Disclaimer: This contains more f-bombs than “Fuck: The Documentary”. If that’s not your thing, please direct your attention to the 373, 000 other articles about microtia that do not use the word “fuck”. Actually make that 372, 998, because I am pretty sure that search result contains the last two potty-mouthed posts I wrote on the same subject. My bad.
Parenting a child with a visible difference is interesting, because people can say some truly fucking stupid things to you. In honour of National Microtia Awareness Day I reached out to the microtia community in Australia, to help me put together this selection of frequently asked stupid questions about microtia.
If I can teach just ONE person not to be a dumb fuck, my work here is done.
** dusts hands**
1.. What’s wrong with your kid?
There is nothing “WRONG” with my kid.
- What happened to his ear?
I know it can be awkward and phrasing this question involves a minefield of social etiquette, so I let it slide if people are genuine and kind. I am totally cool with people who want to know more about my son’s condition without being rude or intrusive, and I appreciate the opportunity it offers to educate people.
So here’s the short supermarket-queue spiel (at least, the one you have when your four year old is not cracking the shits because he wants a Kinder Surprise):
“My son has microtia and atresia, a congenital birth defect that forms during the first trimester of pregnancy. Microtia is the absence of the outer ear and atresia is the absence of the ear canal and inner ear structures. He has unilateral deafness and will need to wear a bone-conducting hearing aid for the rest of his life.”
- What’s that thing on his head?
“That thing” is his hearing aid, and he needs it to hear. It’s not a headband, it’s not some insufferable hipster statement and it’s not fucking bluetooth (yes people really say this, and sometimes I wonder what all this wireless technology is doing to our brains).
Kids with microtia wear bone-conducting hearing aids. They don’t have the outer ear structure or ear canal to support conventional behind-the-ear hearing aids, so they wear theirs on a soft band that positions the transmitter at the side of their skull.
The technology is fantastic and as they get older they can have the devices surgically implanted, but until their skulls mature and thicken they need to wear these less-than-discreet headbands to support the hearing aid.
Girls wear the headbands. Boys wear the headbands.
Of course, this leads to a lot of stupid questions. So many stupid questions.
- Hur hur hur… Is he a tennis player? Is he Bjorn Borg?
Hur hur hur…. Are you a stand-up comedian? Are you Jerry Seinfeld?
- Is that (hearing aid) a hands-free for your phone?
Sure is! Doesn’t everyone use their infant child’s malleable skull like it’s a handy new accessory for the latest iPhone?
- Will he be taking his hearing aid off for school/Santa/other photos?
Would you ask someone to remove their prosthetic leg? Or get out of their wheelchair? Or take their glasses off? It’s a hearing device, not a fashion accessory. He needs it to hear you. But thanks for implying that it looks like shit.
- Can he go swimming?
Only at midnight during the winter solstice in the presence of a supermoon.
Of course he can go fucking swimming.
- What drugs were you taking for his ear to look like that?
What drugs were you taking for your mouth to say something like that?
Here’s the thing about microtia. There isn’t much known about the reasons why this deformity occurs, though it has been linked to genetics and perhaps one drug – the acne medication Roaccutane.
Here’s the thing, Asker of Stupid Questions… We already feel shit about this and have re-examined in painful detail every single thing we ate, drank, breathed in, looked at or listened to while we were pregnant. Who the fuck knows? Maybe it was that one time I got stuck in a taxi with a middle-aged cab driver who insisted on listening to talkback radio the entire way home from the city.
(For the record, I have never personally taken Roaccutane, but even if I – or any other parent had – you can still go fuck yourself with this judgemental question. No one is to blame for their child’s microtia. NO. ONE).
Which leads me to my next stupid question…
- Whose fault is it that he looks like that?
Well, if you are talking about those beautiful green eyes, I’m pleased to say they are my husband’s fault.
He does have my golden blonde hair though, and I sure hope he gets to keep it all because my husband went bald before his 30th birthday. Damn genes.
Oh wait… You mean the ear thing, don’t you?
Read my lips: IT IS NO ONE’S FAULT.
Let’s be real here… Your question is not really a question and is purely designed to lay blame and make the parents of that kid feel like utter shit. Kudos to you, asshole.
- Will they do anything to make him look normal?
Tell me what “normal” looks like, and then we’ll talk…
- Will he be able to walk straight?
To be fair, if this is a stupid question then call me stupid, because I kind of wondered about this after having my son too.
The deformity associated with microtia effects the inner ear structures, and in addition to being vital for hearing they are important for balance. As far as I can tell, microtia doesn’t seem to impact on people’s sense of equilibrium.
So yes, they can walk straight – at least until they have their first underage binge-drinking session down at the local park.
- When are you getting it fixed?
To be fair, this is a pretty good question, but “fixing” microtia is more complicated than you think. It’s not quite as simple as getting a boob job. Or having your labia puffed.
There are two entirely separate issues at play:
1) The missing ear canal needs surgery for hearing purposes
Australian surgeons do not routinely reconstruct the ear canal, so most Aussie kids will probably get by with hearing aids for their entire life. Surgeons in the US can perform that surgery, but it costs in excess of $100 000 (faaaaark) for Aussies who go overseas. That puts it out of reach for the majority of families.
2) The missing outer ear needs surgery for cosmetic purposes
Reconstructing the outer ear is entirely separate, and more easily “fixed” than the ear canal issue – but it won’t restore any hearing. There are several options to choose from, such as rib graft surgeries, synthetic prosthetics and (soon) 3D printed ears, which would be the least invasive (and freaking coolest) option.
So in summary: whoever said “there’s no such thing as a stupid question” was totally full of shit – and clearly never had a kid with microtia. I’ve written about my son’s condition a couple of times before, and the links are below for anyone interested in further reading.