March 17, 2015. “She’s a well baby”, I recall the animated Greek doctor saying. This was my third baby in 33 months. I had never heard those words after delivery. My first baby had some hip issues that wisked him away for further review. My second baby had fluid that send her to the NICU for a few days. So this “well baby” was new to me. I was overcome with a sense of relief. I had done it. Three pregnancies in such succession had taken a toll on my body. But here, at the finale, I had achieved seeming delivery perfection. And perfection she was. Ms. Britton Lane. My lady luck, born on St. Patricks Day.
I woke up back in my hospital room to the non-stop euphoria. As for the rhythms and routines that happen after delivery, I was a seasoned veteran. I was a regular around Greenwich Hospital. Having three babies in such quick succession, staff and nurses did a double take. Yes, its’ me again I would say laughing, hardly believing it myself.
I remember scanning Britt’s baby crate and noticing I didn’t see that round “I passed my hearing test sticker”. While I knew the rhythms post-delivery like clockwork (the forms to fill out, the dreaded bloodwork, the non-stop blood pressure checks, the breast feeding specialist, and on and on), for some reason, I zeroed in on the missing sticker. The mama bear in me was firing on all cylinders, and even in my utter exhaustion, and was keeping an ever-vigilant eye on this baby girl.
When the nurse returned, I asked about the missing sticker. A little background on the stickers. There are only ‘Pass’ stickers. If you don’t have a Pass sticker, it means the baby has failed their hearing test. I guess a ‘Fail’ sticker on a baby crate isn’t exactly the most encouraging label in the first few days of life. And similarly, the hospital refers to failed hearing tests as a “defer” result as opposed to “fail”. Meaning they defer, or recommend the patient for further hearing testing.
After doing some checking, the nurse returned to my room and suggested that Britt hadn’t passed her hearing test. The euphoria came to a screeching halt. What? What do you mean? This was a well-baby. Not to worry she suggested, its noisy in the nursey, they’ll re-test her and I’m sure she’ll do just fine. I took a deep breath. That seemed to make sense. Nurseries are incredibly noisy, right? My naivety was providing only a temporary solace. I would come to understand that noisy nurseries have nothing to do with newborn hearing tests. Newborns are typically given an OAE (otoacoustic emissions test) hearing test. A miniature earphone and microphone are placed in the ear, sounds are played and a response is measured. If a baby hears normally, an echo is reflected back into the ear canal and is measured by the microphone. When a baby has a hearing loss, no echo or a reduced echo can be measured on the OAE test.
Across my four days in the hospital, I continued to ask the revolving door of nurses if Britt could be re-tested and what the results were. After the fourth failed hearing test, I broke down. I knew something was terribly wrong. I cried. I had just delivered this beautiful baby girl who I was told was a well baby, and just a few short days later, I was facing a serious unknown about her ability to hear. We had no hearing loss in the family. I had barely ever seen a hearing aid. My mind raced. What would her life be like ? How could this be happening again ? (I have a sister with severe intellectual delays. I had grown up in a special needs family. Hadn’t my family done its tour ?)
I immediately turned to Google. What was the incidence rate of having a baby with hearing loss? I couldn’t come to terms with even uttering or typing the ‘d’ word (deaf). The enormity and emotion associated with that word was beyond comprehension. So I typed her potential condition as hearing loss. That felt less scary. In just one click, I learned that hearing loss affects approximately 2-4 babies per 1,000 live births. How could my baby possibly be one of the 2-4 babies? Not my baby. No. That was impossible.
The nurse tried to calm me down. Many newborns fail their hearing tests, only to eventually pass, she told me. She added that babies delivered via c-section aren’t subjected to natural processes that flush the fluid out. I had delivered my older two children via c-section and they had passed their hearing tests just fine, but again, any seemingly rational logic was comforting.
It’s probably just fluid she told me. Another morsel of hope that I grasped onto with dear life.