A letter to… our child, who is deaf, for whom we have to make a big decision

Extracted from The Guardian – 16 December 2017

Forgive me, my darling girl, we are going to make a decision for you. It is a big one, and we can’t wait – it is now or never. We can’t ask you what you want. We can only hope it is the right choice.

Right now, you don’t know that you are different, that we inhabit different worlds. I always knew you were special, but I expect all parents feel that way about their children. We didn’t find out you were deaf until you were one, and for that I am grateful. I know early intervention is essential, but if I had found out you were deaf at birth, I would have been terrified.

When we found out, there was no sadness, shock, anger or grief. Just a feeling of: “Oh, that makes sense.” Every time someone says to me, “I’m sorry to hear that” in response to the news that you are deaf, I want to say: “Why? Haven’t you seen my perfect child and everything she can do? Don’t be sorry. We’re not.”

We immediately started signing to you, and you flourished. You talk to us with your hands and you have so much to say. Seeing how happy it makes you to sign fills my heart with joy. We are learning British Sign Language so we can all sign together as a family, but soon your need for more language will overtake the speed with which we can learn.

It is difficult to reconcile the certainty I feel that I wouldn’t change you for the world, with the knowledge that I will. You will always be deaf, but I want to give you a tool, an opportunity, so that one day you can choose how you want to communicate. It is not an easy decision, a cochlear implant, and I hope you will forgive us for our decision. Giving a cochlear implant to a child who has never heard sound is a controversial and sensitive subject. The surgeons advise against implanting them after the age of four, as the likelihood of being able to interpret and make use of the sound is greatly diminished. We can’t wait until you are older to ask what you want, we have to choose for you.

Making a decision for someone else, especially when it will change their life, is almost impossible. We have gone backwards and forwards, thought long and hard. No parent would make this choice lightly. What if it doesn’t work, and we have put you through surgery for nothing? What if, as an adult, you feel you don’t fit into the deaf community as an implant user? What if the pressure to fit into the hearing world is too much for you? On the other side of the coin, what if we don’t consent to the implant, and then at school, after the “window of opportunity” for spoken language has closed, you wish you had one?

We won’t stop signing with you, and I refuse to believe I have to choose between raising you as a speaking or signing child. We have an incredible team who support our aims. I have done my research. I have spoken to deaf adults and met deaf children, some of whom use implants and some who do not. We have made up our minds.

It is difficult to sign when you insist on being carried everywhere, but one day you won’t need me to pick you up, so for now, my precious girl, I will carry you wherever you want. And whether you decide to speak or to sign, I’ll never stop talking your language.

All my love, Mummy

Extracted from ‘The letter you always wanted to write’ – The Guardian – 16 December 2017