Mondays with Momma: Growing Up with a Hearing Loss

This week’s question comes from the comments of last week’s Mondays with Momma.

Can you talk about growing up with a hearing loss and the family not knowing it was a problem for you and when and how they did discover that.

Most of what I know was told to me, as I was pretty young when all this happened.  In 1963, my eldest brother was five and I was three when we contracted rubella, which according to my baby book, was a “mild” case.  I had always thought that it was the rubella that caused my hearing loss, and it does cause hearing loss, but typically only when the mother contracts it while pregnant.  While reviewing my baby book, I discovered that I had two ear infections around the age of six months; this was followed by a “bad” case of the measles when I was 12 months old and then a “pretty bad” case of the chicken pox at 13 months old.  Whatever the case may be, I caught whatever was out there and it caused some damage.

My Mom suspected that something was wrong, especially when other people dropped comments on my inability to pick up on things.  I would have the Television up as loud as possible, and I did not react to conversations or other noises in the background, like the vacuum cleaner, when I was watching it.  Mom could offer me a piece of candy or other treat, but if my back was turned to her I did not respond.  She eventually took me to the family doctor with her concerns.  Mom said that the doctor took me for a walk around the facility, then he brought me back to her and said, “She’s fine, she hears what she wants, she’s just being stubborn.”

That did not sit well with Mom.  She immediately “marched me over to the EENT (eye, ears, nose and throat) and insisted on a hearing test.”  So they gave me one.  They were a bit surprised at the results and asked Mom to take me to lunch and then bring me back to have a re-test.  The results were the same.  I had a 50 percent hearing loss in both ears.  I was then scheduled to be fitted for hearing aids.

Exactly when I got my hearing aids is a bit fuzzy.  It’s not mentioned in my baby book, but I do recall having them when I was in first grade.  I think it was after the teacher strapped me to my desk, because I kept getting up to wander around the classroom every time she turned her back to the class.  Mom knew I wasn’t stubborn and she knew I wasn’t trying to be difficult.  I’m really glad I had her in my corner, especially when I came home crying because of the other children teasing me for “those funny things” in my ears.  She simply said, “You’ve got something they don’t have, you can turn them off!”  She never let me feel sorry for myself, but I did try to hide my hearing aids after that and I did not let people know I had a hearing loss unless absolutely necessary, because the majority of those who found out, even to this day, would stop hanging out with me. Sad, but true.

I never went to special classes, but I did have speech therapy.  I had a lot of catching up to do in that department.  I really did not like going to speech therapy, but I must admit that it was very helpful.  I learned all about idioms and how to enunciate certain words by repetitively saying things like “She sells seashells by the seashore.”  Even so, after ten years of speech therapy, I found during my adult years that I was still mispronouncing certain words.  Simple words, like breakfast and perfect, which I pronounced breakS-fast and per-fick.  I did not discover sign language until I was a junior in high school, when the deaf class, which I didn’t know we had, was in a variety show signing a song.  I immediately told my Mom and she found a class for us to take and learned it with me.

When I first got my hearing aids my Mom said that I sat outside for hours, just listening.  When a jet flew over the house I ran inside screaming, “what is it? what is it?”  I would ask her about sounds that I was now hearing around the neighborhood, like dogs, cows and roosters.  She would say, “Yes, that’s a cow mooing.” or “Yes, that’s the rooster you hear.”  Years later, when hearing aids became digital, Charley and I splurged and we each purchased our first pair.  It was like a whole new world had opened up.  I honestly did not know that a cat has it’s own distinctive sound when it purrs or meows.  In any event, analog or digital … crickets are noisy little buggars!  As are refrigerators, clocks, highway noise …. and many other little sounds which I miss until they are amplified by these wonderful little gadgets.

One thing that had always puzzled me and I only recently found out about, with the help of a friend who is an audiologist, and also hearing impaired; why do I sometimes hear certain things that I somehow can’t hear at other times?  Someone had echoed what the doctor said, “she hears what she wants to” … and that bothered me … a lot.  My friend explained that this is called auditory neuropathy and that “it happens when the nerve fibers do not fire in a synchronous pattern.”  In other words, sound information is not faithfully transmitted to the nerve and/or brain properly.  So, if you ever find yourself talking to me and I appear to understand you one day with no problems, but the next day I miss a lot of the conversation, please be patient with me, I’m obviously having an off day.


  1. November 11, 2013

    I just have to say, Donna, that you are one of the most amazing women I know. <3 Thank you for sharing that with us.

  2. November 11, 2013

    You are so real. Knowing you is plain and simply just a treat. I am sorry for those who ever shunned you when you were small and can only say if any adult would do so now, realize THEY have a far larger problem than hearing loss. And that my dear is FOR SURE!

  3. You know, I’m relieved to hear that you’re a little befuddled regarding when the hearing loss actually happened. In my studies on vaccinations, it seemed to me that measles have more potential to cause hearing loss than rubella. This made me wonder about your experiences. But I didn’t know that you had anything besides rubella. Makes more sense now.

    And maybe it’s just me, but the fact that you have navigated life WITH your hearing loss is such an inspiration and encouragement. With the Lord, no circumstances are so grim that He’s unable to provide His strength, His peace and His joy.

  4. November 11, 2013
    Aunt Manny

    One of my favorite memories growing up is of you and us kids in the car, some Twila Paris or Sandi Patti on the radio, and you signing along with the song. I wanted to learn how to do that, too. Between what you taught me and my high school sign language class, I learned a lot. It has helped me in my profession and I have a couple tables that sit only with me because I can communicate with them and it makes for a better dining experience for them. I am sensitive to the needs of those with hearing aids making sure that I face them directly, speak clearly and give them a chance to respond, never getting hasty or frustrated if I have to repeat myself. What I appreciate the most now that I’m older and am in a personal relationship with Jesus, is that I, too, can sign along with songs. There is such an intimate feeling in signing to Our Savior. When the tears flow and the lump in my throat prevents me from singing aloud, I can still gesture my thanks and love to Him through sign. When others ask if I speak a second language, or see me sign, I always say, it’s all because if you. Thank you for passing on this incredible gift. 🙂

  5. November 11, 2013
    Aunt Ethelyn

    Thank you, Donna, for answering my question. I know Mother had a special connection with you because of her hearing losss. And, although she has not said so, I think Sandy’s choice of profession was greatly influenced by both of you because you both were/are so special to her.

  6. November 11, 2013

    I always thought you and grandma had that special connection.. I always admired you both. I think it is funny when my own mom does something similar to the CODA’s that I know!
    I always wondered why you were so serious when we were kids. I later learned it had more to do with language and idioms than sense of humor.. You do have a good sense of humor! love you!

  7. November 15, 2013

    Donna–you were SO blessed to have a mother determined to encourage you and help you (but not allow you to play ‘vicitm’) deal with the hearing loss.

    when i read the part about the doctor who said that you heard what you wanted to, i just wanted to drop kick him across the room! and i bet he never realized how much damage he could have caused with his careless words…

    why would ANYONE not want to be friends or hang out with you? and just because you wear hearing aids or can’t hear very well? that is SO lame! especially since you (and Charley) were always so much fun to hang out with

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