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American Annals of the Deaf

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Alandra’s Lilacs: The Story of a Mother and Her Deaf Daughter
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The admitting nurse at the hospital didn’t even let me finish answering her questions. She looked at me and said, “Your mother can finish filling out this paperwork, I think we’ll go ahead and send you upstairs to be checked.” When Mom finished and got upstairs, the nurses were wheeling me out of the delivery room with my baby girl. We named her Alandra, but called her by the nickname Landy.

My daughter was everything I dreamed of. She was the beautiful, tiny baby my arms yearned to hold. She had long black hair and caramel colored skin. Her only resemblance to her Irish heritage was her deep blue eyes and black eyelashes. When I softly tickled her lower lip, her lip puckered and deep dimples appeared in each cheek.

I had just turned eighteen in April and had never been around babies before. Completely lacking any experience, I nevertheless accepted a life-long commitment to this tiny person I held in my arms. On that wonderful spring day when I brought Landy home, my elders were full of well-meaning advice that I eagerly accepted. My daughter was so beautiful and flawless that I wanted to be perfect for her as well. It was a comfort to know that I would have the support and experience of these women through the coming years.

Landy cried that day, and I couldn’t figure out why. I had fed and changed her; she was warm without being too warm. I held her close, and everyone laughingly agreed that I would spoil my child for certain. My mother advised, “Sometimes babies just cry to exercise their lungs and you will have to let her cry.” My grandmother said, “Maybe she does not like her hands tucked inside the sleeves of her gown.” Willing to try anything to make Landy happy, I took her hands with her beautiful long fingers out and she stopped crying.

They told me to put her bassinet in the kitchen so she would get used to noise. Of course I followed their suggestion, although I’m sure it was really because they wanted to look at her and coo like all doting grandmothers--in this case three generations of grandmothers. Again their suggestions were good, and Landy slept soundly and peacefully. She didn’t even stir in her tiny bed when we ran the garbage disposal as we cleaned the dishes left from our celebration. My grandmother even commented on that fact: “She is such a calm baby, all this racket isn’t even making her flinch.”

Three generations of mothers proclaimed her a “good baby,” and I, a new mother, was most grateful. It was a good day, full of love, happiness and hope for the continuity of the family--for there was the living proof that life moves on. All were happy with the celebration and I was pleased to be the one who brought everybody together. The object of our pride and unity was my little daughter, and the scent of that happiness was the lilacs in bloom.

Sug’s cousin Denny Motley lived in a nearby town. His wife Linda was older than me, and an elementary school teacher. I had dropped out of high school after getting pregnant, so I had a lot of respect for her education. We became good friends and like many couples with little money, spent a lot of time visiting in each other’s homes. Their daughter, Joy, was about two years old and had been born deaf. (During her pregnancy, Linda had been exposed to the measles, the three-day kind that everyone used to get. I was surprised that a childhood disease that didn’t even make you very sick could cause something so severe.) I had never been around a child with a hearing problem, but Linda was always glad to answer my questions and taught me to talk with Joy. It was very important to talk to her on her level so she could see your mouth and learn to read lips, or speechread. So we spent most of our time--for as long as we could hold their attention anyway--sitting on the floor playing with Joy and Landy. After the kids went to sleep Linda and I played cards or just talked, sharing ideas and enjoying our time together.

Joy wore a hearing aid called a body aid. It was a bulky box of a thing, which she wore in a harness around her chest. A cord traveled up from the box to a large button-like component in her ear. She could hear really well with it and her speech developed at a good pace. Whenever she was not wearing her hearing aid, she would run through the house screaming and laughing wildly. You had to laugh at her antics because she was enjoying herself so much; yet although I enjoyed visiting, I was sure happy to take my ringing ears and go home. I soon understood that Joy was just trying to hear herself. Like people who begin to talk louder and louder as they lose their hearing, Joy didn’t realize how loud she was. When she wore her hearing aids, her voice was much more controlled and life was a lot easier on the hearing people around her.

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