Newborn hearing screening can create nervousness in parents, but with no familial history of deafness, Charlotte and Tony Talarico were not worried for son Leo.
Discovering that Leo’s hearing loss was profound was a shock to the Auckland couple.
After failing two routine newborn hearing tests while he was treated for jaundice in hospital, Charlotte says the lag between knowing about the hearing loss and getting a diagnosis was the hardest time in their lives.
“I had this dark feeling that something was seriously wrong here. It was hugely devastating. I felt guilty, like when I was pregnant, had I done something to cause this?”
A scan finally confirmed the nerves in Leo’s ears were not detecting sound.
“We had family support around us as I was overwhelmed and not sleeping, eating or able to look after Leo properly,” Charlotte confides.
“I was managing emotions, grief. It’s akin to someone dying, really. That’s how it felt. You go through those stages of grief: denial and anger.
“You end up remapping how you expect Leo’s life to be. I tried not to think too much about the future because it was really overwhelming.”
Hopes and dreams
It was the words she heard from a Deaf advisor from Ko Taku Reo that gave her the most comfort.
The couple was asked what hopes and dreams they had held for Leo’s life before they discovered his hearing loss - such as going to university or travel.
“We were assured there was no reason Leo would not be able to do those things,” says Charlotte.
Discovering that Leo was a suitable candidate for cochlear implant surgery was a silver lining which his parents are grateful for.
The couple had researched cochlear implants and clung on to the hope the surgery would mean Leo could live a life with access to sound. But the hurdles had not been overcome yet.
The Thursday before Leo’s scheduled surgery on a Monday in August, the nation went into level four lockdown.
It was later decided important elective surgery could go ahead at Gillies Hospital, so Leo’s surgery was rebooked for the following Thursday.
Charlotte spent an anxious wait at home, due to level four restrictions, while Tony braved face at Leo’s bedside during the three-hour operation.
A week later, the extended family members who had helped the couple in those early weeks gathered again, this time over Zoom.
The reason was much more joyful. Leo, at six months old, was about to hear for the first time.
“It was something fun and positive in what’s been a challenging journey,” Charlotte says.
Leo’s implants were switched on at The Hearing House with mum and dad by his side, and in front of a screen with his wider family watching on.
“We were told the activation could have gone either way and been negative or positive,”
Charlotte says. “Leo’s a happy child who’s chilled, nothing phases him. He didn’t let us down.
“There was a special moment when Tony said his name and Leo looked directly at him. That was really, really, really special.”
Nationally, two babies per 1000 are diagnosed with permanent congenital hearing loss like Leo.
“As a first-time mum, you have this perception of what your child will look like. You never imagine there will be anything permanent that you have to deal with,” Charlotte says.
“You feel robbed of that overwhelming joy that everyone tells you you’ll have, and what everyone in my coffee group appears to have on the surface. You’re the opposite, you’re grief-stricken.”
We will continue to support the Talaricos throughout Leo’s life with ongoing audiology support, intensive speech and language therapy, counselling, playgroups, parenting workshops, and preparing for milestones such as starting school.
“That’s all you want to hear as a parent. That everything’s going to be okay.”