This book is about a family that suffers the heartbreak of bearing a deaf child without realizing the genetic potential for it lying quietly in their genetic structure. Although Jennifer was raised by a hearing impaired mother, the fact that it was a genetic defect, occurring throughout her family tree, never occurred to her. When it was discovered that she and her husband both carried the recessive gene, it was proof positive that their newborn daughter, Sophia had a severe hearing loss.
How they deal with the loss and decide which world their child should inhabit, the hearing world with the help of technology or the deaf world where she might fit in more happily, is explored, although not as fully as I would have hoped. I did not fully understand the trauma or the turmoil involved as Sophia grows up or the reasons it was considered such an enormous problem to choose one world over the other. Why couldn’t the world that encompassed "Signing" be combined with the world of "Hearing", compatibly? Why was there so much controversy about choosing one or the other? These competitive attitudes were not presented well enough for me to truly empathize with the situation, although I could empathize with the plight of a parent in such a difficult situation.
Even when a second child is born with an even more profound hearing loss, I am not completely engaged in the process by the author, although I am drawn into their lives, superficially, and understand the fear Jennifer has for her children. She felt isolated by her partially deaf mother who never quite felt comfortable in the world because of how she was treated as a child and never knew how to make Jennifer feel as though she was a good fit in the family. With her own children’s hearing loss to deal with, Jennifer also learns more about the conflicts her mother dealt with and discovers that her mother probably never meant to isolate her but rather was trying to deal with her own disconnection, as well, and hoping to prevent her from ever feeling that way. Whatever flaw she discovered in her daughter was pointed out and rectified. Jennifer is very concerned that her children do not suffer in that same way and wants to make sure that they feel loved and wanted and engaged in the family life despite their deafness.
I commend the parents for their almost constant positive approach to the problem of deafness, in a hearing world, overcoming their fear and frustrations in order to do the best possible thing for their daughters, even uprooting themselves and moving to a new community where facilities were better for them. Their sacrifices are not to be taken lightly. They chose to try and mainstream their children rather than isolate them in a world without sound and, luckily, they are so far successful.
Woven into the true tale of Jennifer’s trials is the moving tale she creates about her deaf, Jewish ancestors, whom she has not been able to learn much about but whose story she embellishes to illuminate the ostracism that the deaf faced, in years past, as they were thought mentally deficient and were often shunned by the community. She tried to embrace the very thing she fears most so that she would be able to try and offer all of life’s possible gifts to her own children. Her husband was her constant support and full participant. Together they thrill with delight as their children, using marvelous devices developed by science, hear and speak as if they were hearing children and not hearing deprived.
One thing that surprised me was that with all of the genetic testing going on today and with the knowledge of their specific genetic defect documented in science, that they were so totally unaware of the possibility that their child might be deaf. Another was the fact that the girls both seemed to be able to speak clearly and be easily understood, despite their deafness, when usually the deaf sound totally different than those that hear because certain sounds are harder to reproduce.
It was a very hopeful and uplifting revelation for the reader. The world of sound and the world without sound could be a choice. The deaf are comfortable in whichever world they choose. The children might someday choose to live in a world without sound, but, at least, they would be equipped to live in both worlds, well.