I am Deaf. Yes, Deaf with a capital ‘D’. This means I embrace my culture and community as my identity. I have Waardenburg Syndrome, which means I have different coloured eyes, and bits of skin discolouration along with deafness. My parents are Deaf. A lot of my family members are also Deaf. So are most of my friends. We communicate using Auslan, which is also my first language. I can also speak English fluently, thanks to years of speech therapy during childhood. My boyfriend is hearing. I am the first Deaf person he and his family and friends have been exposed to. They have all embraced me and make allowances for my deafness (e.g. facing me head-on so I can lipread, making sure there is enough light, and so on).
I am pregnant. There is a chance the baby may be deaf (I use the little ‘d’ because the child may not choose the capital ‘D’ as their identity). I have explained to my partner that I will understand if he and his family are upset if the child is born deaf. I have also explained that I will be full of fury if he and his family state that they are relieved that the child has been born hearing. This was a complex thing to explain to my partner. How could I accept that his family could grieve over deafness, but not celebrate hearing?
I spoke to my Deaf friend who has a deaf baby about this. She understood completely, I did not need to explain. Yet we spoke about this in a way to try and understand more where we were coming from. We agreed that celebrating hearing was also in a way rejecting us as Deaf individuals. It says something along the terms of “You’re ok as a ‘hearing-impaired’ person, but this isn’t something we would want for anyone.” We could understand hearing people grieving deafness, because most people who have not been exposed to deafness see this as a loss. The person or baby in this case, has lost music, they had lost voices, and they had lost being a copy of their parent.
I worry that my child, if they are born deaf, will miss out on contact with their family on their father’s side. Being left out of family events, as I am too, not being able to follow fast conversations around the dinner table, or understanding why a certain thing is funny. What will happen when (hearing) cousins are born — will they see their family interact differently with the other child?
I also worry that my child, if they are born hearing, will not identify with my Deaf family. I have seen cases where the hearing children of Deaf parent/s do not enjoy being with Deaf people because they are different, and for a child that does not communicate primarily in Auslan, it is difficult to completely follow a conversation in fluent Auslan. Will my child prefer to listen and obey their father who is hearing and therefore speaks, over their mother who is Deaf and will speak in either a “funny” voice or use Auslan?
I do know that I will love my child, and so will both sides of the family, Deaf and hearing, regardless of whether they are born deaf or hearing. I know that we will adapt and I will, along with the child, learn better communication with everyone. I know this child will be a joy and a terror. This child will experience love and loneliness no matter where they go in life, and I will try to teach them to embrace the good and bad, and to accept or fight against certain situations. I try to explain this to my partner, and I try not to worry.
This child, and I, will be OK.