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Orchid of the Bayou A Deaf Woman Faces Blindness

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“It’s up to you,” Lance told me. That’s all it took. As had happened before, I became pregnant the moment I considered pregnancy.

Lance suggested at first that we name the child Rebecca, after his grandmother.

“Such a hard word to say!” I told him. Our lips went through the shapes of the sounds, three of them in percussive succession.

“I don’t like it,” I admitted. With Jason, we had chosen a name that was similar to his grandfather’s without being exactly like it.

“How about Rachel?” I asked finally.

“You want to name her after Rachel Stone?” he asked.

“Partly,” I said. “But partly I really like the sound of the name.”

“It’s a good Jewish name,” Lance said.

Rachel Sara Fischer, 6 pounds, 12 ounces, was born nine months later. Like her brother, she was perfect. Her birth was easy, too.

“I’m a baby machine,” I told my husband.

He shook his head. I knew what he was thinking. My visual field swooped inward again with Jason’s birth, unremitting black closed in another pronounced notch.

“Well, at least from the nose down…” I said.

Like most deaf people, vision more than anything else defined my world. It was through vision that I had language and learning, vision that was sharpened by use and the need to survive. I didn’t mind being deaf. While deafness took away hearing, it gave me community—and that community was based on sight. No matter how I tried to look at it blindness was terrifying. Right next to death.

Rachel was only a baby when I drove off to an appointment at family services, and bumped over an unseen median strip. It had been painted the same color as the road, and I didn’t see it even after I drove over it. Frightened, afraid for hurting other people as much as myself, I stopped driving at night all together.

It is amazing how the body compensates for such loss. Even now able to see only 31 degrees of the 180 degrees that is the range of normal human sight in the best conditions, I sometimes forget how limited my eyesight is. I am surprised when I bump into things. I forget that that everyone else doesn’t have to look down just to be able to see the floor.

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