Life as a deaf mother, an interview with Uzma from Mabel Child

Parenting can be a challenge for us all, there is no doubt. Being able to hear and communicate with our children is something we take for granted. We rely on our hearing to keep our children safe and to meet their practical needs, not to mention communicating with them! First words, learning to read, conversations with teenagers – not being able to hear your child’s voice surely adds infinite complexity.

Born partially deaf, Uzma Westbury is now profoundly deaf. She’s also a wife, mother of three girls and a businesswoman. And she’s an inspiration! We’ve had the pleasure of getting to know this stylish lady through her beautiful boutique Mabel Child.

How is it to be deaf in our society and what is life like as a deaf mother? Uzma has been kind enough to tell us, and we’d love to share.

mabel child founder and deaf mama

deaf mama daughter love

1. Tell us about yourself – where you come from, where you live, your family.

I was born in Pakistan. When I was 4 years old my parents found out about my deafness and we moved to London. They felt the opportunities for education, speech therapy and contact with the deaf community would be greater for me.

My father, a businessman, owned a factory manufacturing textiles in Karachi. I remember he had to travel to and from London every month, whilst I stayed with my mother in the U.K. I have three sisters and one brother. Unfortunately for me, all my family moved back to Pakistan when I was in my twenties.

Previously I worked as a freelance womenswear fashion designer in Dubai, but I stopped when I became pregnant with my first daughter. I haven’t returned to my own fashion label since because I just don’t have the time to design!

My family inspire me – so much so I set up my online shop, Mabel Child. My father worked very hard with his own business and I love dressing up together with my girls. I live in a large flat on Finchley Road, where there is enough space for my business.

mabel child daughters

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2. Have you always been deaf? Do hearing issues run in your family?

As a 3-year-old I wasn’t talking and didn’t seem to respond to any sounds. I just screamed when I wanted something. My parents knew there was something wrong with me. They brought me to a hospital in England, all the way from Karachi, and that is how they found out. I am the only deaf person in my family.

3. How did you meet your partner? Do you find it easy to communicate with each other?

My husband and I went to the same boarding school for deaf children. We use sign language and it’s our first language. I find it much easier and relaxing than trying to lip-read.

mabel child deaf parents

Our children are all hearing. We use British Sign Language and speak as well. I don’t force them to use sign language; I always encourage them and eventually they will learn it naturally. My eldest daughter produced her first sign when she was 1 year old. When I didn’t hear the doorbell, she would alert me. My second daughter is the opposite; she didn’t want to sign until she turned five!

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toddler communication deaf parenting

5. What are the biggest challenges of being a deaf parent?

Being deaf is not always easy. We have to work hard to achieve and for our future. There are good and bad aspects. I have an interpreter at work for meetings and phone calls. Luckily, I receive funding for this through Access to Work. I am very happy to have someone who is able to help me!

There are so many great opportunities with my children. We take our children everywhere! If we go to the theatre we can often get discounted tickets if no access is available. We can go to subtitled cinema screenings. We do get good access but it is not always guaranteed. The negative side is that we are worried about the future and possible funding cuts to BSL interpreters.

I’m often asked: how can we hear our baby cry when we are sleeping? We have a special alarm with a flashing light and vibrating alert.

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6. How do you manage playdates and time with other families?

We have regular contact with both deaf and hearing parents. We always find it easier and more relaxing with deaf parents. Sometimes I find it hard to fit into a group at school — all the parents are hearing. Sometimes I have to make an extra effort and text parents for playdates. With other deaf parents it happens more naturally — we stay all day, chatting, while our children play.

7. Aside from being a mum you also run an amazing online boutique. Can you tell us how Mabel Child came about?

I have always loved fashion! Before my children were born, I was obsessed with fashion and shopping. I loved to style my children, buying independent brands. With this, plus the inspiration and all I’ve learnt from my father, it was a natural decision to establish my own online boutique shortly after my third child was born.

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8. What do you love most about your shop?

Almost everything! I love it when a delivery arrives. It’s like receiving Christmas presents! I get very excited, show my children and dress them up. Though it’s not always easy to style my girls. They can be very fussy!

9. You’ve just had cochlear implant surgery! Tell us about that.

Throughout my childhood I was hard of hearing and could hear quite well with hearing aids: music, sounds and even communication. However, as I got older my hearing has significantly deteriorated and it’s become more difficult. I was worried that in another few years I might not hear with hearing aids.

So, I decided to have a cochlear implant. It has been four months since the operation and I have noticed a difference. It’s not been life changing for me, as some deaf people report, because I remember hearing sounds. Now everything is much louder!

For someone who has never heard sounds such as birdsong, the kettle boiling or a tap dripping, hearing these sounds for the first time must be an incredible experience. For me, it has increased my confidence, particularly when talking to other mums at the school gate. Previously, I found it difficult to hear people who are softly spoken, but now I’m able to hear more clearly. I don’t expect the cochlear implant to make me a hearing person. I simply want to hear better for my future.

When I decided to go ahead with surgery I felt very nervous. I was concerned I might not like the implant as I’ve heard both positive and negative stories. It’s important to have a realistic expectation of the potential results. Often hearing people see the implant as a cure for deafness, but this is simply not true. I’m still deaf. Once I take off the implant, I can’t hear anything.

It also takes time for your brain to get used to the sounds. Initially, voices sounded quite robotic and distorted, and completely different to my hearing aids. After about one month I got used to it. It’s really important for parents of a deaf child to be allowed to make an informed decision without pressure. They have to decide what is right for their child in terms of their communication. Their child may not want to have the operation, or may be better suited to learning British Sign Language.

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10. What does the future hold for you?

My dream is to have a sweet boutique somewhere around Hampstead. At the moment, renting a shop would be a big commitment and I want to take building the business slowly.

I have no idea what will be happening in ten years time! I just go with the flow and see! I want my children to look at me, see a hard working mummy and be proud.

Also, I want show deaf people out there that they can do anything and achieve their dreams! Some deaf people think it is impossible to set up a business. My husband was the first deaf man to reach the North Pole and has run 26 marathons! He has visited many deaf schools to give presentations about his achievements. You should never give up hope.

The beautiful photos of Uzma and her sweet family are by the talented Becky Bailey.


Comments (5)

October 10, 2017

Wonderful to read about Uzma’s courage and resilience. My father had two sisters who were fully deaf and I remember very well when one of them, whom I was close to, had her first child, and then another child. I was a teenager back then and all seemed so smoothness but of course it was very hard..thank you for featuring this portrait. it’s inspiring and well done to Uzma (beautiful name by the way!)

October 10, 2017

I really found this interesting to read about a mother facing different challenges and how uzma has also started a beautiful business! I am going to look at your store now! X

Rosie Parsons
October 10, 2017

Very moving and an eye opening read, thank you for sharing xx

October 10, 2017

Thank you for sharing – a truly inspirational Mummy!

October 10, 2017

You should get a business plan together and get crowd funding? Use the Deaf pound to your advantage!

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