Three-and-a-half years had passed since I lay in the same metal bed, gripping the same rails, staring at the same ceiling, waiting for a baby to be born. The birth of my son had been a joy then. This time, circumstances were different. My labor had started without warning, and by evening, my husband was hurriedly wheeling me down the hall to the nurse’s station. It didn’t help that I was struggling with a newly diagnosed hearing loss.
I couldn’t understand much of the conversation that my husband had with two nurses about my age. It turns out that my first pregnancy and birth had precipitated a progressive hearing loss that made some speech difficult to
understand. As the two nurses met me in the delivery room, their steady voices and direct eye contact made it apparent that my husband had told them I was hard of hearing. When epidural time came, one of the nurses used hand gestures to show how I should lay when the needle was injected.
After my daughter was born, I was taken to a recovery room and greeted by a different attending nurse every few hours. They all seemed to mumble, though I tried to listen to their words closely. Finally I broke down.
“Please speak up,” I politely asked, “because I have hearing loss, and the hospital noises are too loud for me to understand you.”
They cautiously nodded their heads and gave me a brief look that questioned why a thirty-year-old can’t hear well. Then they re-explained themselves a little louder. I was exhausted from the combination of labor and having to lip read whatever every new nurse that came into the room said.
By the last day of my hospital stay, I had had it with trying to compete with the sound of loud hospital air conditioners as I listened attentively to soft-spoken nurses ask me questions I couldn’t hear.
“Hello. I am Monica.”
The nurse with the Irish lilt and nurturing smile made her way to my bedside.
“How are you feeling?” Her voice was no louder than a whisper, and her accent was distinct. So, one would assume I wouldn’t be able to understand her and would have to repeat the hearing-loss speech again.
“I’m fine,” I answered.
It was amazing that not only could I hear every word she said, but I could also answer her with such assurance. Her familiarity was eating at me.
“I remember you,” I said. “You were my nurse when my son was born three years ago.”
“Oh,”she smiled, “that was a long time ago.”
I filled her in on the details of my expanding family and how proud my husband and I were to now have a son and daughter. I told her about the hearing loss, although I assured her I could hear her with no problem.
“I never would have known you couldn’t hear well,” she said.
As an orderly wheeled me and my daughter out of the hospital the next day, I finally felt calm. It took a nurse named Monica to remind me that, hearing loss or not, I was still the same person I was before. Only this time I had two children to love.
Note: Shanna and her husband welcomed a third child into their family in 2007. A version of this story was published in A
Cup of Comfort for Nurses (Adams Media).
Ask Lipreading Mom
Shanna Groves was diagnosed with progressive hearing loss after the birth of her first child. She was 27. Raised in a hearing family, Shanna traces her hearing loss to a genetic loss on the paternal side of her family. She is mom to three young children, a published author, and speaker. Her books are featured at www.ShannaGroves.com. Shanna blogs about being a hard of hearing mom at http://LipreadingMom.com.