I think it's safe to say that I experienced every single emotion possible this past week when I went to Nashville for the HLAA conference. I am beyond thrilled that I was able to attend, and learned so much that will help me in my journey as a hearing mother to a deaf child. Many tears were shed, mostly tears of joy.
I had the opportunity to attend some really great sessions and workshops, including the Research Support Symposium that focused on Hair Cell Regeneration. I cruised the exhibit hall everyday and visited with some really interesting vendors that included both our hearing aid and CI manufacter, and several different assistive devices that one day we'll need with Christian. I even had an opportunity to chat with some representatives from Gallaudet about my interest in their SLP program.
While the exhibit hall and the workshops were extremely informative, the connections that I made with other attendees were by far the most valuable component of the entire conference for me. I had the wonderful opportunity to FINALLY meet my online friends Abbie, Jen, and Laurie. These 3 ladies have been such a support for me during the past 2 years, and I was incredibly grateful to finally hug them in person. Abbie and I are very much alike in so many ways (we've always joked about that in blog comments and emails), but it was confirmed on Friday when we realized we had the same cut and highlight :) Jen welcomed me with her signature smile, and I had such a fun time out to dinner with her and beautiful family. And Laurie always seemed to be able to introduce me to the right person at the right time. My friend Mike, who lives in my area (and who nominated me for my scholarship to HLAA) made sure I didn't get lost in the hustle and bustle of the conference. I made some good friends thanks to their introductions!
I learned so much from these folks while I was there, and I am sure that they were all just about FRIED after all the questions I constantly bombarded them with. I think one of the hardest things for me as a hearing Mom is not knowing what exactly Christian hears (and doesn't hear). As adult CI users, they were able to give me their unique perspectives on the experience of wearing Cochlear Implants. My extent of socializing with CI users is the occasional CI playgroup that I attend with Christian. I really enjoyed seeing my friends interact with one another (and how we communicated together). There was one night when a group of us went to The Wildhorse Saloon. I was beyond impressed with how well everyone heard, and even was able to identify different instruments in the band that was playing. I of course, kept asking 'Do you hear the cymbals? What about the tambourine? Can you hear the lyrics?". I couldn't help it. My friends were such a great window into the world of Cochlear Implants, and the D/HOH community. I really appreciated their willingness to share their experiences, both good and bad with me. They welcomed me into their community with open arms (and ears!). I was worried at first how I would fit in, yet by day 2 of the conference, felt completely at home.
Attending the HLAA truly opened my eyes and my heart. As I was on the plane on Sunday morning heading back to my family, I thought back to the beginning of my journey with Christian. I was always so worried that he would feel alone. That he would be by himself, and on the outside. If I learned ANYTHING this weekend, it's that the miracle of the Cochlear Implant has opened up so many options for deaf individuals. It was a nice little glimpse into how bright the future looks for Christian.
Laurie, Abbie, Jen and I at the Birthday Celebration. This was one of the only pictures I can find of the four of us where we're not all laughing. We had such a fun time!
I think the only thing that the gang held against me was that we're a Cochlear family, and they all wore AB processors :)
By far, the funniest shirt I've seen. Abbie rocking the shirt!