented any action that would result in the knowledge of anything being wrong with my child.
After hanging up with my in-laws, I immediately called the pediatrician and took Ryland into his office that afternoon. By the time I headed into the pediatrician’s office that day, the reality and devastation was beginning to sink in. The pediatrician remarked, “I wouldn’t lose any sleep over this, but your concern warrants a sedated hearing test.” He ordered the test and I definitely lost sleep that night as I began banging pots and pans behind Ryland’s head and screaming by her crib while she slept. She didn’t move. I realized there good was reason why my baby slept through all sounds the last 13 months of her life.
I have always described the next day to be much like a funeral. I know that seems a bit dramatic to some, but I felt deeply sick to my stomach as I had when my brother passed away. Family began arriving at our home that morning with solemn looks on their face, not knowing what to say to console us. I grieved, as I had no idea what my child’s future would hold, and I was unsure what our options might be other than sign language. I was devastated that my only child may live her life isolated, in a predominantly hearing world. That evening, my husband and I stayed up all night researching and watching YouTube videos on the Internet. I cried, as I learned about cochlear implants and watched countless videos of children being activated and hearing sound for the first time. Unfortunately, we still didn’t know if Ryland was a cochlear implant candidate. We still had many appointments before we would learn that she had the physical anatomy present to receive this medical miracle.
While we attended countless appointments and began the mandatory 3-month hearing aid trial, I enrolled in an American Sign Language course at the local community college and began teaching Ryland every sign I learned. It was also during this time that I became aware of the Deaf culture and their negative view on cochlear implants. Though, I was frustrated by their opinion, it never made me doubt our decision to have Ryland implanted. We come from a hearing world and I wanted Ryland to have all opportunities available. I even made the comment to my husband that Ryland may decide to not wear her cochlear implants someday and that is her decision, but at least we have given her the gift of having an option. Most people don’t realize that cochlear implant recipients have higher success rates the sooner you can stimulate the auditory nerve. This need for quick action only heightens the level of stress in any parent of a newly identified child with hearing loss. This urge to act quickly, accompanied with shock, devastation, and fear is likely to overwhelm most parents of newly diagnosed children.
The actual surgery was actually more of a relief for me, because we worked so hard to get to that point. I knew that surgery was one day that would change my daughter’s future forever. Of course any surgery on a child is scary for a parent, but I was able to overlook most of my fears that day, knowing that Ryland would someday thank us for making the decision to have her implanted. Truthfully, my daughter has already thanked us in her own ways. She loves her ears so much that she asks to sleep with them at times. She knows the joy and advantage they bring to her life as she dances to music and laughs at funny jokes. Without doubt, this journey of getting cochlear implants for our daughter has been emotional and challenging, but it has been well worth every minute. I wouldn’t change anything, and I am confident our daughter will realize the love that went into our decision to give her the gift of sound.
– Hillary Whittington