Deaf parents with hearing children
Sabina pictured with her husband Asif, daughter Samaira and son Areeb.
Sabina Iqbal is a Deaf mother of two from London, UK. She is also the Chair and Founder of Deaf Parenting UK, and was recently awarded the BT Women of Future Award 2008. Here, she describes her experiences as a Deaf parent of hearing children.
Having been born Deaf, the experience of being a Deaf parent is a norm for me, but I did have to overcome barriers to accessing services.
In 2001, before I became a parent, I founded Deaf Parenting UK, a charity which aims to empower and support Deaf parents in accessing information and services, and wrote Pregnancy and birth — a guide for Deaf women, the first book targeted at Deaf parents.
While doing research for the book, I met many Deaf parents who shared their experiences, which helped me a lot when I became pregnant. This understanding enabled me to be more confident in my approach to health professionals and to exercise my right to have a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter present at all my antenatal appointments and at the births.
Labour and birth
Staff at the birthing centre where I had my two children were very supportive and deaf aware. I made an extra effort to meet them prior to the labour, making them aware of my needs and ensuring that all necessary information was in my hospital maternity notes.
Initially, my midwife was unfamiliar with Deaf parents but I explained about my needs and expectations and even gave her a copy of my book, which includes a section for health professionals.
My husband, Asif, is also Deaf and a BSL user, so I felt it was vital to have a BSL interpreter at the birth to enable him to communicate with the staff in case anything happened to me. He was a brilliant support at the births. I had a water birth both times and experienced two quick labours — three and a half hours for Samaira and three hours for Areeb! For my second pregnancy, my midwife and health visitors were fully aware of my needs.
We use BSL at home, while our families use Urdu/ English with our children. Samaira is tri-lingual, but we felt that it was vital for her to start nursery as early as 10 months old to aid her language development.
We asked social services to assist with nursery funding as Samaira, being hearing with Deaf parents, is classed as ‘child in need’ but they refused, saying that Samaira was not a child in need and is managing fine!
I must add that my background is social work and I currently work as a team manager for a sensory team. I have supported many Deaf parents with hearing children to gain social services funded nursery places to enable those children to gain language development.
Deaf Parenting UK receives numerous enquiries from Deaf parents in the same boat and there is inconsistency in local authorities' assessment systems and a lack of support for Deaf parents.
In our case, we were unable to wait until Samaira turned three and qualified for a free nursery place so we paid privately, as we felt it was vital to Samaira's development to have the opportunity to socialise with other children in the nursery.
Samaira is doing so well at nursery and loves every moment. Her language development has soared and she is ever so chatty and now at the questioning stages of what, why, how, who and which!
Staff at the nursery have been fantastic. We were actually the first Deaf parents they had come across and, so far, they have been positive and engage us in Samaira's development, explaining and gesturing as well as using a communication book. Some staff are learning BSL. We are now introducing Areeb to nursery.
Interaction with other parents is generally quite good. I have received invitations for Samaira to attend birthday parties, which I found positive as I know many other Deaf parents who don't get invited at all. This usually stems from fear of not knowing how to communicate with Deaf parents, but it is the children of Deaf parents who miss out.
As a toddler, Samaira has no sense of danger especially with road safety. For this reason, we use a wrist strap when we go out. At times, she has wriggled out from the wrist strap and, on a few occasions, it took us a few seconds to realise that she was free from the strap and run after her. To her, it's a game but for us it can be quite stressful. We are fortunate that those incidents usually happen in the town centre which is a pedestrian area.
Once, when picking her up from nursery, Samaira ran out of the nursery door. I was holding Areeb and had to grab Samaira's coat to stop her from stepping onto the road. I had a stern chat with her, explaining it was dangerous. She understood ‘dangerous’ and from then on she repeated ‘no running, must walking’, which was reinforced by the nursery's road safety teaching which helped a lot.
Alert to baby sounds
Being Deaf, we are unable to hear baby crying or baby sounds. However, because we are visual, we are able to tune in with babies' emotions visually, seeing if they are upset, happy, sad or tired and usually it works for us. It takes time and practice to get used to each baby.
I wear a hearing aid on one ear, which means I can hear some background sounds. I am unable to hear conversation so sounds are not always meaningful but I can turn to find out or ask people what the sound is.
We have a silent alert pager which alerts us to crying. We have two pagers, one for each baby, so we know which one is crying. This is bulky but useful to identify which baby needs attention. I understand there is a new model on the market where one pager can be used for two babies with different vibrating tones for each child, which would make life easier.
Our pagers are also connected to the doorbell, telephone and fire alarm so we are alerted to those sounds to enable us to live independently within the home.
While our experiences in dealing with people regarding our children have been mainly positive, this doesn't mean that we don't encounter barriers. If something arises that is a major concern for us and threatens to impact on our children, we will make sure that we do something about it and take action to resolve the situation.
Iqbal S. 2004. Pregnancy and birth – a guide for Deaf women, London: RNID.
ISBN 978 1 904296 03 4. Available from www.rnid.org.uk Price: £14.99
Deaf Parenting UK is a national charity run by and for Deaf parents, offering Deaf parenting skills courses, befriender services, one-to-one parenting support, presentations and consultations. For information visit www.deafparent.org.uk