Moving Towards Hearing

IMG_6719It is calm here. The OT and the early interventionist have come and gone. The stomach flu has come and gone. Zaley returned to school today. Anna tried some avocado this morning and is sleeping face-down in the sun. As much as I love Christmas, I feel a relief that the holidays are over and we can find our place in the day-to-day, organize our closets, resume appointments, spend mornings seeing how the girls have changed--Zaley's new signs ("I'm excited!" "I see snakes and stars and monkeys!"), Anna's new positions (sitting all the way up without assistance!), the tiny refresher of a new chair behind the new desk where I sit now, thinking of a new year. Which means thinking a lot about last year. I pretty much missed last winter, I was so sick while pregnant with Anna. This time last year, I could barely move from the couch. I pictured Anna as a boy. I never pictured having a child missing one of her senses. "Missing" doesn't feel like the right word. Sometimes "deaf" doesn't either. It's like there's a word here I don't know, a different way of being that does not imply a lacking. I am constantly wondering what it is like to see from Anna's eyes. All these peering faces. All these colors flashing through plastic. What does it feel like to laugh and not hear it? What does she think we are doing with our mouths as we move them slowly and snap our tongues against our teeth?

Like any revelation, Anna was unforeseeable in every way. She still is--even the impending color of her hair a great wonder to me. Some days now, it looks blonde around the edges. The lower layer in the back (the remaining tuft below male-pattern baldness) is a dark black like when she was born. Around her temples, the burnt sienna of both Luke and my grandmas' juice-cylinder curls.

FullSizeRender(6)How I wish my girls could have met my mom's mom and Luke's mom's mom--women who raised five and seven children, women who bore noticeable mirth, who were equal parts gentle and strong, who stayed home because there was no other choice, who did this, who did it so many more times than me with no Swiffers or baby monitors or Bumpos, who suffered the same trials of toddlers, and who discovered the daily astonishments of a small human blooming. I think of how lucky for me to have Anna this year instead of ten or 50 years ago--how now, so much is possible for her. Her diagnosis happened; medication came in the mail; normal speech is possible; hearing is available! When I think of last year, I think of the rawness and grief of discovering her condition, and now, here I sit, much more full of curiosity than misgiving as we push into this next half-year of her life, when our deaf child will be able to hear.

I think about cochlear implants all the time. Their power, the way they will map her brain, the way they will map mine. How we have to make this decision without consent from the person they will most effect. What it will be like in her head, to be opened up by sound. She will discover she has a voice, that I have been singing to her, that our mouths emit something like invisible objects. How do you describe sound without reference to sound? The air dances. Music shifts the blood. A warning comes by way of ascending and descending vibrations. Sound is like an escalator you're on but cannot see. You feel the lift and the drop, something in you moves without moving.

For Anna, it will be almost as it was for me this week: I got an underwater ipod from Luke's mom for Christmas. As I slid into the shallow end and started pushing through the water, the presence of sound in the pool, though I'd pictured it many times, still struck me as entirely foreign. It felt out of place at first. I've been holding off on getting underwater music for some time because I felt it would take away the natural sounds of swimming: the whoosh of the water as it gets heaved towards my feet, the echoes of voices bouncing off the tile walls. But I've been less motivated in the water than I've wanted to be, so I gave in.

Almost immediately, the sound lit up my limbs. I swam differently--faster and with more charge. My shoulders blushed from the pace. I had loaded the ipod with classy choices: Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, Zac Brown. I knew they would make me speed. My head buzzed. I thought of Anna's implants again--the ones that will be fully waterproof and equipped with a remote I can hold so she can hear my voice across the crowded pool as though I'm right against her ear. It will not be her natural state of being, and for this, I will probably always feel the same ambivalence (a little guilt, a little joy) I feel when I press the play button before I swim. I guess I hope that giving her sound will not be dampening the feel of water or the taste of chlorine. That she can choose not to push play when she wants to retreat to her innate, fully sensory silence. That in addition to the mysterious ways we're born, we must seek means to arrive at the nuances that turn our lives. I hope that my exhilaration will eventually be hers.

IMG_6639(1)In Jumpa Lahiri's December 2015 piece in The New Yorker on learning Italian, she writes that at first, her endeavor to learn a new language took place "in exile, in a state of separation." Maybe this is how I first felt about Anna--that her deafness exiled me from understanding her. If I could talk to the 2015 version of myself who was scared about having a deaf child, I would say that Anna's deafness has been one of this year's greatest gifts, for it is through an exile that we find a much more realized and hard-earned arrival at a once-unknown destination. On Wednesdays now, our deaf friend Lori arrives with a book and her fast-moving hands. I make tea. I make the signs for "do you want some tea?" We are learning our daughter's language. This spring, she will learn ours.