Deaf parents navigate birth of twins during pandemic

Corey and Jennifer Axelrod of Arlington Heights had their birth plan all spelled out for the twins they were preparing to welcome this spring.

They would go to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where Jenny would deliver the duo with her doctor and American Sign Language interpreters present - because she and her husband both are deaf.

Then the coronavirus pandemic set in.

The twins, born April 1, still arrived at Christ Medical Center, and their parents still had the assistance of interpreters at some points during the process. But while baby Ryder is home, baby Jordan remains at Advocate Children's Hospital in Oak Lawn, the twins' father said.

"Communicating with health care providers has been a challenge, primarily because they often are using masks. The masks are not transparent," said Axelrod, 34. "Fortunately, we have been working with a great team, and they have tried to get masks that are transparent so you can actually see through them. So we are grateful for that."

But during one recent visit to see Jordan in the hospital, Axelrod said, a monitor was going off and causing interference with the hearing aides he wears in both ears.

"I couldn't hear anyone," he said. "And I thought, 'This is not good.'"

Corey Axelrod snuggles with one of his twin sons, Ryder, who was born April 1 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Communicating with health workers after the births of Ryder and his brother, Jordan, has been challenging at times for Axelrod and his wife, Jennifer Axelrod, both of whom are deaf. Courtesy of Corey Axelrod

Axelrod uses the aides to augment his residual hearing, and he communicates through American Sign Language, his first language, as well as through spoken English. He advocates for others who are deaf or hard of hearing through his role as president of the Illinois Association of the Deaf, and he advises businesses on how to provide equitable and inclusive experiences through his consulting and training company, 2axend.

Axelrod said the pandemic is showing the consequences of being reactive to the communication needs of people who are deaf instead of preparing for them proactively.

He said he's grateful the hospital provided in-person interpreters because video interpreting services aren't adequate in all situations. But he knows other people who are deaf or hard of hearing are struggling to access medical services through the telehealth video and phone visits that are becoming so common during the pandemic.

Jordan Axelrod was born April 1 and remains at Advocate Children's Hospital in Oak Lawn. His parents, who are deaf, have struggled at times while visiting him to communicate with health care workers who were wearing masks because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy of Corey Axelrod

"More often than not, the technology that exists does not include a sign language interpreter as part of the conversation," he said. "Telehealth right now is a significant challenge."

Outside the health care world, Axelrod said, even well-meaning services - such as online ordering for groceries - sometimes leave gaps by requiring users to call when they arrive for pickup, instead of offering a texting function. And businesses now switching to a heavy emphasis on Zoom calls or other video meetings may be overlooking the needs of employees who are deaf or hard of hearing, especially if their meetings do not feature live captioning and interpreters.

Ryder Axelrod was born April 1 at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. His parents, Jennifer and Corey Axelrod of Arlington Heights, had their birth plan thrown off because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they credit their health care team with still providing sign language interpreters at some points of the birthing process to help with communication because they both are deaf. Courtesy of Corey Axelrod

"There's a lot of different things that need to be changed to make the world less dependent on sound and more visual. I realize we're in middle of a pandemic, and it will be hard to navigate," he said. "I wish this world was a much more inclusive place."

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.