When the daughter of Daphne Greenstein (40) was a year old, her mother felt that something wasn’t right. Ayala, her three year old toddler daughter — didn’t respond to noise. The worried mother rushed to the Baby Clinic, and insisted that Ayala undergo a comprehensive series of tests to figure out why.
“Since all our older children started talking a little later than other children, my husband who is a doctor by profession, assured me that everything was fine, and there is no cause for concern,” recalls Greenstein. “While the Baby Clinic tests were fine, the heart of a mother feels everything. I just knew something was wrong. I felt that the child wasn’t talking enough, but when I told my concern to the pediatrician, he dismissed them with a wave of his hand, and said it is probably fluid in the ears.”
Greenstein family. Strengthened the ties
With her maternal instincts pushing her, Greenstein quickly made an appointment for a hearing test. That same week, she noticed that her small Ayala — the happy and clever girl who was picking up concepts, who knew how to identify items, and was beginning to make sounds — suddenly turned into a closed child living in her own bubble. “The worst was when I came in one day to her room, and she sat on her bed and didn’t notice that I had entered. At first, I called her name softly and I saw that she didn’t respond. I talked louder, and she still didn’t nod her head at me. It was only when I started screaming her name, that I suddenly realized that the big fear that had been gnawing at me for some time was now confirmed — my Ayala does not hear.”
You are describing a situation that is very difficult for any mother to accept. How does one deal with such a realization?
“It is difficult to explain how I felt when I realized the chilling discovery. In the first instant, it hits you like a thunderbolt out of the blue. It is very difficult and almost impossible to digest. I remember the first thing I did was rush to the phone and calling my husband in panic.”
Later, Greenstein did more extensive testing with speech therapists, which confirmed her fears. But then, while confronting the world of silence, something wonderful happened: Greenstein found out she was pregnant. “To find out I was pregnant the same week that I discovered that Ayala didn’t hear — was in my eyes amazing providence,” she says, “I suddenly realized that not only G-d has not left us, He is also giving us a gift of a new baby. However, since we didn’t know the reason why Ayala could not hear, doctors recommended doing a series of genetic tests after which we in fact found out that the problem of deafness was a genetic problem.”
When you understood that your worries were proved true, and that Ayala doesn’t hear, how did you react?
“On one hand, I was happy that at least we knew the real reason for it, and this would help us tackle the problem. On the other hand, it was a huge blow. As a family, it feels like you are grieving over someone close to you, G-d forbid, who no longer exists. It was a big shock for us, but despite that, I also felt grateful for it.”
“Because I see the hand of G-d at every turn, and identify His mercy for us. At first I panicked when we were told that she was deaf, and when they told us that they would have to operate on her and install an implant. I thought I wouldn’t have the strength to cope with this trial. But then G-d reminded me that in fact I have a good friend who has a son with an implant, from whom I derived a lot of strength and hope. In my pregnancy with Benjamin I remember that I prayed a lot to G-d and asked Him, 'Please, do not give me a trial that I can’t deal with, and He truly didn’t try me with something I didn’t have the tools to deal with.
“When Benjamin was born and was tested for hearing — the clinician didn’t know how to comfort me. I said, 'Even if he does not hear, we will love him and accept him in any situation.’ By that time, I was mentally prepared for this new trial.
“t was a blessing and a gift that Ayala’s problem was discovered at the right time, and gave us time to digest it, internalize it, learn about it and understand that something can be done about it. It is a great comfort to know that there are solutions like implants. Thanks to the mercy of G-d that gave our generation the knowhow and advanced technology — my children are able to hear me, and as far as I’m concerned, that's the real miracle.”
The first time that Ayala heard you after a cochlear implant was implanted in her ears, did you notice a change in her behavior?
“Absolutely. I would tell you more than that. On the day we went to the hospital to put in the implant, Ayala woke up in a completely different mood from how she usually woke up. I was surprised to note that of all her clothes, she chose to wear her Shabbat clothes. She was very happy. It was clear that she felt the festive mood prevailing in the house on this important occasion.”
Thanking G-d for the trial and the miracles
In the hospital, too, when the doctors connected the device to her ears, little Ayala suddenly pointed to her ears, as if to say: “Mom, now I can hear you.”
“It was a very emotional, long-awaited moment for us,” her mother says feelingly, “to see our girl, who for several months had been living in a world of her own, isolated and in silence, and suddenly she is making sounds and syllables. It was a wonder.
“The process we went through with Ayala and Benjamin not only strengthened our family relationships, but also sharpened a thousand times our sensitivity towards each other and towards others. Furthermore, I can say that most mothers of healthy children that I know, and me included, often do not notice the small miracles that occur with their children every day. To see the amazing processes that your child is experiencing, the changes and successes, even if they are small — is an amazing miracle for which one should give thanks every minute.
“My Benjamin is 10 months old and has also undergone surgery to put in the Cochlear implant. He has already been hearing me for a month. My little Ayala has already formed a sentence of three words … If these are not miracles, I do not know what a miracle is.
“It's true that it's not easy to deal with the situation, and sometimes the devices break down, and there is a lot of work and investment in education so the children will internalize their vocabulary. I don’t stop praying with effusive tears that our efforts will bear fruit and the children will grow up to be normal people and spiritual too, but it is worth every moment. Thank G-d we have an objective, and we know where we’re headed. Although I was brought up to believe my entire life, I feel that my faith in G-d and my gratitude to G-d has increased a thousand times thanks to this experience.”
What's your advice for parents in this situation who are feeling panic? Where can they can turn to get help?
“My advice is to always have a finger on the pulse, and don’t ignore your maternal instincts. I am not saying to live hysterically, but when you have a real intuition, you have to check it out. If you have an adorable baby that sleeps even when there is a loud noise in the house — have her tested out. Don’t be complacent. Do everything possible to rule out that option.
“Where to go is a very good question, because from my experience — pediatricians barely know how to identify hearing problems no matter what the issue is. I remember once that a doctor asked me: 'Are you sure that the child does not hear? He makes sounds.’
“She didn’t know that even a deaf baby makes sounds until the age of six months. Therefore, the best advice I can give is to go to a speech therapist and hearing institutes. They are the ones who know best how to identify hearing loss and how to treat it. However, I hope and pray that with G-d's help, no parent will have to go there.”