Hello, I’m Catherine. I was born profoundly deaf, although it wasn’t picked up until I was 6 months old.
I wore phonic ears as a toddler, eventually moving onto hearing aids. I was brought up to communicate orally, relying upon speech and lipreading, rather than sign language. I can vividly remember the numerous and often frustrating speech therapy sessions I attended as a child.
I was born in England in 1978, but moved soon after to Germany. My mother and father had trained as teachers, and decided to take up teaching posts in Hanover. There were several RAF and Army bases in Germany, all with schools for the children whose parents worked in the British Forces. I loved Hanover and can remember it clearly.
At 6 years old, we moved to Berlin. A new teaching post. The Berlin wall was still up, and we were very privileged to be able to visit East Berlin several times and each time, had to go through the famous Checkpoint Charlie. The Soviets were very serious and we were not allowed to communicate with them, other than pressing our passports flat against the car windows. I was pretty scared but amazed at how different life was on the other side. They seemed very poor.
At 8 years old, I was sent to boarding school in England. It was the Mill Hall School for the Deaf in Cuckfield. My mother and father felt I was falling behind and not coping very well in a mainstream school. It must have been a difficult choice for them, but on finding out, I can remember feeling ghastly and crying continuously.
Mill Hall School opened new doors for me and from being a nervous and isolated child, I opened up and the penny dropped. I had so much catching up to do and worked immensely hard.
However, I was terribly homesick as I had to live with foster parents, and couldn’t go home to Germany until the school term ended. The first term was eight weeks long. I spent many nights just crying, and writing letters home saying “Can you see my tears?” which had dripped onto the paper. I can feel my eyes welling up now as I write this!
Mill Hall was an oral school, but I learnt sign language through my friends. It gave me an extra and much needed level of confidence.
At age 11, I sat an entrance exam to get into the Mary Hare Grammar School for the Deaf in Newbury, Berkshire. I passed, and was thrilled to pieces. Mary Hare gave me the best time of my childhood. I am still in contact with several of my friends, and have kept a special bond with many of them. It was a boarding school, but lots of my friends went home at weekends. Still being based in Germany, I would often stay with my friends’ families at weekends. It’s fair to say that the person I am today comes from those formative years spent with my friends and their families.
When I was 18, I had to leave the safe and protective bubble of Mary Hare and return to the ‘hearing’ world again – a daunting prospect. I went back to Gutersloh, in Germany, and spent a year there. Mainly to get used to being with hearing people again, but also to spend time with my mother and father. To begin with, it was awful. I was so far away from my friends and missed them greatly. I hated being in Germany and it was a difficult challenge to live with parents after so long apart, particularly now as an adult and not a child. I felt very isolated and jealous of my friends who were still together back in England. However, we all did so much letter writing and I met up with my friends over Christmas, Easter and a summer in Cornwall. I started going running, and would run for miles! It kept me going but it was a very long year.
Now 19 years old, I embarked on a degree at the University of Plymouth. With the confidence I gained from taking a year in Germany, I had a fantastic time. The first year in particular. But I struggled with understanding the lecturers, even with a full-time note-taker sitting beside me. I got through it and after four years, including one gap year in Ipswich, passed with a degree.
It was during the gap year in 1999/2000 that I met my now husband Dan, who happened to have a summer placement at the same company I was working at. We married in 2002, and had two lovely sons – Elliott and Joshua, both hearing. My life was complete.
This all changed when my father-in-law died at the beginning of September 2011, aged 67. It was an absolute shock and utterly devastating. I was immensely fond of Terence and had always felt a special connection with him. His own father had gone deaf in early adulthood, but was strong minded and didn’t use hearing aids or other equipment to help him and those around him – perhaps fearful of society, which must have been very different then.
Having not been able to help his own father, I think Terence was pleased to have the opportunity to help me. He was always interested and always made sure I knew what was going on at family gatherings, sometimes including 16 of us, or days out. I am so grateful that we can talk about Terence to this day, and remember the good times. But it doesn’t help that I miss him. We all do.
Perhaps coincidentally, it was around this time that I noticed that my hearing loss, already profound and worsening each year, had degraded even more. Discretely, I started to lose my confidence again. The signs were there – feeling uncomfortable in group situations, declining invitations to social gatherings and avoiding chatting to groups of mothers at the boys’ schools.
In May 2012, I decided to book a hearing test with the audiology team at my local hospital. It was a standard process that I’d been through many times – the usual hearing tests, and then an increased amplification re-programme for my hearing aids, all done within a couple of hours.
The outcome from this particular meeting though, was anything but what I was expecting…
This article was first published on Catherine’s own blog, which you can find here: http://sounds-different.blogspot.co.uk/
Catherine lives in Norfolk and has a young family. Born profoundly deaf in 1978, she leads a busy life using a combination of hearing aids, lip reading and sign language. Following a deterioration in hearing in recent years, she is now in the early stages of getting a Cochlear Implant, and currently awaits feedback on her suitability. This is her story, told as it happens.