By Kim Shauer
I saw a meme recently of “the best relationships are the ones you never saw coming” from the Minds Journal. https://themindsjournal.com/the-best-relationships-are-the-ones-you-never-saw-coming/. This has resonated for me in many aspects of life, but the most unforeseen have to be the lasting friendships that came out of early intervention services for my deaf/hard of hearing child.
When my first child was born I had a built-in, sustainable network of other moms (friends, cousins and neighbours) who all had babies a few years or months ahead of me. I don’t think I would have made it through that first year of being a new mom without their guidance.
Three years later, just when I thought I may have had the parenting thing figured out, our next child was born with complex health needs. My existing “mommy groups” were still a huge support, but they just couldn’t relate to our situation – as much as they lovingly tried! I quickly needed to put the feelings of fear aside and branch out of my comfort level to seek out another network of parents that I could learn from and feel supported by while navigating through medical appointments, therapies and hospital visits. I mostly found these parents at Infant Development Program groups, in the waiting room at the Centre for Child Development or online through associations supporting her various medical conditions.
A while later when our daughter was identified as deaf/hard of hearing, we enrolled in additional early intervention programs with deaf/hard of hearing and deafblind services. My cautious personality tends to lead me to avoid emotional exposure, so I still vividly remember feeling uncomfortably vulnerable walking into those first parent and professional groups. It was these groups that provided the start of the relationships with other parents that we still depend on today.
For many years now I have been in a parent support role and involved in the BC Hands & Voices Guide By Your Side ™ program. Parents of newly identified deaf/hard of hearing children with additional needs often share their feelings of isolation, even though they may have lots of people around them offering help. They ask me what I found the most helpful early on, what advice I can provide or what has made the best impact on our lives raising a deaf/hard of hearing child with additional needs.
I can relate to these feelings and questions whole-heartedly. I share some of our story and the benefits found in putting aside fears and any stigma of getting support, and the vast array of services and support options available. Just by getting started and reaching out to have these conversations, parents share new feelings of optimism and empowerment – that it’s okay to accept supports, understanding it’s a show of strength to reach out, not weakness.
I think back to how hard it was in those early days to step out of my comfort zone to attend my first BC Hands & Voices parent night, a BC Hands & Voices spring picnic and later, summer family recreation activities offered by the Canadian Deafblind Association of BC. As the years progressed, we continued to find our community of support by attending activities as a family and learning alongside fellow parents at the valuable workshops and connection opportunities provided by the many wonderful organizations supporting families with deaf/hard of hearing children in BC.
These were the moments where our sense of belonging flourished, where honest, non-judgmental conversations about parenting challenges took place, and where we learned skills to deal with the day-to-day issues of our child’s struggles and gain information and resources to support the resilience of our entire family.
Looking back now, I see how this was also a self-care activity for me, but I would never have recognized it as such at the time! This ended up being how I filled my own tank, with knowledge, community and relationships in order to be able to turn it into caring for my family to the best of my ability. As a parent, I really understood the analogy of needing to put on my own oxygen mask first in order to be prepared to help those around me.
I am so grateful to the many families we’ve met through the years – our children are teenagers now! I would never have anticipated when our kids were a year old that we would still be reaching out to each other today. Every stage along the way seems to bring up more questions and choices to consider in addition to celebrating the array of accomplishments! Our vulnerability with each other is what keeps these relationships thriving. There is no one more equipped to handle our challenges, tears, hope and humour in our experiences than those who really understand what we’re going through.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to benefit yet from parent-to-parent connections, please know you can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will do my best to help you find your people and an increased sense of belonging!