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Like mother, like daughter

Isabelle's story

Mum Nicky, who is severely to profoundly deaf, tells us about her experience of parenting a deaf daughter and shows us some of the essential technology she uses.

Nicky didn’t expect her daughter Isabelle to be deaf like her, but she’s used her own experiences to raise a happy, confident two-year-old.

When Nicky's daughter Isabelle was born, she was shocked to find out she was deaf. 

Nicky is deaf herself, but she’d always assumed she was an anomaly due to issues with her own mum’s pregnancy. “It was a gut reaction born out of concern for the unknown – what if technology wasn’t enough for Isabelle? What if she couldn’t appreciate music and hear her family? Would she be limited in her career?” Nicky explains. “I’ve genuinely never had negative feelings about being deaf myself but when it’s your child you can’t help but want the easiest life possible for them. As rationality set in, I quickly turned those feelings around and I haven’t looked back.”

Isabelle (2) is profoundly deaf and wears cochlear implants, whereas Nicky has a severe to profound loss and wears one hearing aid. There’s no history of deafness in Nicky’s family and it was always assumed her own hearing loss was related to an infection during her mum’s pregnancy. Nicky explains that when she was first diagnosed at the age of one, her parents were upset but wanted to learn as much as possible. “They didn’t have the internet in the 1980s so it wasn’t as easy as today – a lot of research, library visits, writing and phone calls,” Nicky says. “But my mum was very determined. She even ended up as the local representative for the National Deaf Children’s Society for several years, helping other parents find the best technology for their children.”

"I can appreciate her hearing fatigue like no one else in the family can."

For Nicky, things moved much quicker. She found out Isabelle was deaf after she was referred for further testing thanks to the newborn hearing screening and was given her hearing aids at just eight weeks old. She reacted instantly, in what Nicky calls, “a real YouTube moment!”

At six months, Nicky and her husband Ross made the decision to get Isabelle implanted, but it wasn’t a straightforward process. “After both an MRI and CT scan, it was revealed Isabelle’s cochleae have no turns,” Nicky explains. “They’re essentially empty shells. Cochlear implants are designed to thread around the ‘snail shell’ shape of the cochlea but in Isabelle’s case, each of the 22 electrodes per ear had to be manually placed, in a six-hour operation.

“The consultant was very blunt beforehand, telling us it may not work for her. The activation process happens a month after the operation but Isabelle didn’t respond to sound for another six weeks. Since then she has gone from strength-to-strength. She astounds me with her speech and my heart burst with joy recently when she stopped in the garden and told me the birds were singing. That was everything.”

So what challenges does Nicky face as a deaf parent of a deaf child? “During the day I wear my hearing aid but one of the biggest challenges is having a shower when my husband is at work – especially now Isabelle is an intrepid explorer. I can’t see or hear her so it’s triple checking for hazards, offering her plenty of exciting toys and books and dashing in and out of the shower. Often she’s already unravelled a roll of toilet paper and dashed off with the toothpaste – but what toddler hasn’t! “Dealing with a two-year old’s temper tantrums is actually the biggest challenge and that’s absolutely nothing to do with our hearing!”

"My heart burst with joy when she told me the birds were singing."

Nicky says the most important piece of equipment she has as a deaf mum is the baby monitor which vibrates under her mattress to alert her if Isabelle is crying during the night. But, in an ideal world, she’d also create a new invention. “I’d like an instant hair dryer! I can’t put my hearing aid in until my hair is dry and every minute spent drying it, is another minute she might be throwing bath toys down the toilet!”

Nicky’s own experience of deafness has helped when it comes to keeping Isabelle’s hearing technology on though. “I’ve always been matter of fact about wearing hearing technology. Mummy wears hers, so do you, off we go. However I can also appreciate her hearing fatigue like no one else in the family can.”

Nicky believes having a hearing loss herself has also given her an advantage when it comes to understanding what support Isabelle needs. “We’ve worked really hard on her communication and she already speaks in sentences,” Nicky says. “We’ve been going to signing classes since Isabelle was three months old and we arranged family signing classes at home with The Signing Company. “We’re very aware that Isabelle’s hearing relies on technology which isn’t always failsafe and we want her to have a form of communication to fall back on. That’s why it was important our immediate family learnt with us, especially as she had 10 weeks with no hearing before her cochlear implants were fitted. “As she grows up I’m going to do my utmost to try and make sure her hearing loss doesn’t get in the way of anything. We’ll always find a way around it.”

Looking forward, Nicky has high hopes for Isabelle’s future. “I hope she is happy, beyond anything. I hope she understands why we chose to put her through being implanted, which is a huge decision to undertake for somebody else, and that she appreciates her hearing. I hope she has the confidence to advocate for herself and she doesn’t let a little thing like hearing loss stand in her way, just like Mummy.”

Photo: Nicky was surprised to find out her daughter Isabelle had a hearing loss too