“Will teachers teach forever?” my 4-year-old son asked, holding up a cape from the dress-up box.
Kids say the silliest things. But that was weird.
“Why are you wondering about teachers?” I asked.
Pushing the cape right up to my face, he said, “I asked if I get to keep this cape forever.”
My son’s preschool teachers didn’t seem too concerned, nor did my husband. Given that I spent the majority of each day with him, I trusted my instincts. Convinced his language development was more concerning than cute, I scheduled an appointment with an audiologist.
A short stint in speech therapy resulted in improved language skills. But the odd comments continued – all around me. It was then that I realized perhaps there was more to the situation than my son’s speech. My daughter was saying “strange” things, too.
And I found myself lost in social settings. I smiled a lot. I laughed when I guessed I was supposed to be chuckling; when I thought a serious comment was being delivered, my eyes widened in awe. The tools I relied on were the gracious smile, the knowing nod, and the blank stare, waiting for visual clues to guide my response.
So I referred myself to an audiologist. Not quite as fun as the pediatric appointment my son experienced. No silly games or leaping plastic frogs, just big plastic headphones and a raised hand for beeps that I heard – or hands down for those that I did not hear – and there was apparently a lot less hand-raising than expected. This resulted in a series of questions about operating heavy machinery, loud rock concerts as a teenager, and a family history of hearing loss – none of which applied to me. The audiologist shared the graph that revealed my moderate hearing loss and my inability to clearly understand treble sounds – the sounds of women and children’s voices – the people with whom I spent a good 90% of my day.
The solution? Hearing aids.
I flashed back to my initial thrill muddled with anxiety upon learning that I would be getting glasses in the eighth grade. I put on the glasses and was amazed. “Mom, the trees have individual leaves!” I exclaimed. But wear those glasses around school all day? Nope. The balance I chose: I’d only pull out my glasses to read what was on the board (or to get a better look at a cute boy across the room). I was, due to my adolescent fear of being judged, willing to walk blindly down the hallways smiling and waving to everyone, for fear of inadvertently snubbing a blurred someone who I knew. With time and maturity (and the introduction of contacts!), I grew accustomed to my vision loss. Glasses eventually got hip and turned into a signature accessory. And they worked remarkably well.
Were hearing aids just like glasses for my ears? Yes, I had a similar “wow” moment the day I got my hearing aids. I walked outside and realized how loud the birds were. And I could actually hear the strong gusts of wind blowing my hair. Hearing aid technology is pretty wonderful. An app on my phone allows me to adjust my hearing aid settings. I can even stream music directly into my ears and phone calls flow directly to me, both via Bluetooth.
Hearing aids are magical and amazing. But not perfect. Don’t misunderstand. I am incredibly grateful for the enhancement they provide me, but my kids still mumble – and get mad at me for misunderstanding them. And women? Why must side conversations be conducted in whispers? It’s not that everyone has a secret and is furiously gossiping at any given opportunity. I attempt to read faces. My go-to response is, “I know.” But I really don’t. I actually have no idea what was said.
A diagnosis of moderate, bilateral hearing loss at age 45 is not a natural sign of aging. This is not a typical female condition; there is no built-in sounding board to provide guidance and support. It’s not like menopause where women share stories of hot flashes and mood swings. As insulating as the actual hearing loss is, the lack of connection is isolating, too. It’s simply not the topic all the other moms are chatting about at school pick-up.
Partial hearing loss can be isolating. Just as my adolescent self felt awkward about wearing glasses, 51-year-old me is equally self-conscious about hearing loss. I hate imposing on others to repeat, speak-up, enunciate.
That is my hidden struggle. I fail to advocate for myself. Something I’ve worked to instill in both of my children from the start. Speak up for yourself! I need to remind myself, that when I remain silent, I put myself at risk for isolation. Speak up for yourself, applies to me, too.