Several days ago I saw a great video on Facebook with one deaf mother babywearing her daughter on back and using sign language to communicate with her (you will see it embedded in this post). It made me teary because I am a child of deaf father and hard-to-hear mother, and I know from experience how communication between people when at least one of them is deaf can be hard if you don’t see each other.
Immediately I contacted her via her Facebook page (URL will open in new tab) and asked if she would be interesting in telling her story for my newly started babywearing blog in Serbian language. As you can see, she accepted my invitation and send me her answers really quick. At first, I only thought this interview will be published in Serbian. But as I read her story and she asked me to send her an URL when I publish it so she can share it no matter if no one would understand a word it says, I decided to put an original, English, version, too. I am positive you will see it for yourself when you read it: Elena’s story just needed to be told, and shared.
Start, please, by introducing yourself – were you born deaf; how old is your baby; did you start babywearing when she was a newborn or maybe later; are you official babywearing educator; anything else you find interesting and important to say:
Hello! My name is Elena Ruiz, and I am a Deaf Latina babywearer. I am the only Deaf member in my family, and became deaf from spinal meningitis when I was 1 year old. My primary language is American Sign Language, and while most of my family does not know ASL, it’s the language I use with my friends, community members, and my 11-month old baby. My baby is considered a CODA, or a child of deaf adults, because she hears, but is being enculturated into Deaf culture and has a first language that is sign language. Her father comes from a Deaf family, and it is possible that baby will become deaf later in childhood or even adolescence.
When I became a mother, I did not expect to recognize how different the Deaf mother experience is than what we commonly think about or see in the mainstream media. My baby was very clingy and did not like to be put down for long, and was not able to fall asleep and stay asleep on her own. Co-sleeping became the most natural and safe way for me to care for baby during the night, and I developed an intuition to wake up when baby needed me, without needing to hear her. I felt her movements, or even woke up on my own from a gut feeling.
When I was pregnant, a good friend of mine, also a Deaf Latina, urged me to have a Moby, a ring sling, and to look into other carriers. I admit I didn’t take her too seriously at the time, and didn’t feel very interested in babywearing. I was given a hand-me-down sling, and used it for the first time when baby was one week old. I had tried watching YouTube videos and found online instruction manuals on how to use it – I found a common theme of “listen to baby’s breathing” for safe babywearing. I immediately became insecure and worried that I wasn’t going to do a good job wearing my baby. I took her out on a short walk, and kept staring down at her, watching her every breath, and was tense from worries. I was unsure about continuing babywearing. A few weeks later, I tried out the Moby, and saw the same common theme of “listening” to the baby’s breath. I wrapped baby up, but she protested not even a minute later and would not stop crying. I unwrapped her, but tried a few more times, and used the sling here and there, too.
When baby was 6 weeks old, I was invited to a cloth diaper event by several other Deaf mothers. At that event, I saw other mothers with their babies wrapped up beautifully and I was fascinated and drawn to them. I asked for a demo from some, and communicated with them through a sign-language interpreter. Unfortunately, they were not very friendly, attentive, or patient. But, I purchased my first wrap there anyways, and went home and practiced – and developed a deep love for wrapping and babywearing, and haven’t looked back since!
I am not an official babywearing educator with formal training, but I often seek out education and training from those who work with Babywearing International. I am still waiting to see if certification is something I can have access to with a sign language interpreter.
How do people react when they see babywearing deaf mom? Do you feel that they think it’s harder for you?
I have faced barriers from literally day one with being a Deaf wrapper and babywearer. I was lucky to have developed a great relationship with my local babywearing chapter, and with a group leader who was willing to go above and beyond to work with me and my developing wrap skills. That, in connection to watching Wrap You In Love (note: URL will open in new tab), the one vlogger who is consistent with providing access to video tutorials, was how I learned how to wrap. I hope that more vloggers consider adding subtitles or closed-captioning to their videos, because the vast majority of tutorials are not accessible – which is why I started Wrap In ASL.
I have had a number of awkward situations where I was approached in public when baby was wrapped on me, and there were communication barriers. However, those experiences now inspire me to become more open about my being a Deaf mother, and to sign to my baby consistently in public to signal that we are a signing family and use a different language in a different modality. I now see it as a way of celebrating our diversity!
I’ve read you had questioned your decision to babywear prior to start bw because you won’t be able to hear if she’s breathing, but for me (and as a child of deaf father and hard-to-hear f mother, I do understand “world of silence”) it’s even scarier, I think, to think that your baby is in a crib, but you can’t hear if she’s breathing, you only can watch her lungs move. It looks like babywearing might be a solution to the fear of not be able to hear breathing – because you can actually feel your baby breathes.
By letting go of the phonocentric pressure that society has- the over-emphasis on hearing and speaking- I allowed myself to place greater attention on visual, gestural, tactile, and intuitive cues. This process helped me embrace myself as a Deaf person and a Deaf mother, to honor and appreciate the way I naturally am- without feeling like I needed to conform to society’s expectations of hearing being better than being Deaf.
When speaking with other deaf moms, what do you find it’s theirs biggest fear? How do you help them overcome it?
I see a shared struggle with myself and other mothers of the perspective from others, especially hearing people, that we are more apt to be “bad mothers” because of missing auditory signals. Or because we have less information access and opportunities about many aspects of mothering. One thing that has shocked me more than once is many Deaf mothers’ fears of having their babies taken from them. That is an extreme example, but it happens. Oftentimes, Deaf parents receive doubts from hearing people about our ability to parent, simply because we are Deaf. This is another reason I decided to start Wrap In ASL- so that there can be representation online about Deaf parenting, and how we bring contributions to different approaches of parenting rather than being unable to parent well because we do not hear. I hope to be a positive representation for primarily these parents, and also for all parents and caregivers, too.
When I first started out babywearing when my LO was a week old, I read many instructions on babywearing as warning…
You have used many different baby carriers, which one do you prefer: wraps, ssc, ring sling or something else? Any favorite brand, too?
My first “love” is wrapping, but I really enjoy ring slings, SSCs, and lately started really using a bucklebu a lot! I was never able to really acquire a skill for mei tais, and there are other traditional carriers I have not yet tried, but would love to, especially because I started really appreciating babywearing as a Latina, knowing that my ancestors did just that. I have a deep love and appreciation for Soul Slings, based out of India- the company owner and representatives are very helpful, generous, and enthusiastic, and the products are stellar. I am currently a Tekhniteer (ambassador) for Tekhni, a company I also admire because of how they work towards accessible babywearing with multiple releases, and with the excellent textile design and resources used in their wraps. Cari Slings is a company near and dear to my heart because of the great creativity and uniqueness behind the wrap designs, as well. IndaJani has been a long-time favorite as well, because of being based in Mexico and selling traditional rebozos and much more!
I’ve noticed you write caption on each photo and video on your Facebook page – that’s for Deaf Blind, I guess? How many babywearing moms and dads you know that are Deaf Blind of Deaf Disabled? What are their biggest obstacles when babywearing? Do they get help from bw educators?
I strive to provide image descriptions, translation transcripts, and video descriptions on my Wrap In ASL posts. I really cherish my community, and the Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, and Hard-of-Hearing members in it. Access barriers shape my daily life as a Deaf person, and other members’ too. I was fortunate enough to have a mother growing up who was adamant about making sure I always had access to closed-captioning on every TV set before me. Schooling and employment have long been struggles because of working with sign language interpreters whose skills would vary, impacting their qualifications. Therefore, I know that if I wish I had better access to the world, I need to make sure I do my part in making the world accessible to others, too- and as a Deaf person who has sight, I strive to work towards better access for DeafBlind community members and more.
I am a co-admin of a Facebook group only for Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, and Hard-of-Hearing babywearers, which has over 150 members- but I know there are many more babywearers out there! I try to have local meetups with my Deaf friends who babywear, and I want to make sure I work with DeafBlind and DeafDisabled (e.g. wheelchair-users, Deaf Cerebral Palsy wearers, etc) babywearers down the road, too. I see a lot of struggle similar to mine- making sure they learn with limited in-person resources. Oftentimes we post videos in ASL, or many pictures to troubleshoot with each other and try to be positive and encouraging about the difficult moments in learning how to babywear. Finding sign language interpreters who are willing to volunteer time to attend meetups with us, and who have the required language skills to interpret technical terms and vocabulary that babywearing has, can be difficult. So we often lean on each other and our knowledge, as Deaf people have always done throughout human history. I look forward to seeing the Deaf babywearing community grow and prosper!