How Henry's parents used sign language in their wedding
When Kayleigh and Adam found out their son Henry (2) was deaf, their world fell apart. But two years on, and after discovering Family Sign Language would be the key to their communication, they even signed their wedding vows…
The audiologist's words hit Kayleigh like a hammer blow. "Your baby is deaf." Outside the hospital, Kayleigh and partner Adam stood crying in the pouring rain, cuddling three-week-old Henry.
“It was such a shock,” says Kayleigh. “How could our perfect baby be deaf? No one in our family was deaf. I blamed myself, maybe it was something I’d done during pregnancy.
“It broke my heart that Henry hadn’t heard my voice while he was in my tummy and would never hear me tell him I love him. I fast-forwarded 20 years – would he go to school? Would he be bullied? Would he get married? Have a job? Or would he live with us forever?”
Kayleigh couldn’t bring herself to tell anyone other than family and one close friend. When they got Henry’s hearing aids, Kayleigh wouldn’t put them in. “People would stare – I didn’t want anyone to know,” she explains. “I feel awful looking back but I was in a very dark place. I struggled to bond with Henry. When he cried, I didn’t know how to comfort him as he couldn’t hear me soothing him.”
Kayleigh’s mental health suffered and now she has advice for other parents. “Be honest with your employer,” she says. “Ours was fantastic, they gave Adam extra time off – you need time to look after yourself, deal with the impact. It put a strain on our relationship. We’re at different ends of a spectrum, Adam is information-hungry and I’m emotional, but we got through it.”
Kayleigh was determined and after a few weeks she started bonding with Henry, felt fiercely protective of him and made sure he wore his hearing aids. She was referred to the National Deaf Children's Society in Wales through a professional and received information about deafness, dealing with everyday things including communication.
“Henry’s Teacher of the Deaf (QToD) taught us basic signs like ‘milk’ so we’d have a way of communicating,” recalls Kayleigh. “We signed the words over and again, but it seemed hopeless, impossible that a baby could ever understand.”
Then they attended one of our events for parents who have found out their child is deaf, and talked with other families going through a similar experience. They found out more about Family Sign Language, saw others signing and knew they could persevere.
“At nine months, Henry signed his first word ‘light’,” says Kayleigh. “He’s fascinated with light-up toys. We were thrilled! Soon he was signing ‘milk’ and ‘dog’ – our efforts were paying off.”
Henry had cochlear implant surgery at 16 months. When the implants were switched on, Kayleigh and Adam watched Henry’s excited face as he banged a stick on the table, amazed to be hearing noise for the first time. “He looked at me one day and said ‘Mama’ – I was in tears,” says Kayleigh.
Henry continues learning sign, particularly for sleep, bathtime or swimming when he isn’t wearing his implants.
Last summer, with special funding in Wales, the family attended a 10-session Family Sign Language course provided by the National Deaf Children’s Society and delivered by Angela, who is deaf. Angela tailored lessons to the family’s requests – like ‘beach’ for their holiday and phrases for nursery such as ‘time to wash hands’.
Kayleigh and Adam were getting married in September, so they had an extra special request. “We asked Angela to teach us to sign some of our vows so Henry could be included in the ceremony – a family coming together,” says Kayleigh.
The day was magical and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. “When Henry first saw me in my bridal dress, he covered his mouth, pointed and then signed ‘beautiful’,” Kayleigh says. “My legs were shaking – what two year old can tell his mum she’s beautiful?
“Henry walked with my brother’s girlfriend down the aisle, with a sign saying ‘Daddy, Mummy’s coming’. He got scared with so many people, so Adam held out his arms and Henry ran to him for a cuddle.
"When Henry first saw me in my bridal dress, he pointed, and then signed beautiful’."
“Henry sat on my mum’s lap as we signed our vows, including ‘I promise to treasure our love and friendship and care for you with kindness and understanding. I look forward to our future together with hope, happiness and joy.’ He was watching, playing with his fingers like he does when someone is signing, trying to join in.
“Seeing Henry’s face beaming at us was unforgettable. There were lots of tears from people who don’t cry! In the speeches, my dad included a few signs, my brother even signed ‘welcome to our family’. It was a wonderful day!”
Henry is making great progress. His speech is now classed as in the normal range for a child his age and he knows nearly 100 signs and is starting to put them together. “We’re lucky, we have so much support,” says Kayleigh. “Henry’s nursery’s amazing. They’ve been on sign language training and at carpet time they sign to all the children, things like days of the week. Henry loves learning and is great with his implants; he doesn’t touch them, he knows they’re helping.
“We’re so proud of Henry, we’re his biggest champions. We want him to know there’s nothing embarrassing about deafness, he’s like any other child and can achieve anything he wants to.”