The beauty of sign language

Because my children are deaf, chances are they are going to be behind academically compared to non deaf children of their age. This is fine. One, because they are deaf. And two, because I didn’t have any academic aspirations for them anyway. I’m one of those ‘as long as they’re happy’ mothers.

However, saying that, I am about to be one of those ‘my child is a genius and much cleverer than anyone else’s child’ mothers. I am sorry and please bare with me.

Sign language is freaking awesome. Awesome because it allows my children to communicate. But also awesome because it would allow any child to communicate before they can speak. It’s as simple as the fact that the muscles in the hands and arms are bigger than the muscles in the mouth.

So, right now, Harriet’s friends are starting to speak. Except they aren’t. They are frustrated and cross and throwing tantrums left, right and centre. They have maybe one or two words. Harriet has over 20. Don’t get me wrong, she had no qualms about throwing herself on the floor and busting out a tantrum if it suits her. And she can point and whine with the best of them. But she can ask for food, or drink, she can name the animals in the park.

Right now, she’s ahead of the game and ahead of her peers.

And, while I’m only concerned that she’s happy, I’m also a little bit smug about how clever and capable she is. Sorry.


Harriet’s words:
Hello/ bye bye
Please / thank you
Eat / food


Where we are

This morning we are off to the hospital. The same hospital we’ve been to countless times. The familiar journey, familiar play room, familiar faces on reception and in the cafe.

But this morning is different. This morning we aren’t going to the audiology department. This morning we are going to the COCHLEAR IMPLANT department.

This is huge. And this is scary.

I’m trying to go about the morning’s usual chores of laundry and dishes and I keep randomly bursting into tears.

These are my babies. I don’t want people drilling into their heads. I don’t want them to have big magnets on the side of their heads. Mostly, I don’t want them to be scared.

But I want them to hear. And I want them to talk.

Even now, 3 years later, I am still surprised by all this. Deaf kids? Me? Now? What? Deaf kids? Genes? Syndrome? What?

This isn’t what I envisioned having children would be like – endless hospital appointments, endless heartache, endless surprises and endless, endless guilt.


We weren’t poor growing up, but we didn’t have a lot either and my mum always said ‘it doesn’t matter as long as you have your health’. She’s right. Having a big house, or a car, or fancy holidays; they don’t make real problems easier.

My kids have their health, more or less. They are deaf. Profoundly, now. And there are concerns over their thyroid function as that’s something else that can be affected by the syndrome that they have. But, overall, they have their health. And I guess for that we are lucky.

But I don’t feel lucky. And I am fed up of being told how lucky I am and how lucky I should feel. I am fed up of being told that I should be grateful that they aren’t more disabled.

What is that? It’s bullshit.

Don’t try and make it better. Don’t try and make me feel better. Don’t compare me to people who are worse off and think that will help. It’s bullshit.

I don’t know how any of this happened. It just all feels so utterly ridiculous.

I remember when I fell pregnant with Will. I remember how happy we were. How happy my family were. How shocked Shaun’s family were. I remember what I worried about – the sleepless nights, breastfeeding, the right pushchair, whether it would be cursed with the reflux that still haunts my mother in law to this day.

That’s all bullshit.

Because my kids have actual problems. Problems that will affect every single part of their lives for all of their lives. Problems that mean I have no idea how to be their mum. Problems that put me so utterly out of my depth I feel like I’m gasping for air.

So don’t tell me I’m lucky. Don’t tell me that it could be worse. Because, although true, that’s not what matters. What matters is this is happening to us, now and we are scared and alone and angry.

Why me? Why my kids? Why us? It’s all bullshit.

Expect the unexpected

Today we had a consultation with our kids’ doctor. We haven’t had one for a while and I think we all knew what to expect.

Harriet’s latest hearing tests have confirmed the ones she had at 5 weeks old – she is profoundly deaf. This means she can hear very, very little without her hearing aids and even with them in she cannot hear enough to access speech. It’s a complicated diagram of pitches, frequencies and volume but the essence is this: if we want her to ever talk, she will need cochlear implants. A major operation that carries risks. But will mean she can hear. As a hearing family we have always said that if that’s what it takes then that is what we will do. And so her journey to sound begins.

And then came the news we didn’t expect. William’s hearing has deteriorated. His left ear is profoundly deaf. His right is not what it once was. He is on the borderline of profoundly deaf there too. His speech is not progressing at the speed and level that one would expect or want. He too is being referred for cochlear implants.

Two kids. Two major operations. Two life changing opportunities. A few fucking scary months ahead.

My main thought? I just hope it’s all done by Christmas so they can hear me tell their Dad how much I love him at our wedding.

A different, silent world

It is becoming increasingly apparent to me how different my children are. How different our journey is. How different my journey is.

I always wanted to be a mum. I imagined it, planned it, decided how it would be.

The double deaf diagnosis has upset this more than I knew.

William’s friends are all talking in sentences, in tenses. They can do funny voices, accents. He says his broken, distorted words to them and they look at him blankly. Thankfully he is yet to notice. Their parents are constant in their amusing anecdotes of what so-and-so said. All I can do is listen, smile, and try and hide the heart break in my eyes. 

William starts school after half term. SCHOOL!! Deaf school. It’s our choice and it’s the right one. He has been receiving his 15 free hours at nursery since he was 2 and a half because he is ‘special needs’. He is at a very sought after nursery in our area. People often ask how we got him in. When I explain they say ‘oh you’re lucky’. Sure. Lucky.

So he is starting school. When everyone else is starting nursery. The conversations in the playground are about where children are getting in to, where children are being rejected for. I don’t know anything about how to apply for a nursery place, for a school place. Someone else does it all for me. Someone on the special needs board.

And it goes further than school. It goes all the way into adulthood. I have begun to realise, alongside how different our journey is, how alone we are on taking it.

I had strong ideas about what my parents did right as parents, and what they did wrong. I felt the same about my in-laws. I planned to strike the perfect balance. But it’s all irrelevant. They didn’t raise deaf kids. They didn’t learn a new language. If there child was naughty while they held them, they could tell them off. They wouldn’t have had to put them down, try and force the child to maintain eye contact and sign, in pigeon BSL, not to do that again. What I wouldn’t give to be able to shout at my children without that pounding feeling of guilt throbbing through me laughing ‘you are shouting at a deaf child you fool, deaf’.

I always worried about having a daughter; about how to raise her with self esteem higher than mine; about how to teach her to believe in herself; how to create an innate belief that she is beautiful. This feels like an even steeper uphill challenge now that she will have giant pieces of metal stuck to the side of her head. And because she can’t hear me tell her, a million times a day, how very and completely beautiful she is.

Will they make friends? Fall in love? Will I have grandchildren? Will they be deaf too?

How will I help Harriet be a mum? William be a Dad? How will they hear their babies cry?

If they manage children, will their grandchildren be deaf? Will we go from a little family, isolated in our own, wider family because our world is so different, to generations of deafies? Is this the turning point? Am I the first and last one to feel like my journey is so different from everyone around me?

The future’s bright

When Harriet was just a few hours old, she failed her newborn hearing test. Shaun and I sobbed. We held each other, cried until we ached and then said, at the same time as one another “they are going to run rings around us”. We talked and laughed and cried some more about what a special bond our kids would have; two deafies in a hearing family. We knew straight away how much William would teach Harriet, how much he would look out for her. We knew how much she would adore him and hang off his every move, word and sign. We took solace in our hope that they would be the best of friends and that in this world that they are part of, and that we know nothing about, they would have each other.

And it has begun. Their bond is beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, they beat the crap out of each other. They poke and pull and push and pinch and punch. But then they laugh. They laugh so, so, so hard at one another it makes my heart ache.


And they COMMUNICATE. With each other, with us.

Harriet has started signing. She can sign yes, no, ready, food, bottle, please and thank you. She can sign SEVEN words. Seven! Technically please and thank you are the same so six, but still, SIX!

They sign with one another, Will talks to Harriet.

At this point with Will I felt so lost, so out of my depth. I was so angry, so frustrated and so
utterly drowning in guilt. With H it is different. I feel proud, I feel happy. I worry, of course for the future. But I see Will now, talking in sentences, signing at the same time. I see a wonderful, intelligent, happy, loving little boy and the best role model a little sister could ask for. I see Harri, already asking for her bottle, or signing ready at the top of the slide in anticipation. I see a super smart little girl ready to absorb world of language in any way she can.

I see the future and it scares me but it also excites me. For the first time I truly believe they can achieve anything and I cannot wait to see what they become.

I should be so lucky

I complain a lot. I whinge and whine about having deaf kids a lot. It’s bloody hard work. A lot.

But recently I’ve noticed how incredibly lucky we are. For whatever reason we have been dealt the deaf cards and I’m not sure I’ll ever come to terms with that but what is getting me through is the ridiculous amount of support we get. We have an unbelievable amount of people on our side and in our corner.

Recently we had Will’s Individual Education Plan at his nursery. There were, including me, SIX people in the room. All focusing on his learning experience and how to make it better for him.

He has a Communication Support Worker with him the whole time he is at nursery, signing and talking so he doesn’t miss anything.

He has a key worker.

There is a special needs professional.

The room coordinator makes sure his environment isn’t too noisy or difficult for him to communicate in.

He has a speech and language specialist who visits him once a week. 

And that’s just at nursery.

At home he’s had an hour of sign language tuition a week since he was 6 months old.

He has a teacher of the deaf.

And at hospital he has a pediatric audiologist.

And a pediatric consultant.

And another teacher of the deaf.

And another, more specialist, speech and language therapist.

So that’s ELEVEN professionals all working in his best interest. Plus his Mum and Dad.

So for a kid unlucky enough to be deaf he’s pretty lucky in how much support he gets to make that ok.

And I’m lucky too. To have them, and to have him.