The first several hours after having a baby pass by in a blur of cuddles, soreness, and an insane amount of love. In the midst of this overwhelming, yet blissful, time are some routine tests for baby. One of the many checks performed on tiny fresh babes is a newborn hearing screening.
Before I continue, let me stress that I am not a medical professional and I honestly don’t fully understand everything I probably should in regards to the audiology world. But here’s what I do have: a Bachelor’s Degree in Communicative Disorders with an emphasis in Speech-Language Pathology. (The only difference between this emphasis and the Audiology emphasis is the check of a box). And while I’m not exactly fresh on my audiology terms, I do have something else in my favor when it comes to this topic. Both of my children have hearing loss.
Without boring you too much, here’s a super brief history of my family’s hearing loss. I’m one of five children and four of us have hearing loss ranging from mild to moderate. From us five kids, ten grandkids have been born so far and 7/10 of them have hearing loss ranging from slight to profound. Basically, from my dad’s side of the family, we have a seriously strong hearing loss trait that we can’t seem to breed out.
As I continue with this post I’m not necessarily focusing on the medical/audiological/scientific aspects of newborn hearing loss, but rather the emotional and life changing effects of my personal experiences.
Okay, back to the newborn hearing screening. An Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) is the test you’re more than likely to see in hospitals on brand new babies. This is a nonbehavioral assessment, so baby is typically asleep and all it does is measure the brainstem responses. In response to noise, how effectively does the auditory nerve conduct impulses to the auditory brainstem pathway? It sounds pretty darn complicated, but it is scored as a basic pass or fail and it doesn’t take long at all!
For the most part, nurses aren’t concerned about it actually being hearing loss at this point because a false negative is common due to amniotic fluid in the ear. Though, when I heard them say this with both of my babies it was like rubbing salt into a wound telling me not to worry because it’s probably nothing. Because of my genetics, odds were they did indeed have some degree of hearing loss.
The next step when babes fail the ABR is to come back a week or two later for a follow-up screen. When I took my first babe in for this, they left him in his car seat to sleep while they quickly did their thing. Babies who indeed had amniotic fluid in their ears after birth tend to pass here and the whole thing becomes a distant memory. Obviously, my boy did not pass this test, so we were on to the next step.
I had a great sense of guilt having passed on this poor-functioning gene to such a perfect baby. And sitting with the weight of FAIL on my shoulders for a few weeks, before more testing can be done, is pretty daunting. Granted, with both of my babies it was pretty evident that they could hear. They startled at loud sounds and they acknowledged my voice, which eased a bit of my concerns.
One super nice part about knowing my family’s history of hearing loss is the fact that our pediatrician was able to help me skip a few steps for my second babe’s testing process. I didn’t have to do the follow-up screen at the hospital or another test looking for a specific disease (that I won’t get into here) because her doctor understood it was genetic and that there was no need to waste time with the “double checks”.
Next up is where an actual audiologist steps into the picture. They do a deeper assessment and give data and numbers about just how severe the hearing loss is. This test is tricky because the baby needs to sleep for up to two hours to have it properly completed. I was able to nurse my babies to sleep and hold them for the duration of these tests but it was quite the task to keep all of the cords intact the entire time!
The results are immediate, and before leaving the audiologist I knew the degree of hearing loss my babes had. To this day, my oldest has mild to moderate loss and my youngest has slight to mild loss.
At this point comes the talk about options: hearing aids, early intervention, medical referrals, etc. I opted to not do hearing aids for either of my children due to my own success, despite having some hearing loss of my own. In fact, of everyone in my family with hearing loss, only my father and one niece and one nephew have hearing aids at this point. I signed up for early intervention and for the first few months of my son’s life, had a speech-pathologist come to my home to do behavior assessments. When those all passed with flying colors, I opted to do monthly mail checks – the assessments are sent to me via mail and after I’ve filled out the forms, I send them back.
Every few months, it is recommended to go back in for more hearing tests. I kept up these appointments with my son for quite awhile, but because nothing has changed, I’ll wait until kindergarten rolls around to have him tested again. My daughter, on the other hand, has less severe hearing loss, so I’ve been more laid back with her testing, but will most likely have her tested at multiple points during her life.