Her eyes had all of us fooled. At her first in-hospital visit from the pediatrician, when she was less than two days old, Dr. M said to me, as I gingerly stepped over to the window, talking, to get him a form he needed, “Look, she moved her head, she followed the sound of your voice.”
So, though my chest fluttered with nerves when I read the results of the newborn hearing screen, which said, simply, that Grace “did not pass”, the doctors said it was likely just fluid in her ears, from living in liquid for so long, or that she was just distracted during the test. “Take her home,” they said. “Don’t worry. Bring her back in a couple months and we’ll re-test her, just to be sure.”
We had other things to worry about. Feeding session after feeding session, Jason lay next to us in our bed, trying everything the lactation consultant and pediatricians and nurses and people-who’d-done-this-before had suggested to get Grace to wake up long enough to start eating. We startled her with a wet washcloth to the face. We shouted her name, louder and louder. We took her toe between our thumb and forefinger and pinched, hard enough to get her to stir and open her mouth in a yelp of protest, just so we could get feed her. So many times we watched her fall right back to sleep. We argued. Maybe she’d actually had enough. Maybe we should let her sleep. Maybe we just weren’t doing it right. Maybe the position was wrong. Maybe I just needed to try a little harder.
We wore ourselves out second-guessing, frustration with ourselves and each other wearing us thin as the lack of sleep and physical drain of it all heaped up within and around us. Almost every attempt to nurse her failed. And there were a lot of attempts, believe me, because the doctor said to feed Grace every hour and a half, two hours at most, and to start counting from the time we started a feeding session – not from the end of one. We were to do this until we got her weight back up.
But at last, we stepped out of the baby-cave. Grace and I had both gotten our strength back. It was warm that May in Washington, DC. I started venturing out, taking Grace and our big white wolf-like dog, Pilot, for walks in the woods. I began to catch my breath again, somewhere on all those walks, Grace’s heat pressed close against me in the carrier.
During a routine visit to our pediatrician, I mentioned the failed newborn hearing screen. Dr. Dana said something to me that I will never forget. She said: “I’ll eat my hat if this child is deaf.”∗