When Mr. Pen and I started dating, I knew he had trouble with his hearing. It started from birth, but wasn’t discovered until he was about 5 years old and since then he’s been wearing hearing aids. He has lost about 60% of his hearing, and supposedly his hearing aids bring it back up to 90% but I don’t believe it. His hearing loss presented an entirely new set of relationship and ultimately marital issues that many couples don’t face. The phrase, “you never listen to me” takes on an entirely new meaning when your spouse simply cannot hear you.
For most of our marriage, the issue has merely created irritation and annoyance. I know I cannot be mad at him for not hearing what I say, but it gets old very quickly when I have to repeat myself five times or more before he doesn’t hear what I say. We’ve learned a lot of tricks to help each other out, like I always make sure I have his full attention before saying something. If he isn’t looking at me and watching my lips, he most likely won’t hear me. And instead of yelling through the house, which he never hears anyway, it’s much easier to just find him when I need him.
Up until now it’s been something we’ve dealt with day by day and not really worried about, as we’ve adjusted to communicating effectively for the health of our marriage. The other day something happened that woke me up from this “ignorance is bliss” type state. We were baking a homemade pizza in the oven and Mr. Pen left it in a little too long; our oven smokes really easily and we have sensitive smoke alarms. The fire alarm started blaring and I expected Mr. Pen to run straight to the alarm to shut it off. But he didn’t. He stood there minding his own business continuing his work in the kitchen. I yelled to him, “go turn off the alarm!” and he kept doing what he was doing while the alarm screeched loudly. I ran to shut it off myself and asked Mr. Pen why he didn’t turn it off and he was oblivious; he had no idea the alarm went off.
I was shocked and stunned. How could he not hear that? Later he said it must have been too high-pitched for him to hear. He laughed it, off but it’s left me thinking about all the little ways his hearing has affected our quality of life… and now our parenting.
Mr. Pen is an amazing hands-on father who looks forward to each weekend and spending time with Baby Squiggles. But there have been things regarding his hearing that have affected his parenting and how we do it together. Probably the most obvious issue is that when Baby S wakes up in the night, it’s impossible for Mr. Pen to hear him. We talk about resentment toward the dads who tune out a baby’s cry, but imagine if your partner desperately wanted to but didn’t even have the ability to hear their child. Mr. Pen always invites me to wake him up to help if I need it and sometimes I do, but we face the common, “it’s just easier if I do it” dilemma.
I hate that I know I will never be able to leave Baby S or subsequent babies overnight for fear that Mr. Pen would never hear his cries in the night. Even if he sleeps with his hearing aids in, it’s likely the batteries could die but beyond that, his ears simply shut off.
Mr. Pen has his ways of coping with his disability, not all of them healthy. He feels particularly rude to continually ask people to repeat themselves, so often instead of asking for a second or third repeat, he merely nods and smiles. As his wife I know this trick that he often does even with me. It really affects our parenting because if I ask him to do something specific regarding the care of Baby S, or if I’m leaving for the day, he may not really hear me.
I’ve started to worry about the future regarding his hearing; it’s obvious that just over the 4 years we’ve been together that his hearing has worsened. We’ve talked about taking sign language classes together in the event his hearing is ever gone for good, but we haven’t sat down and done it yet. We have started doing daily signs with Baby Squiggles and it is helping us jumpstart learning ASL for ourselves as well. We hope that if it ever came to being completely deaf, we could afford cochlear implants, but we have no way of knowing if that would be an option.
Mr. Pen’s hearing impairment is a disability we face with day to day that so many people take for granted. Mr. Pen misses so many little things through it – but we continue to be grateful for the hearing he does have and what he can experience instead. As we look toward the future of our family, all we can do is hope for the best. And I constantly pray for patience.
Does your family face any disabilities? How do you cope?