I was born deaf, though I wasn't diagnosed until the age of 3 as there was no new born screening in 1981. I was fitted with hearing aids which enabled me to have access to a hearing world. My parents were so supportive to me, helping with my speech therapy and ensuring I actively participated in a normal school life.
When I hit my teenage years though, I refused to wear my hearing aids as I started to get bullied and made fun of at school for looking different. I was just so sensitive to it all and wanted to fit in...
I didn't want to be different.
I managed to get by in school and when I left, I went to study hairdressing. Then one day, when I was 20, it was like someone had turned a switch off....everything went quiet. I was living away from home and had to get my brother to call home and let mum and dad know. I managed to get an appointment with my audiologist who confirmed I had just had another major drop in hearing. There was only one hearing aid that would help now and if I lost anymore of my hearing capability my only hope would be a cochlear implant.
This was quite a setback for me. I had been looking forward to an exciting job in hairdressing....but you need to be able to hear and converse with your clients...I just couldn't believe life had thrown me such a curve ball again.
The new hearing aids did help though, giving me the gift of sound so I could work. I had a wonderful couple of years working as a hairdresser, but my hearing was still declining and I got tired each day as I had to concentrate so hard to hear what people were saying to me. It got to the point where I needed to do less hours, so I took up a part time position with Star Bucks coffee.
Then in 2007, my hearing dropped another 25% and the hearing aid was of no benefit at all. My only hope now was a cochlear implant.
I had to quit my job; I became quite isolated, lonely and was becoming depressed. I used to turn down invites from my friends as I just could not face going out. I was 24.
I was so frustrated...I so wanted to do the things other 24 year olds do...carve out my career, go out and socialise, have fun, travel. I felt I couldn't do any of these. I couldn't hear people, I couldn't communicate with them...I couldn't even hear the birds sing. Though I did fall in love, and was blessed with my gorgeous son, Liam. He is 21 months old and the light of my life.
Being profoundly deaf brought with it challenges that other young mums probably take for granted.
I could not hear Liam's cries... and I often didn't know how to respond to his cries as I could not differentiate between his hungry cry and his tired cry. All I knew was that he was crying because I could see him.
At night, when I was asleep, my bellman system shook my bed or the pager vibrated to wake me up and notify me that Liam was crying. I think this had an impact on Liam a bit...especially for us developing a trust in the early stages of his life...because the only way Liam could communicate was through crying and I could not hear that.
Luckily for me, I have been very fortunate to be given the gift of sound again through a Cochlear Implant. I was referred for a CI in 2010 and in January 2011 I had my operation. Three weeks later, I was sitting in the clinic for the switch on....I was on tender hooks wondering what it would be like.
It felt strange at first and it did take my brain a little while to work out the sounds I was hearing. One day at home, I said to mum, ‘Can you hear that noise outside?'
Mum asked, ‘What noise?'
We both walked outside and I pointed to where the noise was coming from- the trees. It was birds singing. That was the moment in my life when I first heard birds sing. I was 28 years old.
The biggest gift sound has given me is the ability to hear Liam laugh, to share in his world and be part of it.
The cochlear implant has given me a range of sound I never thought possible and an awareness of things happening around me. I can enjoy everyday activities now, like simply watching a movie without subtitles, conversing with my family and friends more easily.
It does take work though and practice. I have had to train my brain again to recognise sound and it gets tiring. It's a bit like exercise; you push yourself a bit, and then rest to recover. After a few weeks your performance gets better with the more training you do. The same goes for training your brain with a cochlear implant.
My advice to others getting an implant, is to be patient with it. It takes time, and commitment. You have to be focused and willing to make it work. Its hard work, but it's worth it.