All in Due Time: Perspectives on Childbirth from Deaf Parents

Branch: Introductions

Heidi introduces herself and talks about coming from a Deaf family. (0:45)

English Summary

Heidi grew up in southern California near CSUN in Northridge. She is the third generation in a Deaf family. Her parents went to school at Riverside, as did her brother, sister, and herself. After Riverside, she went on to Gallaudet to get a degree in photography. She met Jeff there. Being from a big city, she never dreamed of moving to a place like Sioux Falls. It was a bit hard at first, but she has been there for 3 years and really enjoys it.

Jeff introduces himself and talks about his educational journey. (6:37)

English Summary

Jeff grew up in Louisiana and went to a mainstreamed setting for school. At that time, there were no interpreters due to scant resources. This was back in the late 1970’s. He did the best he could watching the teachers and reading the materials on his own. His mother also helped out a lot. His parents were divorced and he moved with his mom to New Orleans. His father was three hours away in Lafayette. In New Orleans, he went to an oral program for 7th and 8th grade. It was frustrating to not be able to sign, but it was better than his experience in elementary school.

For a high school option, his parents considered the Model Secondary School for the Deaf in DC. It was a hard choice for his parents to send him so far away, but it seemed to be the best option. They figured he would later go on to Gallaudet anyway, so they thought this would be good preparation. Jeff knew only a bit of sign from summer camp, and so had some hesitation about going. But from the moment he stepped in the door, he loved it. He appreciated the direct communication and the ability to take part in group discussions. It was a rich experience.

From there, he went on to Gallaudet which was more of the same but with more independence and responsibility. He met Heidi there during his Senior year (he spent two years as a senior). He hated to leave Gallaudet. But went out to CSD to do an internship. They encouraged him to go back to DC to finish his degree. He completed his coursework fall semester, and then graduated with his classmates in May. After that, he moved back to Sioux Falls and has been working at CSD for 5 years.

Branch: Birth Narrative

Heidi and Jeff describe when they knew they had to go to the hospital and the process for delivery. Technical processes discussed include: epidural injection, c-section, and episiotomy. (4:35)

English Summary

They were due May 7th, but Heidi’s water broke one week early. Heidi called Jeff at work to let him know that it was time. At first, he wasn’t sure it could be really time to go. But they went in. Heidi was only dilated to 1 cm and leaking water. She went through 22 hours of labor that started at 4 in the afternoon.

Jeff clarified that a few weeks earlier, they had experienced a few “false alarms”, so when they talked with the doctor, they checked to make sure that this was the real thing. The doctor assured them it was time, but not an emergency. So Jeff told people at work, and went home to finish up final touches on packing and then go to the hospital.

Heidi continues that the baby had descended before the water broke. She also couldn’t have medications like an epidural because they didn’t want to suppress her labor. She was still at 1 cm, and stayed there for 10 hours. They tried some different medications and she finally moved to 4 cm. She couldn’t have an epidural until she was dilated more than 6 cm. When they finally got there, she got the epidural, and Jeff actually fainted at that time.

Heidi eventually got to 10 cm. A couple of procedures she wanted to avoid were having an episiotomy or a c-section. In her discussions prior, she had made an agreement on that. But knowing that the doctor might go ahead with those procedures, she was glad the interpreter knew her preferences. During actual labor, she was so affected by the medications she wasn’t able to express herself clearly, but the interpreter played the role of advocate in reminding the doctor about those prior agreements.

When it was the time of the actual birth, she was struggling because her pelvis was too small. She went through a 2 hour struggle, and the doctor finally decided they needed to go with a c-section. But before that, they tried an episiotomy and were able to deliver. In hindsight, Heidi wondered about having gone with the episiotomy earlier, but was glad that she tried without giving up right away. (Even if she failed to prevent that procedure.) She was glad that the episiotomy worked and she was able to avoid the c-section. In addition, she was thrilled to have a son with red hair. The 22 hours was worth it for a beautiful son…to which Jeff concurs.

Working with an Interpreter

Heidi and Jeff describe the process they went through in choosing an interpreter and in having an interpreter as part of the team for their labor and delivery. (6:10)

English Summary

They had the same interpreter throughout the process. In their discussion between themselves, Heidi and Jeff wanted to find someone with whom they felt comfortable. They asked for input from the larger community about interpreters involved in other birth experiences. They didn’t want the interpreter to be a distraction from the process for them, but wanted someone who knew what they were doing.

The interpreter they decided on was good with the midwife, and familiar with the terminology. The interpreter and midwife were there the entire time and gave lots of support through the tough times. Heidi noted that because it was Jeff’s first time, he was a little unsure at times. It was very important for them to feel comfortable with the interpreter. They had a back-up interpreter ready in case, but they were glad the interpreter they had worked with (and who had the background) was able to be there. She actually stayed for the full 22 hours.

Jeff felt the consistency from day 1 was very beneficial. They were able to call her when they went into the hospital, and she came. When Jeff and Heidi slept, the interpreter also slept. Before labor actually started, the three of them had discussed roles as part of a team effort. The focus was on flexibility, not strict adherence to the code of ethics. So, they had discussed possibilities beforehand. The comfort they gained from these discussions really made it all go smoothly.

It was also important that the interpreter knew the terminology, or was able to ask for repetition or how to spell something. The doctors often didn’t know how to spell it, and it turned into a humorous situation. But one in which Jeff and Heidi were able to learn a lot about medicines and what they were used for. Jeff wanted to know more than just the names of drugs, but how they would affect Heidi. Heidi really felt like the experience was equal to what any other couple would have, which meant that the interpreter’s work was really successful. Jeff also shared that the interpreter shared a lot from her own experience of having two children, and that was beneficial.

On a Hearing or a Deaf Child

Heidi and Jeff talk about their considerations (or lack thereof) on whether their child would be Deaf. (1:57)

English Summary

Coming from a Deaf family, Heidi had been thinking about whether or not her child would be Deaf. When the doctor reported that her son passed the hearing screening, she was a little disappointed. She had mostly thought he would be Deaf, given her family history and her siblings having Deaf children. She was glad that the doctor was very supportive—not being matter of fact about the child being able to hear, but presenting many different scenarios that the child could become Deaf later.

It was new for Heidi and her family to have a member who could hear. She didn’t want to force him to be fully immersed in the Deaf world, but wanted him to get the best of both worlds. The family had many questions about what types of gifts to get. Heidi suggested things related to music and sound. Through it all, it is going fine.

Jeff really didn’t think much about whether the child would be Deaf or not…or even about gender. In the excitement of the delivery, he forgot to even notice the gender of his child, and only really saw it when Heidi told him their child was a boy.

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