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Going it alone

Photo: Chrysanthi with her two children

It’s been a very different journey for Chrysanthi and her son Lamin-Phoenix, who was born just before lockdown. Becoming a single parent in the midst of it all has been a challenge, but the family is now looking forward to the future…

Being told your baby is deaf can be a difficult and emotional time for any parent, but it was even harder during lockdown last year as many were left to go it alone, with less support from professionals and family and friends.

“Over Zoom, the Teacher for Children with Hearing Impairment [or Teacher of the Deaf] would ask me whether Lamin-Phoenix understands or responds to things and I would say ‘I just don’t know,’” explains his mum, Chrysanthi. “Without her seeing him face to face, I feel I can’t know for sure if he’s actually meeting milestones or understanding me when I talk. It’s very frustrating at times.”

Lamin-Phoenix (now 1) was identified as moderately to severely deaf in one ear and moderately to profoundly deaf in the other, following his newborn hearing screening.

“I didn’t expect it,” Chrysanthi says. “My husband disbelieved it more than me though; he told me maybe they’re wrong. But I could tell there was something going on, I noticed he was clingier than my daughter and he had trouble going to sleep if I wasn’t holding him.”

Chrysanthi’s older daughter Mariam-Iris had speech delay and behavioural issues. “She has been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum around the same time.” It was a difficult time for the family. “I went through postpartum depression and had issues with my husband,” Chrysanthi explains. “He wouldn’t accept the diagnoses our children had.”

The relationship ended, and as lockdown began, Chrysanthi found herself feeling quite alone. “My husband left me when Lamin-Phoenix was very young. I was really anxious to be dealing with this all on my own. Therapy and antidepressants were useful to me.

My way out was trying to learn more about both of my children’s diagnoses. “My family are back home in Greece. I have kept in touch with them but it’s been difficult to visit due to the travel restrictions.

“So, I turned to events from the National Deaf Children’s Society – online groups for mums, parental support, talking therapies, whatever I could do to keep my mind off of things. These groups have all been really supportive, though you can’t really compare it to the actual support you would normally receive from your husband. It’s hard being a single parent.”

Lamin-Phoenix was fitted with hearing aids at a young age but, since then, it has been difficult for Chrysanthi to see professionals regularly. “With the pandemic, I didn’t have regular appointments for my son after he was born,” she says. “I had to guess that he was doing OK because I’d experienced it with my first one. It was particularly difficult when he kept losing his hearing aids; there would be long periods where he didn’t have any to wear.

“He’s having more tantrums now. If I put the hearing aids in and he doesn’t want to wear them, he’ll just throw them away. My Teacher for Children with Hearing Impairment said the best thing to do is not to put too much attention or focus on it. I’ve also learnt to go for colourful hearing aids so they’re easier to locate!

“I did some online events with the National Deaf Children’s Society about behaviour and emotions; I find it helpful just listening to other parents and hearing their experiences. Getting some advice is always good – knowing that what I’m doing is OK. It’s very reassuring attending those sessions.”

Now the children are a little older, Chrysanthi has realised she has lots of decisions to make about their future. “I’m not sure what form of communication Lamin-Phoenix will use when he’s older, he hasn’t even started saying ‘Mummy’ yet,” says Chrysanthi. “We tried Zoom sessions on sign language, but I think he was too young; he couldn’t focus on them. He struggles with video and focusing on the screen. His main way of communicating with me is gestures at the moment.

“My family try and convince me to teach the kids Greek too, but for me it’s not a rush, I don’t see the urgency.

“I try to teach them to communicate at home myself, mostly by trying to get them to interact with each other. They’ve started playing with playdough and kinetic sands, they like dancing together. I have a ball pit at home and they like playing with the balls, with blankets, and foil. It’s a lot of sensory play, using rattling toys and the xylophone. We have party lights in the house; they love those. We do a lot of activities; I’m exhausted most of the time!

“I’m worried about Lamin-Phoenix not speaking at all but, other than that, I’m not worried. I’ve read up about all the amazing things deaf people go on to do and the support he can get at school. My main worry right now is that he doesn’t lose another set of hearing aids! With the support of the Teacher for Children with Hearing Impairment we changed his hearing aids to a better model and started trialling an Oticon EduMic to prepare him for nursery.”

Chrysanthi also has some great advice for other parents who are on this journey on their own. “I would tell other single parents to be patient, don’t hold things inside, reach out to other people that can help and give you advice. It’s not going to be easy but join groups and ask lots of questions.”