Tuesday, October 11, 2011

a complicated choice

Disclaimer: I have to be honest. This is a very sensitive topic. Read at your own risk.

During the summer, I was sitting in the living room, probably reading a book or watching Bridezillas (my guilty pleasure!) when my mom came up to me and asked a question that has been on my mind for the past several months.

She said, "What would happen if you and Joe got married and had a child who was deaf? What about his or her education? Would you have him or her get a cochlear implant?"

That's how it works, basically. Electrodes and wiring and all that fun stuff.

Ummmm. I honestly responded, "I don't know. I really don't."

Tonight, Joe and I were chatting while I made heated up my frozen dinner. I already knew Joe's opinion on the matter.

For those who don't know, Joe and I are almost polar opposites on this topic. I came from a deaf family - my mom is vehemently opinionated about small children (say, those who cannot make a decision for themselves) getting implants. She used to teach at deaf schools and saw so many cases that did not turn out well. There were children in her class who had chronic headaches because their surgeries didn't go the way they were supposed to go, yet they were forced to wear their implants by their parents. Other children hated their parents with the passion of a thousand burning suns (these are seven year-olds, by the way. They should not hate them, but think their parents are superheroes).

Therefore, I grew up with a negative opinion on them, due to Mom's tales, and because of what I also saw. When I was younger, my parents borrowed a videotape and the family watched it. The movie was Sound and Fury, about a deaf family that was torn apart by a parent's decision to implant their child. That only cemented my opinion further.

Then I met Joe. He came from a hearing family. He got his implant when he was a late three year-old, almost four. However, before he got the surgery, his parents went the extra mile and learned sign language so they could communicate with him effectively. They explained to him the best way you could to a three year-old. They said to him, "If you get the surgery, you'll be able to talk to Grandma and Grandpa. Would you like that?" He said yes. He got the surgery.

Us in May, 2011. Right after he squeezed my ribs.
Now, he can hear almost as well as a hearing person. He misses things here and there, typically in noisy environments when he has to listen over everyone else, or if the sound is coming through something that has frequency, such as speakers. Even though he could function as well as a hearing person, his parents fully supported the deaf community. They sent him to deaf camps every summer, and supported him in all his endeavors, including playing on the national team for the 2011 Deaf Olympics. The entire family flew to Winnipeg to watch him play on the national team for the 2009 World Deaf Hockey and Curling Championships.

Joe in net during practice at the 2011 American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association annual camp.

When I started college, I met many, many people, including one of my roommates, who have gotten implants (even at an older age, such as nine or above) that have turned out successful. Slowly, but surely, I can see the benefit of implanting a child at a young age (such as three) because at that point, their brain is at the prime age to start learning how to hear a variety of sounds and decipher their meanings.

So, tonight, I brought up the question that Mom asked me months ago. He says, "You know this, but I want the best for my child. If I had a deaf child, I'd let the doctors operate on him at around two or three years old, so he gets the best of both worlds."

I still didn't know what to say. I still don't. On one hand, I can see what he means. On the other, I'm worried. Not about what would happen to my child, but what other people would think. I normally don't care what people think, but I grew up in a deaf family. An unusually modern deaf family, but a deaf family nonetheless. My mom is a college professor who teaches hearing students about cochlear implants. She shows them Sound and Fury every year. She has a strong opinion. My dad, I think, wouldn't really care either way. I guess I just don't want my family torn apart like in Sound and Fury.

A modern deaf family (us!)
Even now, I still don't know what I would do. I have years before I have to make a decision, but it's a very uncomfortable one. I think whatever decision I make won't sit well with me, as a parent, a daughter, and a person.


Anonymous said...

That's an very interesting but complicated story.... Right now, I am okay with it I (me, your own papa) decide if I wanted to have implants. But I am not ready for it at this moment.

But deciding to implants on a 3 year old.. is umm.. a tough choice...



Linda said...

Have you ever thought about waiting until the kid is able to make the decision for her/his own self? Even though the window for optimal language development closes around 3 years, with the way that technology is improving, it may be possible for the same results to occur with an older child. Another issue with that is the child may have different reasons for getting the CI--wanting to fit in, etc.

It's a tricky subject. There are definitely pros and cons for each side. Regardless, I feel that if a deaf child has a CI, they should still be encouraged to be involved in the deaf community.

Anyway, those are my two cents.

:) Linda