Diary of a Deaf Mum: Why it’s vital you have an interpreter at your baby’s birth

Posted on March 21, 2013

Picture the scene, if you will… A room of white; white walls, white bed, big white equipment that is most definitely not the kind you’d find in your kitchen. No homely fridge freezers or tumble dryers here; these machines are for slicing and pumping and otherwise mutilating people. It is, however, all for the greater good, for the scene is set in a hospital operating theatre, on the maternity ward.

Now, to add a little realism, picture also about fifteen medical professionals in the room; surgeons, anaesthetists, midwives, nurses, students, resuscitation staff and… me. Me and my bump and all these people jabbering away, talking to each other and to me. And I have no idea what is being said. None whatsoever. I’ve already been ‘prepped’ (which, frankly, makes me sound more like an M&S ready-to-cook chicken than I’d like) and now I am lying behind a blue sheet with hardly any sensation from the ribcage down.

(Interestingly; the one thing everybody seems to say about having a Caesarean section is that it will feel like somebody doing the dishes in your tummy. So, naturally, when I was told I would need one and the surgeon asked if I knew what to expect I duly replied, “Well, won’t it be like somebody washing up in my tummy?” The surgeon gave me one of those looks. “No,” he said, “it’ll feel like somebody pulling a baby out of your tummy…” Then, to properly punctuate his point, he stuck a three foot needle in my back and turned my legs to jelly.)

Now, when you have spent the past 36 weeks determinedly not thinking about your baby’s impending birth, to be told that baby needs to be born NOW is quite, well, alarming. To then find yourself twenty minutes later ‘downstairs’ (why are theatres always so ominously downstairs? “Take her downstairs!” Ugh.) and suddenly about to have this baby in a sterile room full of people who surely know exactly what they’re doing but have no way of communicating it to you… Double ugh.

Lip-reading, you say? I could lip-read them? While gently having a nervous breakdown and quietly being terrified for myself and, especially, my baby, I could indulge in the intense concentration and wherewithal required to lip-read the several different people all talking at once? Oh, behave. Or bog off.

Picture 2So, yes. I was abandoned to the scary medical staff in my most desperate hour of needing communication support. Fortunately for me, this lasted a whole two minutes. With a speed previously known only to Superman, my husband and interpreter changed into theatre scrubs (with pink hats, I kid you not) and suddenly reappeared by my head.

They were just in time to, between them, keep me both entirely updated about proceedings and relatively calm about proceedings. Although I don’t think anyone, deaf or hearing, really needs to know that one of the surgeons just said, “I’ve not seen one like that before…”

And then, it was over. Remarkably quickly my little man was there, in the midwife’s arms, so very tiny and new. He was ok. I was ok, apart from a gaping hole in my tummy, currently being stitched up by two students discussing the relative merits of Scarborough versus Brighton for a dirty weekend, and, you know, we were all ok.

My husband got to have a cuddle, I got to have a cuddle, hell, even the interpreter (who had been with me all through the pregnancy and still comes to our appointments now) got a cuddle. Then he was whisked away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and the real hard work started; to get him even more ok, so he could come home.

I guess, what I’m trying to say is this; if it hadn’t been for the skills and general loveliness of the interpreter, I would have been so, so, so much worse off. As it is, my birth experience is not remotely the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.

Yes, it was an emergency, and scary, but I was kept informed of everything. Literally. How different and difficult it would have been to go through something like that and not know what was happening? Even little things, like the anaesthetist’s awful jokes and the fact the bed had a squeaky wheel… It’s just nicer to know than not know.

So, when people say that deafies don’t need interpreters in hospital, or that deaf partners of hearing people don’t need interpreters for their baby’s birth, or that it’s a luxury and not a right… To these people I think we can all stand together and say; “Oh, behave. Or bog off.”

Emily Howlett is a Contributing Editor to this site. She is a profoundly Deaf actress, writer, horsewoman and new mum. She describes herself as being “equally fluent in English, BSL and Gibberish, and completely rubbish at French.” Emily can be found all over the place on various escapades, but divides her time between Derby and London. She can often be found behind a large packet of crisps or any halfway decent book, and insists she can still play characters in their early twenties despite having a grey eyebrow hair.

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