Sound and Silence
voice call down to us from high up in a thick, old evergreen tree. "My mom's in the house," I remember the voice saying. We didn't find out until later in our visit that that voice belonged to Kaily.
She was very curious about Geneva. Almost immediately, she took her from my arms, asking permission as an afterthought. Her speech was nearly perfect, she used no sign language, and she seemed to communicate effortlessly with her hearing sister and some visiting friends. She did say "What?" frequently, but she responded easily to the questions we asked her. "Do kids make fun of you?" we asked. Sometimes kids said things about her, she responded. But not because of her hearing loss, a friend piped in. Kaily laughed at that. She's aware of her tendency to be aloof and sometimes bossy with her peers.
Meeting Kaily was inspiring, but even so we approached the implant decision cautiously. Tami had been careful to educate us about the variety of opinions on cochlear implants.
It took most of the summer and fall for me to cobble together a good understanding of implants. I read books and articles. I watched promotional videos from the cochlear implant companies. I subscribed to cochlear implant e-mail listservs for parents. And I met several teenagers and adolescents with cochlear implants through a New Hampshire-Vermont group called DEAF (Deaf and hard of hearing Empowerment and Advocacy for Families).
I did my best to learn about Deaf culture, too—which is not easy in a rural area with few deaf adults. Being deaf is quite unusual. About 2 to 3 babies out of 1,000 in the U.S. are born with some hearing loss; even fewer are born profoundly deaf. Geneva was one of only two profoundly deaf Vermont babies born over a period of several years. My education about Deaf culture came primarily through Tami, a PBS documentary about deaf history and culture, and a conference I attended about deaf education. Another link to Deaf culture forme was Geneva's primary caregiver, Krista Harris, at the DHMC Child-Care Center, where Geneva goes two days a week. Krista's father is deaf,
Being deaf is quite unusual. About 2 to 3 babies out of 1,000 in the U.S. are born with some hearing loss; even fewer are born profoundly deaf. Geneva was one of only two profoundly deaf Vermont babies born over a period of several years.
so she grew up signing and surrounded by deaf adults. At first Krista was hesitant to tell me what a negative impression she had gotten about cochlear implants from the deaf people she knew. But I welcomed her insight, and we educated each other from our different perspectives.
Whenever I doubted our decision to get a cochlear implant for Geneva, I'd think about Kaily and the other young people we'd met. I'd also refer to two books I'd read, both by deaf authors. In The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa, Josh Swiller explains how the struggles of growing up deaf eventually drove him to Africa, where he hoped his deafness wouldn't matter. "I got my first
hearing aids when I was four years old," he writes. "To that point, I was slow to pick up language, slow to show an interest in the world at large. I wasn't very social or curious. I mostly sat under a table in the front room of my family's big apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side and stared at the corner."
When I compare Swiller's early years with Geneva's life so far, my heart aches for Swiller and so many deaf adults who had similar childhoods. Geneva is as social and curious as can be and always has been. We knew about her hearing loss before the absence of communication could shape her personality. For that I'll be forever grateful.
The other book I often referred to was Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human, by Michael Chorost. Chorost grew up hard of hearing, went completely deaf in his thirties, and then decided to get a cochlear implant. After his surgery, Chorost visits a preschool for the deaf that he attended when he was little, where about half the children now have cochlear implants.