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Pillow Talk for People With Hearing Loss

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When the lights go out, so does the conversation.

(I’ll say right now that this article doesn’t refer to any intimate practices beyond speaking, whispering or the translation of a verbal message. If you’re looking for anything more titillating, you’re in the wrong place.)

A fundamental truism for people with hearing loss: the better the lighting and the lower the background noise, the better we communicate. But achieving perfect conditions is a rare event. During waking hours, there is light – and noise. Conversely, during the dark hours of the night, there is no distracting sound (especially with hearing aids or cochlear implants off), but there’s also no light by which to read lips and facial expressions.

Since I don’t cease to exist when the sun goes down and lights are dimmed, I must find other ways to communicate in darkened locations, such as when we’re out walking at night or around a summer campfire. Sometimes it’s strained; often it works.

But what about pillow talk? I just read that couples who talk in bed have happier relationships, and I’m going to have to break this news to my husband. But hey, there’s no rule that the lights have to be off for good pillow talk, right? Because frankly, when the lights are out, my husband and I have difficulty carrying on a meaningful conversation; it’s more like talking at the darkness. Apparently there is glow-in-the-dark lipstick which might help with the lip reading, but I’m not sure my partner would be keen on wearing it.

I could leave in my hearing aids, but in the dark, no matter how he bellowed his words, there would be some I’m just not going to “get.” Maybe we could pretend we’re talking, and simply recite stuff. I’d do my galloping rendition of “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and he’d probably rhyme off baseball stats from the 1960’s. Not sure if that would do much for our marriage, because I don’t think baseball stats are any more exciting in the dark than they are in the light.

I do admit being envious of couples who can lie together in bed in the dark and chatter away easily, intimately. It must be nice to be like “hearing” couples who can start yakking as soon as they wake up, and don’t have to wait until somebody grabs their hearing aid or CI and gets all connected. But we’ve got a workable system going now. Before the lights go out, we say whatever needs to be said.

Gael: “OK, we done now?”

Doug: “Hmm, I think so.”

Both: “OK, g’night.”

Gael takes out hearing aids and turns out light. A tap on the shoulder. She turns light on, gets hearing aids out, puts them in and says, “What?” Alternatively, Doug will forego the shoulder tap and speak directly into my ear that has good speech discrimination with something important such as, “Can you go turn out the light in the bathroom?” My son learned this ear-trick early. If he wanted to ask or tell Mommy something, he would lean down, place his head on mine and speak into my left ear. If he followed it with a hug, he usually got whatever he wanted.

So although pillow talk in our family may be a bit different than that of other couples, it works for us.

Lips At My Pillow

the soft grey of not-quite-day

sweet-sour breath pats my cheek in puffs of soundless words.

I pull his 5-year-old mouth to my ear

can I get up now?”

grunt is taken for a yes, and I feel the vibrations of his feet

thump-thump-thumping out of the room.

on the pillow I see you with

closed, and lips smiling at mother and son.

lips move.

I feel my voice in my throat –


fall back asleep and I watch you –
face, your lips, your deep voice so easy to understand.
And as I
watch your strong silent lips

remember another dawn when I saw them say

get married.”
I made you mouth it again and again, to be
sure I understood, to give the right answer.

lips – I can read their every nuance, they tell me everything.

you are about to make a joke

a kiss is blowing my way

they tighten in anger and
soften in love.

I can
“read” you and our son – this language I know.

should I lose the last shred of sound

voices will remain in my ears.

will always understand you –

your smiles, your eyes, your hands and your arms.
will always have your touch
every dawn I will have

lips at my pillow.

— Gael Hannan

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Photo by contributor.

Originally published: January 4, 2018
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