Emmie's Diagnosis: Emotional roller-coaster ride
As life with a deaf daughter becomes normal for parents Kerri and Laura, the worry, guilt and fear they once felt is finally subsiding…
Although they are twins, there’s something else that makes life for Emmie and Olive different – Emmie is severely deaf and Olive is hearing.
“In some ways, having twins made things harder,” says mum Kerri, thinking back to finding out that Emmie was deaf. “We were constantly comparing them and wondering if Emmie could do what Olive could do. Of course, the reality is that all children do things at different times. If we could only have known then what we do now, we would have been over the moon. She’s chatty and lively and they’re both full of life and joy.”
But imagining a bright future for Emmie hasn’t always been easy for Kerri and Laura, who knew little about deafness and what it would mean for their daughter. “In the beginning, we were baffled by what was happening,” says Kerri. “Emmie was startled when the dog barked so we were convinced she was hearing,” adds Laura.
“At the point I was told Emmie was deaf, I just stopped listening – I couldn’t take it in.”
But at Emmie’s third hearing test she was diagnosed as moderately deaf. “It was very matter of fact,” explains Kerri. But at the point I was told Emmie was deaf, I just stopped listening – I couldn’t take it in.”
With deafness very new to their lives, Kerri and Laura found it hard to connect to the words they were hearing to describe Emmie’s hearing loss. “I remember my mum telling someone that Emmie was deaf,” says Kerri. “I was really upset. We were told Emmie had a moderate hearing loss – we weren't coming to terms with having a deaf child at that point.”
“I was worrying about all the unnecessary things at the beginning.”
Kerri remembers first calling the National Deaf Children’s Society as another difficult step in the early days. “I had to ring and say that I had a deaf child and at that point I didn’t want to say that very much,” she recalls. In a new and unfamiliar world, Kerri and Laura worried a lot about what the future might hold. “I was worrying about all the unnecessary things at the beginning,” says Kerri. “Would she talk, fit in, make friends? And we were constantly analysing her for any signs of other conditions.”
Early emotions for the couple extended beyond worries about their daughter’s health and future. “I also remember feeling really guilty,” says Kerri. “Would she be angry with me, as her birth mother?”
At a National Deaf Children’s Society weekend for families with a newly identified deaf child, Kerri and Laura realised the journey that lay ahead. “There were other parents with slightly older children saying they wouldn’t change things and I remember thinking that was a long way from where we were,” says Kerri, still then coming to terms with the diagnosis.
Making decisions was also difficult, faced with many options and much new information. But determined to support Emmie however they could, Kerri and Laura threw themselves into finding out as much as possible with the Teacher of the Deaf who’d been assigned to support Emmie.
“She gave us loads of practical things that we could do, like turning off the TV to reduce background noise, and that was great – we felt like we were doing something useful,” says Laura, admitting she felt powerless.
“It was a glimpse into the future – we realised that everything could be just fine.”
The Teacher of the Deaf also introduced Kerri and Laura to another family with a deaf child.
“The family we’d been put in touch with had a toddler who was starting to talk and develop language,” says Kerri. “It was a glimpse into the future – we realised that everything could be just fine.”
Armed with information and other people’s experiences, and seeing their daughter gradually walk and develop language, Kerri and Laura began to move on from the worries that had consumed them.
“We realised that the things we worried about in the beginning aren’t worth it. The reality is that it’s a roller-coaster and always will be,” says Kerri, reflecting on discovering that Emmie’s hearing loss recently progressed to severe. “It’s one challenge at a time, and when you reach the next challenge you look back on the previous one and think it wasn’t so bad.”
With Emmie’s speech on a par with her peer group and the twins starting school together in September, Kerri and Laura are ready for any challenges that lie ahead.
“Life isn’t going to be exactly the same as the one we thought they’d have, but that’s ridiculous because you’ve got no idea how their life is going to be anyway,” says Kerri. “She’s no longer Emmie our deaf child – she’s just Emmie. Her deafness is normal to us now – it’s just part of what makes her the unique character she is.”