When you’re getting ready to have a baby, I know there’s a lot going through your head. It might be like planning a vacation to some far off country: you know where you’re going and have a rough idea of the sights you’ll see and experiences you’ll have and are making all sorts of plans to have the very best time possible. Then it comes time for the birth; time for the plan to spring into action. Your baby is born and is, by all appearances, healthy.
If you’re reading these words, this is probably the point where everything…changed. Where your doctor effectively told you that no, you’re not going on the holiday you expected.
“Your child has a hearing loss.” “Your baby is deaf.” “Your baby will not be able to hear.” Different words but the meanings are all the same. Your baby’s life won’t be what you expected.
How do you feel, how are you supposed to feel, you ask?
There are a lot of conflicting emotions that you might feel at that point and I can’t know exactly which ones you are feeling. You may not even know yourself at times.
But I can say that surprise, denial, sadness, fear, anger, relief, confusion, being overwhelmed: all of these are normal stages of the grieving process. More than that, they’re all part of the journey to adjustment for the unexpected experience in which you have now find yourself immersed in.
Grief is Healthy
Healthy? It’s easy to be incredulous if someone tells you that feeling bad is good. Especially if they’re telling you that through a blog post on a computer screen. And I understand that.
But grieving is healthy. It’s one of the most natural steps that parents take after learning that their child has a hearing loss, and it is necessary because it helps you as a parent to let go of all the plans you made and dreams that you had. Freeing up these energies and emotions that you had tied to the dream-now-lost means that you can reinvest them, and lets you reframe your experiences in light of your child’s specific needs.
Acknowledging this grief will let you find the strength inside yourself that can envision new dreams for your child, new dreams that incorporate your child having a hearing loss. This does not mean that your new dreams are worse, but they may be different. Envisioning these new dreams is a positive step for you and your child.
It might be the time to ask for external support, and this is okay too. Do not be ashamed of asking for help, or just asking for someone to listen to you or sit with you in quiet.
And know this: no matter what you might be feeling or how intense your experiences might be, they also can be temporary. Acknowledging and working through your emotions instead of trying to suppress them will help the feelings transition into your new life.
Some Things That Can Help
Here are some things that can support you, if you keep them in mind:
- Grieving is a normal process.
- There is no strict order of the stages of grief, it takes time and takes a different pace for different parents
- Your feelings are not good or bad or right or wrong: they are yours and yours alone.
- Sharing feelings is healthy and helpful, suppressing them is not.
- A support group of families who are going through a similar experience as you can have immense value.
- Reaching out to spouses, friends, and family has positive effects and can help your whole family healthily and helpfully adapt to your child’s hearing loss.
- Be aware that you might be constantly reminded of your “loss” and there could be lots of triggering events along the road, unfortunately even ones that you don’t expect. Triggers are common for many parents and may cause you to remember or re-experience emotions that upset you in the past.
- Thinking positively can help you and your child. If you yourself feel that you can positively influence your child’s development, this has been shown to lead to an increasingly healthy upbringing.
There are lots of treatment options for hearing loss, but these might be difficult to think about and consider right now. In a few weeks or month you might want to investigate things like hearing aids or hearing implants, but remember that it’s okay for you to prioritize your own self-care. Taking some time to work through the emotions you are experiencing will also benefit your child.
If you’d like to read about what it’s like for a child to grow up with a hearing loss, we’ve got a series of first-hand stories that might give you insight, support, and strength:
- Mother’s Love for a Child With Hearing Loss
- Don Liveley: Overcoming Hearing Loss
- My Hearing Loss Story: Claire Stancliffe
This post was written with help from MaryKay Theres, a speech-language pathologist.