Our 21-month-old daughter heard sound for the first time today.
Maliah was born deaf, which we discovered after we brought her home from Rwanda a year ago. She had bilateral cochlear implant surgery four weeks ago, and today was her “activation.”
The implant team cautioned us that most kids don’t like activation day. It’s traumatic for them to go from complete silence to hearing all of a sudden. So we weren’t surprised when Maliah’s first reaction was to cry. There were seven adults and her in this tiny office, and when Maliah did something funny and we all laughed, she got this panicked look on her face and just lost it, burying her head in my shoulder.
A little freaky for her, I’m sure, but it was still really cool to watch. We’ve known her for 12 months — it’ll be a year this weekend that I first met her — and to see her react to noise for that first time, even if it was tears, was amazing.
And she bounced back quickly. Basically what the audiologist did, and what we’ll keep doing for the next few weeks, is slowly boost her volume until it’s more than she can handle and she cries. We give her time to adjust, and boost it again. Not much fun for her, and she did cry quite a bit today. But never for very long; she adjusted amazingly fast. This is a simplistic and probably not entirely accurate way of explaining it, but if her processor units can reach a volume of 40, she started the day at 3 and before bed we had her all the way up to 33. Way better than I expected for the first day.
And our house is not a quiet place. We kept things relatively peaceful for most of the afternoon, but right around 4:30 Gideon woke up from his nap (and was grumpy, since he’s got a cold) and the two older boys came home and then we headed straight into the chaos that is dinnertime. Maliah was hardly fazed at all. Gideon was banging his tray and screeching for Cheerios, Xander was talking a mile a minute about his day and Oscar was randomly yelling about poop, as he tends to do, and she hardly batted an eye. In fact, the only time she cried at dinner was when she ran out of food. Once she wolfed down a sausage, she was fine.
The other big challenge is keeping everything in place on her head. She’s got two processor units on her ears attached to a coil that’s held to her head with a magnet, along with two battery packs that clip to her shirt. So she looks like this:
She pulled them off a couple of times when she got tired or frustrated, but for the most part she did really well. I think it helps that she’s used to wearing glasses and having something on her ears. It also helps that she comes with a remote(!) that beeps whenever one comes off, so we don’t have to worry about randomly losing them and having someone step on them, or eat them.
It’s a little crazy, not to mention intimidating, just how much stuff came with these implants. We brought home two backpacks and two huge white cases full of adapters, cables, batteries, chargers, remotes, you name it. Xander was fascinated once he saw all this hardware. He had to go through everything and figure out what all of it was for.
The other thing we try not to think about is how much everything is worth. Maliah has the approximate value of a Porsche implanted in and attached to her head. And all of it was covered by MSI. God bless Canada.
Seriously, I know lots of people have their complaints or horror stories about our health-care system, but we’ve been thoroughly impressed at what’s available for deaf children in this province, and how terrific everyone has been. And this is just the beginning. We’ll have weekly appointments with the audiologist for the next few months. We meet regularly with a speech language pathologist, a worker from the Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority (APSEA), and a therapist with an Early Intervention program. The resources are amazing, and we’re so thankful for it all.
So now the real fun — and the real work — begins. We have to teach Maliah to hear: right now she’s got less experience with sound than even a newborn, who hears in the womb, so she doesn’t know what to do with it. She doesn’t really react yet in the sense of turning and looking at us or listening when we speak. Mostly she does funny things like scrunch up her eyes, as if by blocking us out she won’t be able to hear us either.
But she’ll learn. She’ll start to recognize our voices. And someday she’ll talk. The fact that all of this is possible still blows my mind.