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A Sisterly Bond – and the Bachelor

The two sisters share a bond and experience like no other. “It’s been really nice to have somebody that knows exactly what you’re going through,” Abigail says. “There are small instances, if one of us forgets a battery, usually the other one carries a back up, just small things like that.”

Lea en Español

By Kirsten Ballard

Growing up, Abigail Heringer never wanted to talk about her cochlear implant. She was happy in the background. “I remember one time I had a laptop that would transcribe what the teacher was saying, but I had to sit at the very front of the classroom for it to do that. And I hated that. It felt like everybody was looking at me.”

So it was a bit of a twist when after being furloughed from her event planning job due to COVID, Abigail applied for-—and went on—ABC’s The Bachelor.

Abigail is the younger of two daughters, both deaf, born to Suzie Heringer. Suzie recalls when her father spent a day with her older daughter, Rachel, and said to her: “Ask the doctor about her hearing.” It was right before Rachel’s 12-month checkup at the pediatrician.

Rachel’s hearing had not been on Suzie’s radar but she mentioned it at the checkup anyway. They were referred to an audiologist and Rachel was tested. She did not hear anything in the soundbooth.

They went to the Eugene Hearing and Speech Center and Rachel was fitted with hearing aids. Sadly, they made no difference. While Suzie was working on this concern with Rachel, Abigail was soon born and she failed the newborn hearing test. Doctors thought it might have been a fluke but two weeks later, she failed the full AABR. Abigail was fitted with hearing aids at two months old.

“When we found out about Rachel, it was really hard just because we didn’t know any people [who are deaf]. We didn’t know what that would mean for her. How would we parent her? What would her life look like going forward?” Suzie says. “So when we had the ABR [for Abigail] and knew that she couldn’t hear, it was almost just a relief because now we knew, and we knew from what we had learned with Rachel what we needed to do going forward. We just kind of figured that they would have a bond like nobody else would have or understand.”

The summer after Abigail was born, the family went to the John Tracy Center and saw kids with cochlear implants for the first time. “Up until that point, we had been doing early intervention, trying to get the most out of their hearing aids to see if they had any sound awareness, and they really didn’t, so we were very excited about the possibility of cochlear implants.”

Rachel received her cochlear implant when she was two.

“We were super excited when [Rachel] had the cochlear implant and then having it turned on,” she says. “We wandered down to use the bathroom and when she flushed the toilet she completely freaked out that she had heard the toilet for the first time. And so to me, that was exciting even though it’s not a speech sound, it was a noise that she hadn’t heard before. And so I knew we were making progress.”

Abigail received her own cochlear implant a year and a half later, when she turned two.

The two sisters share a bond and experience like no other. “It’s been really nice to have somebody that knows exactly what you’re going through,” Abigail says. “There are small instances, if one of us forgets a battery, usually the other one carries a back up, just small things like that.”

“We have a really similar situation, but I think personality wise and even the paths that we’ve taken are so different,” says Rachel. “Growing up we had all the same teachers, friends, audiologists, but our paths were very different.”

For instance, no one ever anticipated that Abigail would end up as a contestant on The Bachelor. However, it was more than just a game show; it was a chance to show the world that someone with Listening and Spoken Language could achieve.

On The Bachelor, Abigail opened up about her hearing loss. Though she did not get the final rose on Matt’s season, she did become a sensation in the community of people who are deaf, and later, found love on Bachelor in Paradise.

“I wanted to never really talk about my hearing loss. I was horrible at advocating for myself. And so this last year I’ve had to kind of be the complete opposite. It hasn’t always been comfortable. But I was surprised at how people want me to talk about it. It makes me feel better,” she says.

Since the show, fans have reached out, opening up about their own hearing loss and experiences. Abigail was surprised how much her story resonated.

Her family was surprised-—and supportive—when Abigail announced she was going on the show.

“I remember calling my mom like, is this real? Is this real? Like, is this really happening?” laughs Rachel. “I think a small part of me was always really nervous about the response… But like Abigail said, the positive response that she has gotten has been so amazing and inspiring and it’s fun to see other people get to know her the way that we do in our family. I’m super proud. And she did find love on her journey.”

Abigail heaps praise on the cast and crew for being accommodating and understanding, willing to repeat things, and even on one adventure–pumpkin themed boats–holding her processor so she wouldn’t get it wet.

“There were moments where the show actually worked in my favor,” she says. “Like cocktail parties, when I got to sit with Matt, the lead, just because it has to be so quiet for the cameras and for the microphones to pick up what we’re saying. So that was very ideal for me versus maybe a first-date setting in the real world, you know, at a bar or restaurant. But what I struggled with the most was group dates because it’s a kind of free for all – there’s so many group conversations – and I was always just one step behind because I would have to spend time looking around to see who said what. And then at that point, the conversations had moved on.”

However, she gained confidence, a sense of self, and a new boyfriend as a result of the whole experience.

“She… is able to advocate for herself,” says Suzie. “And as a parent, you worry less when you know that they’ve got it. And I’m confident in saying both my girls, they’ve got it now.”

Un vínculo fraternal – y The Bachelor

Durante su desarrollo, Abigail Heringer nunca quiso hablar de su implante coclear. Se sentía feliz pasando desapercibida. «Recuerdo una ocasión en que tenía una computadora portátil que transcribía lo que decía el maestro, pero para ello debía sentarme en la parte delantera del aula. Me sentí fatal. Me parecía que todo el mundo me miraba».

La situación dio un giro imprevisto cuando, después de ser despedida de su trabajo de planificación de eventos debido a la COVID, Abigail se presentó y fue elegida para participar en el programa The Bachelor del canal de televisión estadounidense ABC.

Abigail es la más pequeña de dos hermanas, ambas con sordera, cuya madre se llama Suzie Heringer. Suzie recuerda que el padre pasó un día con la hermana mayor, Rachel, y le dijo: «Dile al médico que le revise la audición». Eso fue poco antes de la revisión pediátrica de los 12 meses de Rachel.

Suzie no pensaba que la audición de Rachel fuera un tema importante, pero de todos modos lo mencionó en la revisión. Rachel fue derivada a un audiólogo que le realizó un examen. En la cabina de sonido no escuchaba nada.

Acudieron al centro Eugene Hearing and Speech Center y Rachel fue equipada con audífonos. Lamentablemente, no sirvieron de nada. Mientras Suzie se ocupaba de este problema de Rachel, nació Abigail que no pasó la prueba del cribado auditivo neonatal. Los médicos pensaron que podría haber habido algún incidente, pero dos semanas después tampoco pasaría la prueba de PEATC. A Abigail le equiparon con audífonos a los dos meses de vida.

«Cuando nos enteramos del problema de Rachel, nos resultó bastante difícil asimilarlo porque no conocíamos a ninguna persona [que tuviera sordera]. No sabíamos lo que significaría para ella. ¿Cómo la criaríamos? ¿Cómo sería su vida en el futuro?», relata Suzie. «Cuando nos entregaron los resultados de la prueba de PEATC [de Abigail] y nos enteramos de que no podía oír, fue casi un alivio porque conocíamos, por haberlo aprendido con Rachel, lo que tendríamos que hacer en el futuro. Pensamos que tendrían un vínculo entre ellas que nadie más tendría o entendería».

El verano posterior al nacimiento de Abigail, la familia visitó el John Tracy Center y pudo ver a niños con implantes cocleares por primera vez. «Hasta ese momento, acudíamos a servicios de intervención temprana, tratando de sacar el máximo partido de los audífonos y comprobar si percibían algún sonido, que nunca llegaron a percibir, por lo que estábamos muy entusiasmados con la posibilidad de los implantes cocleares».

Rachel recibió un implante coclear cuando tenía dos años.

«Sentimos una gran emoción cuando [Rachel] recibió el implante coclear y, a continuación, lo encendieron», explica. «Salimos en busca de los aseos y, cuando apretó el botón de descarga de agua del inodoro, se llevó un susto tremendo porque era la primera vez que escuchaba ese ruido. Para mí también fue emocionante porque, aunque no fuera un sonido del habla, era un ruido que no había escuchado antes. De esta manera, supe que estábamos avanzando».

Abigail recibió un implante coclear un año y medio después, al cumplir los dos años.

Las dos hermanas comparten un vínculo y una experiencia singulares. «Ha sido una suerte tener a alguien que sabe exactamente por lo que estás pasando», dice Abigail. «Hay momentos en los que, si una de nosotras se olvida de las pilas, la otra llevará alguna extra, cosas de este tipo».

«Tenemos una situación muy similar, pero creo que nuestra personalidad e incluso los caminos que hemos tomado son muy diferentes», dice Rachel. «En nuestra infancia, compartimos los mismos maestros, amigos y audiólogos, pero nuestros caminos fueron muy diferentes».

Por ejemplo, nadie habría anticipado que Abigail terminaría concursando en The Bachelor. Sin embargo, fue algo más que un programa; fue una oportunidad de mostrarle al mundo lo que alguien podía lograr con la Escucha y el Lenguaje Hablado.

En The Bachelor, Abigail habló de su pérdida auditiva. Si bien no obtuvo la rosa final en la temporada de Matt, causó una gran sensación en la comunidad de personas con sordera y, más tarde, encontraría el amor en Bachelor in Paradise.

«Nunca había querido realmente hablar de mi pérdida auditiva. Para mí era aterrador tener que defender mis derechos al respecto. Pero el año pasado la experiencia fue completamente opuesta. No siempre ha sido una situación cómoda, pero me sorprendió que la gente quisiera que les hablase de ella. Hace que me sienta mejor», afirma.

A partir del programa, los fans se han puesto en contacto y se han sincerado sobre su propia pérdida auditiva y sus experiencias. A Abigail le ha sorprendido hasta qué punto su relato ha tenido eco.

Su familia se sorprendió, y le apoyó, cuando Abigail anunció que aparecería en el programa.

«Recuerdo haber llamado a mi madre y preguntarle si todo era real. ¿Es esto real? ¿Está realmente sucediendo?», dice Raquel riendo. «Creo que, en parte, me sentía muy nerviosa por la respuesta… Pero como ha dicho Abigail, la respuesta positiva que ha recibido ha sido increíble e inspiradora, y es divertido ver que otras personas la conocen de la forma en que la conocemos en nuestra familia. Me siento muy orgullosa. Y encontró el amor en su camino».

Abigail elogia a los participantes y al equipo por ser tan serviciales y comprensivos, dispuestos a repetir cosas, e incluso en una aventura (con botes temáticos de calabaza), sujetándole el procesador para que no se mojara.

«Había momentos en los que el programa funcionaba realmente a mi favor», dice. «Como en los cócteles, cuando tenía que sentarme con Matt, el protagonista, y el entorno tenía que estar en silencio para que las cámaras y los micrófonos captasen lo que estábamos diciendo. Así que fue perfecto en mi caso, en lugar de tener una primera cita en la vida real, en un bar o en un restaurante. Lo más complicado eran las citas grupales porque todo el mundo iba por libre y había muchas conversaciones grupales, por lo que siempre me situaba un paso atrás para mirar a mi alrededor y averiguar quién hablaba. Cuando la hacía, las conversaciones ya habían avanzado».

No obstante, ganó confianza, un sentido de sí misma y un nuevo novio como resultado de toda la experiencia.

«Ella… es capaz de defender sus propios intereses», añade Suzie. «Y como madre, te preocupas menos cuando sabes que puede hacerlo. Puedo decir con seguridad que mis dos hijas pueden hacerlo ahora mismo».

 

 

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