Some deaf/HoH folks out there change out their hearing aids pretty often, but for me, this was really my first time as an adult buying a new hearing aid. I’ve been wearing a Siemens Acuris P for the last decade, purchased by my mother (thank you Mom!) when I was 20 and DRAGGING MY HEELS on switching from my totally analog 90’s aid prior to that. It was a really tough adjustment. I cried. It was as if an optometrist gave you someone else’s glasses prescription and said “Here! Get used to it!”

Flash forward to now, I’m 30, and I trusted my audiologist when she recommended the high-end Oticon Dynamo for me, so that’s what I went with. The best part was, I’m paying nothing as my insurance now fully covers my aid replacement every 5 years. Still, I was nervous! But I didn’t cry.

The fitting/programming appointment was this morning, and when the aid got switched on, the doctoral student looked at me and said “How’s that?” My response was “Um, terrible…” much to her surprise. Turns out the aid defaults to a very digital mode which is big on background noise suppression, so it felt like I had an FM telecoil loop on–I had NO background noise and I felt like the tech and I were in a barrel talking to each other. A truck could have been bearing down on me and I would have been oblivious. I’m all about hearing every little thing, maybe more so than most, so I didn’t like that. Once that got turned off in favor of the more “analog” sound letting everything in, it was SO much better and sounded remarkably like what I was used to.

I can see why someone like my parents, who struggle to catch what someone says in a busy setting, might want that kind of digital technology doing the work of cutting out background stuff. For me, the aid is the difference between hearing nothing and everything, and I wanted to be able to hear ambient noise, especially with a baby on the way. It’s what I’m used to, and I wonder if I’m in the minority or not on that.

Day 1 is going really well, considering! I made a point to use my iPhone while I was still in the office to check on feedback noise, and to make sure the telecoil option was working well. Right after everything was set up, I called my husband and my mom, two voices I’m very familiar with, to make sure they sounded “right” to me. On the way into the audiologist, I played a song I know well, and I did the same thing on the way home as a way to compare. I recommend doing these things, as it helped me feel good about what I walked out with.

Because of the new aid, tubing, and mold, my ear’s a little “sore” in that the physical fit is a little different and will take a couple days before it feels natural. I will say, I can tell the aid is very comfortable and less bulky than my old one. As for the sounds, the dog’s barks are too loud, along with my being overly conscious of the keyboard clacking and a ticking clock. Sort of funny, but I do remember going through this the last time and cringing every time the cash register ka-chinged at work, so there’s bound to be some sort of eccentric adjustments as the brain has to re-wire itself a little. I have a follow-up appointment set for two weeks from now, but if all goes well, I won’t need to make any adjustments!

Do you have similar experiences when getting a new aid (or aids)?

Well, my holiday hiatus ended up a little longer than expected! We had a happy New Year here, but then with an unexpected death in the family (and subsequent travel) backing right up onto a planned trip, all while pretty pregnant, I ended up being AWOL for a couple weeks, and then just basically catching up on life since then.

My website is about 2 months old now! I had a great burst of energy in creating it and those first few blog posts, and now that I’m back to it–if there’s some particular content you’d like to see this coming year, do let me know.

As for me, I finally scheduled the appointment to get the ear mold made for my new hearing aid, which will almost certainly be the top-tier BTE Oticon Dynamo. I wrote on this in a previous post, but this is a big deal for me! I’m not sure if others feel the same, but my last new aid was a HUGE adjustment that I wasn’t expecting, so naturally, I’m a little nervous about doing it again. The exciting news is, though, my health insurance just upped their coverage of a new aid from $1500 up to $4000, which saves me a lot of cash; it also gives me hope that hearing loss is finally being treated as something that should be covered by insurance.

I’m doing my best to become active on Twitter, so do follow me there as I catch up on all the news in the deaf/Deaf community after my time away. There is a Facebook page you can follow by clicking on my sidebar here on the site, but it’s not really “up and running” in the same way Twitter is yet.

Hoping everyone had a happy holidays and is ready for 2017 to arrive!

I thought I’d break my small holiday hiatus and chime in with a recent hearing aid malfunction–easy to look back on it, but really stressful in the moment. For me, the difference is being able to converse and hear relatively normally, or no distinguishable sound at all.

I just turned 30 this month, and for my birthday, my husband and I went out to dinner and to see “A Christmas Carol” at the famous Ford’s Theatre in DC. The day before, I had noticed my hearing aid did its ‘low battery’ beep a few times in a loud situation, and figured I had a weird battery, as I’d just changed it that morning. Changed it right before leaving for the evening, and while on Metro, had my sound cut out completely a few times without warning, a few seconds each time. Sometimes I had to open/close the battery door to get it back. Now THAT was weird, and it only got worse from there. I would hear half of what the waitress said, and mid-sentence, total loss of sound. Probably happened at least 100 times in a couple of hours. Not only was it strange in terms of hearing, but it also threw off my talking! My husband ended up having to pick up the end of my sentences to order my food.

Still had a great dinner, but I was really worried about my hearing aid! I figured I’d have to go to the audiologist, and who knows what they could do to fix it? I was on my second battery with issues, so it couldn’t be the batteries, right?

Wrong. It WAS the batteries. At Ford’s Theatre, I carried out a last-ditch resuscitation effort by ducking into the bathroom to closely inspect my aid and see if I could do ANYTHING. I had one extra spare battery (different brand) in my purse, and thought it was worth a shot to change it out yet again. Voila! It was immediately fixed. I got to enjoy the play after all!

The culprit was a bad pack of Energizer batteries, and my theory is, for some reason, they couldn’t make full contact on the inside, so that’s why my sound would bobble in and out. I’ll give them credit, after I pointed the situation out on Twitter, they responded pretty quickly. They asked me to call in, and I got a partial coupon/refund for an 8-pack, which I’ll probably use, but I’ll be a little wary to use the brand from now on without a dry run at home.

In the end, I’m glad it was just the batteries and not the aid itself, but it was one of those stressful occasions that reminded me just how dependent I am on all parts of the technology working correctly!

Have you had any recent hearing aid malfunctions?

At the time of this post, I’m not a mama just yet, unless you count my sweet dog. But I’ve got a little boy on the way! If you’ve taken a look around, you might have learned that I’m nearly totally deaf in one ear and wear a hearing aid in the other. I grew up speaking, though, and for the most part, didn’t think about my hearing loss that much until I got pregnant.

Baby’s due in a few short months, and there are a few things I’ve had to think about.

Baby Monitor

I needed to find a monitor that would work for me. My sister-in-law started on it early for me and did a great job searching! Once I realized there just wasn’t a lot of good up-to-date information out there, I made this website initially for my post on baby monitors for the deaf and hard of hearing. You can click here to see what I went with–I wanted regular video/audio functionality AND vibration suitable enough to wake me at night when I don’t wear my hearing aid. My husband hears, so I don’t want to put him in the position of always hearing the baby first and having to get me up, so this was important to me! It’s disappointing that there’s such a lack of good equipment for this purpose, especially in the U.S.–my baby monitor is actually British.

The Baby’s Hearing
My recent audiogram.
My recent audiogram.

When I was born in 1986, my hearing wasn’t tested, so my hearing loss wasn’t diagnosed until about 15 months or so. There’s no history of hearing loss like mine in my family (and my younger brother hears just fine), and no one ever definitively figured out why it happened to me before/at birth. A few audiologists over the years have commented that my audiogram has the “cookie bite” shape typical of hereditary loss, but my most recent test a few months ago showed that the “cookie bite” has actually flattened out quite a bit since I was a child. My current audiologist said that she has no reason to believe my baby will have hearing loss just because I do.

I will be anxious for that first hearing test, and I expect the pediatrician will do a few extra follow-ups over the first year to confirm one way or the other. Regardless, I’m a big fan of using basic sign language with babies. My mom still remembers how I used to sign for “more cookies, please” (how many cookies was she feeding me??) and my nephew used it well (and still does) before he could verbalize what he wanted. I lost the sign language I used as a child, so I’ll need to brush up!

Hospital/Doctor Accommodations

My OBGYN knows I’m hearing impaired, and was appreciative of me telling her that I have a hard time with surgical masks, because I tend to lip-read (makes the dentist a challenge sometimes). I haven’t completed my hospital pre-registration just yet, but I took a peek at the form, and was happy to see multiple questions focused on deaf/hard of hearing accommodations. I can request closed captioning and a flashing telephone, and for those that sign, there are questions about interpreter needs. I’m so glad hearing loss isn’t an afterthought at my hospital, and I plan to talk with the doctors and nurses about it once I get there to deliver.

After Baby Arrives

This one will be trial and error and the subject of some future posts, I’m sure! The baby monitor will alleviate some of my concerns with sleeping, but I know most new moms have a hard time even indulging in sleep in those first weeks. I have to have my hearing aid out when I shower and before my hair is dry, and I’m not exactly sure what the best solution for that is, when I’m home alone with the baby.

If you’re a parent that is deaf/hard of hearing, let me know if there were any unique considerations you had to make!

It’s my hope that some readers of this blog might be looking for more information on everyday experiences that those with hearing aids may have–whether it’s for themselves or others. So while I can’t speak for everyone in the d/Deaf or hard of hearing community, I hope I can at least provide some insight from my point of view.

(Want to know more about me and my hearing impairment? Click here.)

Traveling is one of those things I don’t give a second thought to, but it does have SOME particularities when you’re hearing impaired.

The Airport

When I was younger, I had to remove my hearing aid and place it in that little basket (ew, germs) to walk through the metal detector at the airport. Today, I don’t have to do anything of the sort, and I’ve been through the body scanners in the U.S. and Europe tons of times. Not even a hesitation there on the part of the security workers, and I’ve dealt with some pretty strict (ahem, touchy) ones.

Airports are great for me, because there’s so much visual information–departure and arrival boards to tell you where your gate is and give any pertinent info. Intercom announcements have always been REALLY tough for me to understand, though. Nowadays I tend to travel with my husband and his super-ears, but I try to make sure I have the appropriate smartphone app for whatever airline I’m flying. For example, Delta will send me a notification about any gate information/changes in a really timely manner, which gives me that extra reassurance. If I’m flying by myself, I make sure to find my gate early on and stay nearby for eating/shopping.

img_2727Boarding at the gate can be tricky if I’m by myself. I’ve found that while most gates have visual screens, they’re not updated as quickly as the gate agents announce boarding zones. I’ve flown so much now that I can sort of “count” the order: handicapped/strollers/elderly, first/business class, priority, and then zones. You can always ask someone standing around, too!

Note: you can always let a gate agent know you’re deaf/hard of hearing. I know Delta will even let you put in a request for special assistance ahead of time–I haven’t ever used it because I’m worried they’ll send over a sign language interpreter or something (I don’t sign), but it’s a nice option.

After a flight, sometimes my ears need to pop and my already-bad hearing is even worse. Not much you can do when that happens, but most people are pretty understanding as it’s happened to them, too.

Trains

Experiences with taking a train and trying to listen for the right information can vary drastically. The first time I took a train, it was an unmanned Amtrak station in Fredericksburg, VA, with an extremely crackly intercom system. There was an unintelligible announcement, and the only two people on the platform with me suddenly ran to the other platform, clearly having heard of a change. Agh!

I’ve lived in the Washington, DC area for a combined few years now, and taking Metro with a hearing impairment hasn’t been terrible (there are some good visual aids even if the rest of the infrastructure is a mess), but I often can’t make out what the train driver says when there’s an unexpected delay. Stop announcements aren’t automated, so it’s usually something  like “Archivesdoorsopenleftside.”

img_0646In Europe, trains are definitely more efficient and easy for me to use–I think improved visual aids are partially because of people that speak so many different languages traveling around the continent. I lived in Germany for 3 years, and the local and long-distance trains were a breeze, with a clear-voiced automated loudspeaker and visual update on the stops. If I missed something, it was usually a language barrier. I will tell you, though, Italian trains are a whole other beast sometimes, and you might need a bottle of wine to celebrate a successful journey after a day on those trains.

Buses

I can’t say there’s anything particular about taking a bus with my hearing loss, but when a local bus doesn’t have the visual stop announcement, I do get a little anxious. But I imagine, most people feel that way on a bus they haven’t taken before, right? I often research the bus route/stops in advance, but I can’t tell you if that’s just my obsessive planning or if it stems from my hearing impairment.

Driving

Do I even include driving? I’m not sure it really counts in this context, but just in case you’re wondering, driving is really not impacted all that much by hearing loss. Deaf people can absolutely drive their own vehicles! In fact, I’ve found that because I rely more on visual cues, I’m very alert to my surroundings. Usually, I’m the first car to pull over for an emergency vehicle because I saw the lights so early. When I hear a siren but can’t see it, though, I typically can’t place what direction it’s coming from since I only have some hearing in the one ear. That causes a little stress, but I’ve found that this sometimes happens to people who can hear perfectly.

Because I wear my hearing aid in my left ear, and I can’t hear in my right, and I generally default to lip-reading, it does make it tough for me to carry on a conversation while driving sometimes, especially if my passenger is soft-spoken or someone whose voice I’m not used to. I had an audiologist once tell me I could wear something in my right ear that would then transmit to my left-side hearing aid, but I’ve never heard of anything like that since. If you have, let me know!

What else would you consider to be sort of a unique consideration in traveling with a hearing aid?

I’d be curious to know how often those that wear a hearing aid upgrade to new ones. I tend to dig my heels in at the prospect, because I don’t like the change. If I’m going to be real frank, I bought my current aid in 2007/2008 and it was my first digital aid. I was still analog into the 2000s, people.

What am I getting?

Well, it’s 2016, so it’s time again. I’ve had a Siemens Acuris P BTE aid (and a backup unit) for at least 8 years, but I go to a different audiology practice now that are experts in different brands. As my new audiologist explained it, there’s about 6 or so big manufacturers. This time around, I’m going with the Oticon Dynamo, getting their top-tier BTE aid. As far as hearing aids go, it looks pretty sleek.

Oticon Dynamo Hearing Aid in BeigeWhy do I hate getting a new aid? Well, for one, it’s never going to sound exactly like your old one as soon as they get you set up. There are so many subtle variations to the programming of frequencies. I’m hoping that going from one digital aid to another, it won’t be as drastic of a change. When I switched to my current one from an ancient analog aid, it was ROUGH. I’ve always been sensitive to what hearing I have being compromised, but I cried pretty hard even with my mom there (I was about 21 years old?). My audiologist said “make a list of everything wrong, and come back in two weeks”. That list was a mile long at first–people’s voices were too soft, the cash register I worked on was ear-splitting, and phone conversations gave me a headache. But, then, my brain essentially re-wired and re-learned how to hear, and all was adjusted by that two-week followup. Incredible.

The Cost

Even though I don’t sign and exist totally within the speaking community, my hearing loss is still pretty significant–essentially deaf in the right ear (no aid), moderate-to-profound in the left (aid). I need all I can get. That means splurging on the top of the line aid. One HUGE development in recent years, though, is that hearing loss is starting to be insured! My insurance, for the first time ever, will pay $1500 towards my new aid. Of course, I still have to pony up about $2000, but hey, it’s something.

We moved back home to the U.S. from three years stationed overseas in Germany this year, bought a house, ended up having to buy a car, and we’re going into the holidays, so money is tight, to say the least. I have a baby coming in spring, though, so I want to get this done before all my free time is gone. Soon, I’ll go in to get the ear mold done and the order placed, and I’m guessing some time early next year, I’ll make the switch! I won’t lie, I’m nervous about it.

Buying a secondary aid?

One thing my husband and I have talked about pretty seriously is getting ANOTHER aid, a waterproof one (the Siemens Aquaris). I joke about it, but honestly, I’m still mad I couldn’t play Marco Polo in the pool as a kid. My husband says it’s not even that fun but I still want to do it. I’d love to go to the pool and still be able to hear, or take a shower when baby’s here and listen for crying when my hair’s wet. I don’t think it’s in the cards this year, as it’s at least $2200 for the mid-level aid, $3k for the highest sound quality. That’s a lot of cash for a secondary, occasional aid.

What are your thoughts on the process of getting a new aid?

As I make this first post, there’s no one reading yet, because, well, I haven’t launched the site yet. Maybe my husband’s peeking (hi!) but WELCOME to The Deaf Mama! If you are an early visitor, please forgive the massive construction still underway.

My goal for this website is to be a little corner of the Internet where people looking for information on life with hearing loss can come and learn more. Are you deaf, or wear a hearing aid? Do you know someone who has recently experienced sudden hearing loss? Are you a parent of a child diagnosed with hearing loss? Then I hope you can come here and find something helpful.

img_6208 I wear a hearing aid, and I started this site only when it came time to buy a baby monitor (oh yeah, I’m 5 months pregnant), because it felt like everything that came up in search results was very half-hearted. No REAL comments on what might work well, no thorough lists of equipment to consider, nothing super current, nothing that said “maybe there’s a 29-year-old lady out there just looking for a way to sleep with a newborn AND without her hearing aid at night.” So, the genesis of this site was really just born out of wanting that comprehensive list.

Then I thought, well, maybe I can also write about my own experiences growing up with hearing loss, and add a personal, informal insight on certain topics with others. I can’t speak for everyone, but my hope is that the blog side of this website will create some new ideas or reflection, and I strongly encourage comments from anyone on the subjects!

Until next time!