Giving deaf mothers a voice

Monday, March 29th, 2021 00:00 |
Judy with one of the deaf mothers she supports at the hospital. Photo/COURTESY

Judy Kihumba’s experience with her recent pregnancy gave her the strength to help women with hearing impairment go through stages of motherhood.

Harriet James @harriet86jim

In 2019 July, Judy Kihumba gave birth to a bouncing baby girl. While most women get excited at receiving a bundle of joy, she wasn’t, as she had already resigned to not having another child. 

“I had postpartum depression (PPD) and the trigger was the miscarriages I had experienced before.

I didn’t expect to have another baby, and it was hard for me to accept it,” she narrates.

Thanks to the support of her friends, Judy was able to go through the season.

Then last year in November, she received a call that there was a deaf girl at Mama Lucy hospital who hadn’t gone for prenatal clinics, and was all alone in the hospital to deliver.

The woman was an orphan and assisting her birthed a passion in Judy to assist deaf women.

“When I took the baby and the mother where they lived, I felt I should not just leave them as they were; the house had nothing.

She was sleeping on a mattress on the floor. I took it upon myself to take care of her,” says Judy. 

Through friends and her connections, Judy was able to mobilise resources to assist the young woman by buying a bed and a meko gas, and paying the house rent.

Understanding what she went through with her baby and the support from friends motivated Judy to do more for the her and many other deaf women in the same situation. 

“This girl made me think about so many other deaf people in need who may not receive support.

I thought about how hard it was when I had PPD, how I didn’t want to breastfeed my baby or even hold her and people were all supportive for me and that’s what birthed the desire to assist the deaf people,” she adds.

At caretakers’ mercy

PPD is one of the most common perinatal mood disorders that affect women after child birth. 

According to Postpartum International (PSI), one in seven women will suffer PPD in their lifetime.

Statistics from Unicef indicate there are more than 1.5 million births annually in Kenya.

It is also said there are approximately 88 consultant psychiatrists only to serve the entire population, a clear indication that there is a need for more mental health resources particularly for deaf women who are completely forgotten in this equation.

“The people who can hear may not understand what the deaf go through simply because they can’t communicate.

We have a society and care givers who offer support to mothers with PPD, but the deaf mothers have no one to take care of and support them.

I am partnering with psychiatrists and people in the health centres so that they can understand and know how to handle them,” explains Judy.

Judy adds that in most instances, deaf people are left at the mercies of their caretakers.

During Covid-19, when hospital visits were restricted, majority of them suffered. 

To fill this gap, Judy created a WhatsApp group with all the deaf women to support, inform and encourage them.  

She educates them through video calls, visits them using all that she can to get the message to them. It also acted as a platform for them to share what they are going through.

In addition, Judy registered, Talking Hands and Listening Eyes, an organisation to assist deaf women going through PPD. 

“Having been a deaf specialist for quite some time, I wanted to break the silence deaf women go through and can’t express themselves due to communication barriers.

My vision is to see a society where deaf women and new mums, their families and caregivers are informed about PPD and have access to support and resources to improve their mental health throughout the pregnancy and early parenthood,” explains Judy.

Doing this has not been a walk in the park though. First, she has had to navigate high expectations deaf women sometimes place on her despite having limited resources. 

“Though I check up and follow up on them every day, they think I can solve all the problems which sometimes is impossible,” she says 

The lack of information for the deaf mums is also a challenge as she always finds herself explaining new things to them.

“Communication barrier is the greatest of all. For the hearing people you can get to hear of mental health or any information from any source as long as you understand the language for example someone might be in a matatu talking about it, radio, TV and from friends. For the deaf, the only language they use is sign,” she says.

For now, Judy relies on friends and her savings to support the women, but is looking for more sustainable projects in future for support.

She also seeks to partner with institutions where mothers can be equipped with financial skills as well as psychological support.

In addition, she wants to set up a rescue centre for therapy and training where mothers will get skills and get support where they can start up their lives. 

“I have learnt how to take a day at a time and being positive in life by walking with these women, which has also been my therapy as well.

Putting a smile on these mums’ faces and giving them hope even as they raise their children is the best feeling in the world,” she says in conclusion. 

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