“Your son has temporary hearing loss,” the doctor informs us nonchalantly.
I take my eyes off the Cat In The Hat drawing on the wall and blink twice.
“His ears are full of fluid,” he continues, pulling up a graph on his computer.
“This is average hearing," he points to a line, “and this is what your son can hear right now,” he says, pointing to another line much lower than the first. “If an adult came in here with this level of hearing, we would recommend a hearing aid.”
In a moment of irony, I am not even sure if I hear him correctly. How did this happen? How long has my kid been unable to hear? My mind whirls back to scene after scene: every “huh?”, every time he ignored me, every time he asked me to turn the music up louder in the car.
“Kids are adaptable,” the doctor reassures us, “He probably got used to this impairment a while ago and fully adjusted to it. We’ll put tubes in his ears when we remove his tonsils and adenoids, and he’ll be good as new.”
My 3.5 year-old son has been sleeping on the floor of his bedroom for the better part of a year. My husband and I decided that it wasn’t a battle worth fighting.
A few weeks before Christmas, he started waking up several times a night. 12:30am. 2:46am. 4:15am. He’d stumble into our room in the dark clutching his blue blanket, crying softly.
We put him back in his room for a while, twice a night, three times a night, however many times it took. Until we discovered that if we let him sleep on our floor, he’d go right back to sleep and mostly stay there. And, well, after our second baby didn’t sleep through the night for 13 very long months, our new parenting motto is: whatever arrangement ends with the most sleep wins.
So he started sleeping on the floor in our room.
Every night he snored loudly, tossing and turning for hours on end. Our son has always been a loud breather, but this was the first time we had a front row seat to his sleeping patterns. They went something like this:
Snore. Whistle exhale. Snore. Whistle exhale. Silence.
Loud gasping snore. Whistle exhale.
My husband and I faced each other in bed one night, the outlines of our faces barely lit by the moonlight shining through our window. He spoke up first.
“I think we need to take Everett to the doctor.”
Two weeks later we drove to the ENT practice our pediatrician had referred us to, and I spoke up again.
“I think we should get his hearing tested while we’re here."
When our son was eight weeks old, he had surgery to fix an inguinal hernia. One morning, one diaper change, one lump, one phone call to the doctor, and that was it. They wheeled him away on a tiny hospital cart while my husband and I watched the doors close behind them.
I felt it then, and I feel it again now: the responsibility of being an advocate for my children.
Here's the thing about advocacy—you don’t really understand it until you experience it. You don’t even know this is part of being a mom until you are standing in the doctor’s office with these words boldly coming out of your mouth: “Something is not right with my kid.”
My son is 3.5 years old. He talks a lot, and speaks well for his age. He tells me stories in the car, jokes in the bathroom, and recalls memories I myself barely remember. I often forget that just because he can talk doesn’t mean he tells me everything. Just because he knows lots of words doesn’t mean he can always communicate when something isn’t working right in his little body.
It is a bit overwhelming to me, this thought of missing something. My parenting style is somewhere in between free-range and relaxed. I barely Google. I am the opposite of a hypochondriac. I am not anxious by nature, and my husband regularly jokes that I “don’t worry enough” (have no fear—he worries enough for both of us).
So I find myself in a weird spot when it comes to advocacy, often paralyzed by my own laid-back personality. I am sometimes shy to speak up, or I wait for a while. What if I’m wrong? I don't want to be the paranoid mom. On the other end of the spectrum: what if a problem arises and the signs were there all along, but I missed them? Would I be able to forgive myself? Sure, we caught the hernia and the sleep apnea and the hearing loss, but were those just flukes? What other problems, physical and emotional, could be lurking in our future?
I feel the weight of this responsibility sitting squarely on my shoulders. The responsibility feels heavy, but not in a burdensome way. It feels heavy in a powerful way—a significant, paramount, the-very-definition-of-motherhood kind of way. These kids depend on me. I’m their mother; aren’t I their greatest advocate? This is my honor, my privilege. I am their champion, their crusader, their supporter, their believer. And for as long as they are young children, I am also—most importantly—their voice.
These little people under my care are not always able to communicate their aches and pains and ailments. Like the doctor said, kids are adaptable. They get used to pain, to minor discomfort, to bullying, to hearing loss. Who is going to speak up for them when they can’t speak up for themselves?
I've only been a mom for 3.5 years, but I've already had to advocate for my son on more than one occasion—the hernia (I don’t think this is normal), the growth chart (he is fine!), and now the sleep apnea and hearing loss (something isn’t right).
Advocacy starts with paying attention and trusting your gut, two things that don’t always come naturally to me. There is a great deal of discernment involved in motherhood: in knowing what to pay attention to, what questions to ask, when to be concerned and when to let it be. Listening to my motherly instinct involves trusting myself and believing in myself as a mother, a skill I am slowly mastering with each passing day of parenthood under my belt.
Advocacy doesn’t start and end with doctors; it can appear in all different shapes and sizes, from the principal's office to the playground. It might look like putting our kid in a new class. It might look like asking questions, and following up those questions with more questions. It might look like having a really awkward conversation with our friend whose kid is picking on our kid.
Doctors might roll their eyes, friends might be defensive, teachers might insist everything is fine. And maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. Regardless of the outcome—whether you were right or paranoid or a little bit of both, that’s not what matters.
What matters is that you’re the mom.
And today I want to offer this gentle reminder: You have a voice. Don’t be afraid to use it.
Words and photo by Ashlee Gadd.