As a newborn, our little angel Nora wasn't given any hearing tests, and she and I were discharged from the hospital soon after her birth. As days and months passed, we noticed that she had poor eye contact and wasn't responding to our calls and to hearing her name. By the time she was six months old, we took her to the doctor. We were hoping that everything was okay, but instead, what we were afraid of happened. After many tests, she was diagnosed with bilateral, severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss. It was a shock for us, but that was God's will.
Nora wore hearing aids for six months, but her progress and language development were very slow. When she was finally confirmed as a cochlear implant candidate, we didn't hesitate at all. It was going to be an opportunity for her, a chance to socialize and connect with the world around her.
I won't lie to you. My husband and I cried for two weeks. We were worried about Nora’s future, but we realized that this had to stop. We had to build and plan for her new life. I started to think more positively when I remembered what my grandpa went through. He supported my aunt Sara Gadallah when she was diagnosed with polio at the age of two. Doctors told him that swimming was the only therapy for her, so he decided to become her coach. I think he empowered her to feel strong. So much so that she crossed the English Channel in 1975. Today, she is well known as Sudan’s first female swimmer.
I won't lie to you. My husband and I cried for two weeks.
We got our strength and learned so much from each member of our family. At the beginning, we had no idea how to start teaching Nora. My eldest sister sent us sign language puzzles and books from the USA. These were the first learning tools that my daughters started using. They showed Nora basic words and signs that she could use in her daily life, and it made it much easier for her to communicate. Because our entire family has been involved in helping Nora grow, it doesn’t feel like a hard struggle. Everyone around her loves and cares for her freely in their own way, accepting her for who she is.
It wasn't easy for us to raise Nora along with her two siblings, six-year-old Tala and eight-year-old Dania. Nora needed one-on-one care, especially when she started playing the game of removing her sound processor and hiding it from us. But her sisters needed our time and attention too.
It was important for us to make sure Tala and Dania did not feel left out or less loved. So my husband and I thought of a way to spend equal time with the girls. Mornings are the best time for me to spend with Nora. We go twice a week to the speech therapist and I continue practicing what we learned at home. When my husband comes back from work, we switch. He motivates Nora every day with five small pieces of candy, and now she has learned to count from one to five in both Arabic and English. While my husband and Nora are busy together, I spend a few hours helping Tala and Dania with their homework, sharing stories about their day, and playing with them.
It was important for us to make sure Tala and Dania did not feel left out or less loved. So my husband and I thought of a way to spend equal time with the girls.
This arrangement has really helped us make sure that our other children don’t feel that we are just focusing on Nora. And because of this, I believe it has also helped the sisters to bond with each other even more. Nora’s sisters have always been very protective of her, especially Dania. When Nora gets angry or frustrated, Dania is always there, giving her hugs and showering her with love and encouragement.
Nora opened all of our eyes to a new world and we are learning new things every day. Her sisters have become eager to learn about the inner ear and what causes hearing loss. They want to find a way to communicate and involve her in everything they do. We watched the Helen Keller movie The Miracle Worker together. It was the first time they learned that there is a special language for deaf people called “sign language.” The film was also a life lesson for them to understand how it feels to lose one or two of our senses, as well as the blessings of God’s gift. It was the best way to show them that we are together on this journey with Nora. And in fact, Tala and Dania have become two of Nora’s most effective teachers and supporters on this journey.
After Nora had her cochlear implants, we started training her brain to engage with the sounds around her. I remember the first sound that was so exciting for her was the doorbell because her sisters created a “welcome home” game. They would ring the bell twice when they arrived home from school, and I made sure that Nora heard it. Then we would race to the door to welcome them home.
Nora’s sisters are also very good about including her in their play. Nora’s speech therapist noticed that she had the perfect pencil grip very early on. I think this is the direct result of doing a lot of coloring with her sisters. She observed them and learned to hold the pencil in the right way. When they started on a craft project using scissors, they were keen to give her a pair of safety scissors so she could feel like a part of the team, and they would finish the project together.
It’s fun to see Nora’s sisters engage her when playing with dolls. While they’re changing the doll’s clothes, brushing its hair, and talking about what they’re doing together, it’s a natural way for Nora to develop important language and self-help skills. She even started changing her voice when playing with dolls and imitating what she has seen around our home.
We all walked alongside Nora on her journey, embracing and creating a world for her that is filled with care, love, and support. We wanted to find a way to document her journey, a way for her to look back on her achievements through the various hearing stages and best moments. That’s how Nora became a little YouTuber!
Her sisters played an outstanding role in this endeavor. They showed her how to stand, act, and smile at the camera. She started learning and imitating their moves. This built a strong bond between them. Nora wasn’t scared and wanted to shine in each video. She gained confidence trying to express herself, first with gestures and body language, then gradually through words.
Because she was new to the CI device, we were afraid of exposing her to excessively loud environments at first. One time when Nora’s sisters were in a karaoke room, she insisted on joining them, and she started crying. The attendant opened the door for her and even gave her a microphone. My first thought was that the music might be too loud and I wanted to remove her sound processor. But it was like magic. As soon as she entered the room, Nora started singing and dancing with the loud music and feeling the vibration. It became such a special moment for me.
As parents, it’s our choice to live in denial or to be strong and face our kids’ unique challenges. We need to remember that the faster we remove barriers and meet Nora’s needs, the easier it will become for her to communicate with others and thrive. AB has surprised me with how well their technology has helped Nora learn and grow. And with the support of our whole family, especially her two big sisters, Nora is a confident and joyful two-year-old kid. Thank you AB, for being Nora’s ears. We are lucky to be a part of AB’s family.
Salma graduated as a graphic designer from Sudan University of Science and Technology. She has been a TV presenter at Al Jazeera Children Channel and worked for six years for student support service at Khartoum American School for students in need. Salma lives with her family in Doha, Qatar.