Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mother of two deaf daughters chronicles her family's ancestry of deaf women

From The Daily Iowan:

According to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders, roughly two to three children out of 1,000 are born deaf or hard of hearing.

Both of author Jennifer Rosner’s daughters became part of those statistics when they were born deaf. After the birth of her first deaf daughter, Sophia, doctors told Jennifer Rosner the likelihood of her second child having the same disorder was rare. Little Juliet proved them wrong.

“I started writing [If a Tree Falls] initially because I was trying to process what was happening,” Rosner said. “I had experienced a lot of grief over the loss but also joy.”

Before becoming an author and a mother, Rosner received a B.A. in philosophy from Columbia University and then a Ph.D. in philosophy from Stanford. Rosner will read from If A Tree Falls at 7 p.m. today in Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St.

The book chronicles the author’s experience working with her deaf daughters and discovering a hidden ancestry line of deaf women in her family that can be traced all the way to Europe. Rosner’s book also details what some would consider controversial decisions she and her husband had to make about surgeries, sign language, and hearing aids.

“One reason we wanted to host Jennifer is because she’s a longtime participant in the Iowa Writing Festival,” Prairie Lights co-owner Jan Weissmiller said. “It’s more unusual to have someone who actually took classes while she was working on her book.”

While uncovering details from deaf women in her family line, the East Coast native learned specifically about two deaf family members who lived in the 1800s. Rosner’s great-great aunts tied one end of a string to the wrist of their babies and the other end to themselves so that when their babies woke up in the night, they could feel the tugging and be able to tend to them.

“That detail showed the connection and the different ways of hearing,” Rosner said. “There were fears about my children’s hearing but also a more complicated fear about my hearing them.”

As Rosner delved further into the story behind her daughters’ hereditary deafness, she uncovered a hidden world of deaf family members. A copy of a family tree that her father gave her showed a large number of ancestors who had experienced deafness or some sort of hearing loss. But the author needed more information.

“I didn’t find how they lived, which was what I was most hungry for,” she said. “I just needed to know how they lived.”

The lack of information prompted her to imagine what it would have been like for her ancestors in the early 19th century to deal with deafness and combine it with “contemporary memoirs” of having to raise two deaf daughters.

“That process, for me, was like a projection screen for all that I was carrying for my own children — fears, worries about isolation, and hope,” Rosner said. “[I was also] trying to grapple with my own issues as a child, which was affecting my experience with having deaf kids.”

Weissmiller is excited to bring Rosner to Prairie Lights and is even more excited to help people learn about the issues If a Tree Falls deals with.

“We like to have a certain number of readers who [can have an open discussion about] disabilities, and we’re looking forward to the reading,” she said