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Sunday, 28 September 2014

Silence IS Golden - the 'gifts' of my mother's deafness

My story today focuses upon the trans-generational gifts from my mother. They are the gifts that go beyond…

Being raised by a deaf mum and a hearing father has gifted me with so much and for this I am truly grateful.

A few years ago when asked about my mother I could only find these words to describe her. My mother is profoundly deaf and psychologically hearing. By this I mean for many years she failed to embrace and own her deafness. She was ashamed of being deaf and as a result she would imitate being hearing. She would nod her head in a timely fashion and she would respond to questions with appropriate utterances – often fooling others but never escaping the real truth of her own silent world.

As a child I only heard her declare her deafness on one occasion. This was a heart-breaking event to witness. Upon declaring her deafness she was met with a patronising “Oh! I D-I-D-N-T K-N-O-W you were deaf. In that moment I saw in my mother’s eyes, her pain and anguish. Her shame and anger too, an image that has stayed with me to this day.

Her tenacity to pretend to be hearing for so long is impressive though, isn’t it? Hold onto to this tenacity thread. You’ll see it repeats itself in this story! Nonetheless regardless of her lack of acceptance she was still deaf. On the plus side her deafness made her highly attuned to the world of the non-verbal. Her observation skills in relation to body language are second to none. A skill I really didn’t like when I was trying to hide things from her in my teenage years!! Her lip-reading skills are incredible but beneath this her lack of felt sense of belonging, the burden of shame, a lack of acceptance of herself and her inability to embrace all that she was are cumbersome concerns that she carried for many years.

Let’s just stay for a minute with the obvious positive gifts relating to communication: my mum’s deafness supported me to become highly attuned to body language and interpreting facial expressions with a high degree of accuracy. These are forms of communication that tell us so much about how others are feeling and what they experiencing. How we, and those around us use our bodies to convey so much in terms of communication. How even the tiniest of movements can expand our knowledge to identify any incongruence between spoken and non-spoken language: a skill that assists me in my communication on a daily basis. 

The gift of shame, and an inability to accept etc. featured dominantly for me in my teenage years. They were burdensome to me back then: really tough and in some ways, soul-destroying, but that’s a story for another post.

Fortunately I still had the gift of tenacity to rely upon! We already know my mother has oodles of this but fortunately for me so did my father. A double-whammy dose of tenacity for me then!

When I was in my early twenties and with the driving force of tenacity behind me I decided to embrace all that was ME! I began to connect with my deaf history. I embraced all that is DEAF and began my journey into Deafhood. My first undergraduate degree – Deaf Studies and Sign Language Interpreting was taught in Sign Language. Every lecture, every tutorial and every moment of the 35 hours per week study was presented in British Sign Language. And every moment we were told to use Sign language and not our voices. I was totally immersed in a deaf world and couldn’t wait to share this learning with my mum. I signed with her, as I knew she would gather more information with sign language and lip reading. Through my acceptance and compassion for all matters DEAF she began slowly but surely to embrace her own deafness. Deafness was not an issue for me. I creatively adjusted my psychological perspective and this appeared to support my mum to make her own creative fine-tuning.

With a tenacious wind in my sails I decided to go further on in my search to embrace shame, belonging and acceptance. There was only one way forward for me here and this was to attend psychotherapy! Which I did on and off for an eight year period! I was fed-up with carrying the oppressive ‘gifts’ and allowing them to get in my way. My psychotherapeutic journey gave me the courage and strength to undertake training in the field. I shared with my mother not only matters discovered in my own search but psychological concepts to aid her further on her journey.  My mother is now more fully able to embrace herself and her deafness. What began with my mother’s shame, lack of acceptance, her deafness etc. ends (for now at least) with the capacity to embrace fully who we are and what we bring.

The biggest gift of all came in the form of my daughter – Blossom, a special delivery – a precious gift to us. She survived in the midst of many infant losses: a tenacious baby who fought to thrive and survive: the trans-generational gift of tenacity continues on with Blossom too.

My mother’s capacity to attune to all that is non-verbal was inherently gifted to me and, when Blossom was born I was able to attune to her in the same way I believe my mother attuned herself to me, but perhaps this attunement carried less shame, more acceptance, more confidence, more unwavering self belief, and bucket loads of tenacity!

When Blossom was born I instinctively noticed patterns in her communication, a series of non-verbal clues and cues, which held meaning. I am certain my (deaf) mum had attuned herself to me in this way. I utilised Blossom’s non-verbal language and her baby-led communication to ‘talk’ with her and to understand more of the language of infants. The irony here is I believed all parents used this form of communication, with their infants, just as my mum had with me and I was instinctively with Blossom. I only realised this was not the case when I shared my story with other mums in a mother and toddler group. I enthusiastically (and tenaciously) approached many mums and dads and asked them how they were getting on with their baby’s tongue-talking, facial expressions and their observations of the non-verbal language of infants – I was puzzled by both their non-verbal and verbal responses – not one of them seemingly knew what I was talking about. I was bewildered but never once uncertain. Remember my mum’s (and dad’s) tenacity was firmly fixed in every ounce of my being. My studies and life experience had helped me to understand the nature of communication and psychology. My drive to share eventually led to the ‘birth’ of The Blossom Method – a simple three-step communication system based of observation, mirroring back and responding to our babies’ non-verbal cues and clues connecting with them in their communication.

The Blossom Method is a communication tool now used by parents across the globe, and one being taught in relation to attachment theory - as exciting as this is what fills me full of joy is how the ‘gifts’ of my mother’s deafness and shame have been transformed to encourage infants and their parents to communicate even more effectively and as a result go some way toward breaking negative parenting cycles.

Thank you mum for all of your gifts…

From our shame came self-worth and self-respect
From our lack of acceptance came acceptance of ourselves
From our lack of felt sense of belonging came a real true sense of belonging
From our deafness (I was diagnosed with hearing loss in 2012!) came significant understanding of the world of the non-verbal
And from YOUR tenacity came even more steely determination!!

Being mindful of all of the gifts bestowed upon us by our parents, and the gifts you are imparting to your children brings many possibilities – I urge you to look at your gifts and their possibilities. Thank you for connected with this post.