This post made possible through the support of Cochlear . All opinions are my own.
I can’t remember the last time my mother heard a whole conversation clearly. And popping tiny battery tabs in and out of her hearing aids during church or dinner or while sitting in the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through line has been a part of her life for at least a decade. I listen to her use the same compensating answers as her mother did, and the surprise shows on my face when she brings up something I said days or weeks earlier that I didn’t realize she heard.
When I call my grandmother, the volume of my voice goes up several levels, and still, her responses tell me she is only catching few precious phrases. I simplify and simplify, and then tell her I love her and will talk to her soon. It’s an exercise for both of us, I fear. She is 96 and the long-distance conversations are more valuable than ever.
One fall afternoon eight years ago, the doorbell rang at my parents’ house. On the front porch stood my aunt, who we hadn’t seen or even spoken too regularly in the decade before. She was in town for a quick medical procedure and she wanted to see us. She had a bandage on her ear and she explained she’d had a cochlear implant placed and she was hopeful it would help her a great deal. She blamed the profound hearing loss she was experiencing on a childhood bout of rheumatic fever, but I never learned any more details, never understood the full story. But when I call her today, her hearing is clear and has withstood during many other health complications. I even forget to ask how the cochlear implant has served her, or even that she has it.
My relationships with these women are nestled deep in my heart. My experiences with them have shaped me as a woman and mother, and even through long periods apart or family tumult, I hold them dear. Their own relationship with their hearing health concerns me. Is it age? Childhood infections or fevers? Some other medical complication? Is family history to blame? Could their hearing loss have been avoided? Are they treating it as actively as they could, or just learning to live with lowered volume and lost words?
My concern is not just for them. I notice my own hearing softening as I crank up the volume on the television or repeatedly ask my son to turn toward me when he talks to me if there is any distracting noise of traffic or children crying or music around us. It makes me afraid and I feel helpless to ending up yelling, “WHAT?” into the telephone.
My children’s communication milestones were significant moments for me, too. I took notes and tuned into the markers that they are hearing well, speak clearly, read well, express themselves fluidly. But what about my own milestones, and specifically the communication markers as I creep into middle age?
When my 11-year old son was small, I had several weeks of vertigo so intense that a doctor sent me to five specialists to thoroughly assess my carotid arteries, my brain, my vision, my mental health and my hearing. The analysis showed stress. But the hearing tests also showed I was heading toward loss that most women in their mid-30s don’t show.
“Your mother’s hearing?” The specialist asked me this from the booth where he sent sounds into my headphones.
“Not so hot, “ I responded loudly.
“You’re headed there,” he replied.
I tried to put it out of my mind, and it mostly worked. Until this year when I found I could sleep through a baby crying through a monitor just feet from where I lay. Where I was headed, it seems I am with my hearing. And it is time to return to the hearing specialist. It is time to address where I am and how not to get to the fearful place the other women I love already are.
I’d much rather turn all my attention to my toddler daughter’s ear infections and the tubes she will probably have placed in the next few weeks. I’d rather cuddle her and sing softly to her, shutting out the other worries.
But it is not fair to me or to my kids, or even to the matriarchs of my family to set aside tending to any aspect of my health, including my hearing. And even though I can admit I’ve spent years feeling sad and angry and selfish for wanting my mom and grandmother to hear everything I share with them, I would feel even more sad and angry and selfish if I put myself in the same place with my children. I want to hear it all — from the Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! of today to the angst of teen talk to the big decisions of adulthood. And the giggling, potty talk, homework debates, middle-school gossip, complaints, deep sighs that accompany eye rolls — I want to hear all that, too.
So it is time to address this, bravely and matter-of-factly. I want to hold on to what I have, one word at a time.
Every day, families embrace hearing health. Cochlear is a partner to families of children with hearing loss for their lifetime, and provides online, support, connection and storytelling so kids can live life without limits. Visit IWantYouToHear.com and explore Cochlear on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to connect with hearing specialists and find stories.