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Waiting for baby

by Charlie Swinbourne

13th August 2008

Life-changing news arrives when you least expect it. On a Sunday night three months ago, I was lying in bed in a very bad mood. I'd just driven six painful hours back from an unconventional stag weekend in the Welsh mountains. There, at the end of a 'fun' uphill walk in wet bog land, I'd been unfortunate enough to slip into a stream, cracking a rib on a jagged underwater rock.
The bump that is Charlie's and his girlfriend's new baby
So there I lay, tired and grouchy - even the slightest movement made me wince - when my girlfriend uttered four little words.

"I think I'm pregnant."

In an instant, everything changed. Literally everything. I was wide awake. My body was miraculously free of pain, and all memories of the weekend had vanished. Instead, my head was filled with an amazing vision of myself carrying our baby in my arms, whilst running in slow motion on a beach. There was a broad grin on my face, and glistening droplets of water sprayed up as I ran. It was like the opening credits of Baywatch, just with the lifeguard holding a kid.

All at once a multitude of feelings hit me - pride, happiness and extreme fear. Then I realised that I hadn't responded to my girlfriend in any way whatsoever, and spent the next few minutes convincing her that I was very happy indeed.
The bump that is Charlie's and his girlfriend's new baby

She's now nearly five months gone, and the bump is getting bigger every week. Like most parents-to-be, we've had a huge debate about we're expecting a boy or a girl - I want to know, but she doesn't. She won the argument by virtue of being the one carrying the baby - I can't really compete with that!

Luckily, a friend recently came up with the perfect gender-free name for the bump - 'Swinbean'. It's a name we've fallen in love with. Not sure if it would work as a first name - 'Swinbean Swinbourne' might lead to a bit of playground teasing - but we're not ruling anything out. (Incidentally, for the purposes of this article I'm calling Swinbean a 'he', but don't read anything into it. We don't know, Mum - honest!)

When we passed the magic three-month mark, we decided to tell everyone the news. It was then that I noticed something interesting. As happy as my hearing friends were for us, I kept being asked the same question in response - and it wasn't whether our forthcoming arrival was a boy or a girl.

"Do you think the baby will be deaf or hearing?"

The question didn't offend me, but I can honestly say that until then I had never thought about it. I'd just been thinking, simplistically perhaps, that we were going to have a baby, and preparing myself for all the responsibilities that come with looking after a newborn.

But once the question had been asked - around twenty times, no less - I couldn't help but spend a lot of time wondering which one Swinbean will be: deaf or hearing.

It would help if he could make it clear to us from the start. If he came Into the world wearing cute miniature hearing aids and signing nineteen to the dozen, we'd have cast iron proof that he's deaf. By contrast, if he popped out babbling away to his baby friends on a mobile phone, then we'd be marking the hearing card.

Back in reality, however, deaf people do have a top secret method of finding out about their baby's hearing while they're still at the hospital, weeks before the NHS screening program for newborns kicks in. It involves 'accidentally' dropping a suitable object - preferably a metal tray - onto the hospital floor while the baby is in the room. Whether it flinches in response to the loud clanging noise, or keeps perfectly still, gives parents a clue. It's rumoured to be a very accurate method, but I can't help thinking that it's a rather cruel test to subject on a baby.

So, testing aside, what are the chances of Swinbean being deaf?

For a start, both his parents are deaf. My deafness is classified as being 'moderate to severe', while my girlfriend is rated as 'severely to profoundly deaf'. This alone doesn't increase the chances that we'll have a deaf baby. After all, around nine out of ten deaf babies are born to hearing parents.
A scan of Swinbean, Charlie's and his girlfriend's forthcoming baby
I'm no geneticist, but since my mum, dad and two brothers are deaf, it's pretty clear that my deafness is hereditary. In my girlfriend's case, her parents are hearing, but her older sister is also deaf, so she probably inherited it via a deaf gene carried by her mother or father.

Taking all that into consideration, the chances of Swinbean being born deaf must be pretty high. But it's not certain. We have deaf friends, sometimes with a history of deafness going back hundreds of years, who were surprised to break with tradition and have a hearing kid.

As Swinbean's parents, we honestly don't mind either way whether he's deaf or hearing, and - here's the cheesy, sentimental bit - we'll love him just the way he is. With deaf parents and grandparents, he'll definitely learn to sign, even if he's hearing.

In the meantime, with four months to go before any tray-dropping antics are considered, I'm preparing for either eventuality.

In case Swinbean can hear, I'm stocking up on '70s folk music. He may even wish he was deaf when he hears some John Martyn tunes ringing out. And if he's deaf, he'll have a massive collection of old Charlie Chaplin silent movies to choose from for his viewing pleasure.

Then, a few months after the birth, I'll take our baby down to the beach and, cradling him in my arms, I'll recreate the opening credits of Baywatch in extreme slow motion. To Swinbean at least, just for those few moments, Dad will be even cooler than David Hasselhoff.

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