Woman Tried to Hide Her Hearing Aids – Until Her Son Inspired Her to Embrace Her Disability
When she replaced her hearing aids with a cochlear ear implant, Kaja Montgomery knew she couldn’t hide her disability anymore.
For decades, Kaja Montgomery had been wearing flesh-coloured hearing aids. In her late 40s now, Montgomery was three years old when she first got hearing aids and doesn’t remember a time without them. Her two sons also suffer from hearing loss. But when she saw her older son happily looking over the bold colour choices for his own hearing aids, she was inspired to “come out of hiding.”
“We couldn’t hide our hearing aids,” Montgomery explains, “so we might as well be bold, have fun and wear them with pride.”
Another decade went by before Montgomery suspected that there was problem with one of her hearing aids. During a routine visit, her audiologist explained that the device was no longer sufficient for her right ear and gave her a referral to a cochlear implant clinic. Montgomery was surprised but decided to follow her doctor’s advice. When the cochlear implant clinic confirmed her need for an implant, she tried to prepare herself mentally for the surgery.
Why One Woman Wanted to Hide Her Hearing Aids
Cochlear implant surgery is not a small affair. Although it’s a relatively straightforward surgery and the success rate is very high — Montgomery’s surgeon described it as “a miracle” — the recovery period takes several months. The patient must retrain their brain to interpret audio signals picked up by the implant.
Montgomery admits that she was also worried about how she would look. The implant is placed under the skin, just behind the ear; but the processor, which attaches to the implant with magnets, measures about 9 mm by 6 mm. But Montgomery was once again encouraged by her son’s unapologetic stance to wearing flashy hearing aids. She also had to admit that she was now missing out on things because of her inability to hear. So she confirmed with the clinic that she was ready for the surgery.
Montgomery was in the hospital for only a day, but the results of the surgery were far from the miracle that she was expecting. Voices sounded computerized to her. Her own children’s voices were indistinguishable from strangers’. She suffered from intense headaches and painful swelling around the incision. She began to doubt her decision to replace her hearing aids with the implant.
Montgomery’s family rallied around her, helping her to relearn how to hear and pronounce words. She listened to hours and hours of TED Talks with the subtitles turned on. She followed along with the text while listening to audiobooks. Her sons would hide their mouths while speaking to her, forcing her to rely on the implant. They made it into a game, one that Montgomery hopes demystified a process that they, too, may undertake one day.
The retraining was exhausting and progress was slow. Montgomery started to panic. She knew that the first three months were critical to put the patterns of relearning in place. Would the whole ordeal be for nothing in the end?
How One Boy Inspired His Mom to Embrace Her Disability
Slowly but surely, Montgomery started to recognize the progress she was making. Voices were not only starting to sound less computerized — she was also able to distinguish between different tones of voice and accents. The headaches were easing up. The pain around the incision was gone. And then, one day, she realized that she could indeed hear better than she could before the surgery, with her hearing aids. The surgery was a success.
The experience was empowering and overflowed into other areas of Montgomery’s life. She decided she wasn’t going to hide the cochlear implant processor; she was going to wear it with style. She cut her hair short. “If someone looks at me and sees only my hearing loss, that’s on them.”
When a friend asked her why she doesn’t brush back her hair to cover her implant, Montgomery proudly responded, “Because I am a cyborg and proud.” She doesn’t let her hearing loss hold her back in any area of her life. She dances and plays the flute; she’s a kindergarten teacher for children with special needs.
Her son’s reaction to an array of bright and flashy hearing aids is inspiring. He embraces his difference and is proud of who he is. Montgomery knew that she had to live her life the same way. That’s why, when her younger son gifted her with a bright and playful processor cover for her birthday, Montgomery was delighted. The cover is blue with an image of a white cat playing with a red ball of yarn. Montgomery thinks it looks perfect in her black hair.
“Each morning before I walk out the door, I push away my hair to make sure everyone can see it,” she says confidently.