Real Life

Invercargill mum on how being deaf hasn’t held her family back

Despite the odds, this Mum is full of love.

Invercargill mother and grandmother Madz Meikle (46) is used to dealing with adversity. As a child, she endured a tough upbringing and began to lose her hearing – a problem her two daughters are now facing, while her youngest also battles a condition affecting her eyesight.

But Madz is determined that her children be surrounded by happiness and love as they grow up – something she says she missed out on herself. “I’m the ninth in a family of 10, but I was brought up by foster parents, and our own mother died young,” she reveals. “There wasn’t a lot of affection.”

Although she was born with hearing, these days, Madz is completely deaf in one ear. Fortunately, with a state-of-the-art aid, she can hear to some extent with the other. “If I’m on my own at home, I often don’t bother putting it in because there seems no point, but if I’m out and about, I need it,” she tells.

Her eldest daughter, Perdita (22) has since moved out of home and now has two daughters of her own, Chelsea (5) and Alexis (3). Perdita and her mother were both pregnant at the same time – as Madz also has a five-year-old daughter, Emily-Maree.

“They are the closest aunt and niece you’ll ever meet!” smiles Madz, adding that both girls go to the same school. Unfortunately, both of Madz’s daughters have inherited her hearing problems, while Emily-Maree has the added complication of being long-sighted, which was discovered when she was two.

Madz says she had no idea how bad the problem was until the little girl put her glasses on for the first time and started shouting with excitement, “Mummy, I can see!” “She also has a hearing aid, like mine,” tells Madz. “She manages very well and it doesn’t hold her back. She’s such an outgoing little ball of energy and she absolutely adores school. “The things she says and does often make me laugh. One day recently, they were playing touch rugby – and when she got the ball, everybody shouted and cheered her on. She was running in the wrong direction but it didn’t matter at all!”

Madz and Emily-Maree are lucky to have another helper at home too – a hearing dog named Sharn, who joined the family seven years ago. Sharn, a whippet, has proven to be very helpful in keeping the pair safe at home, and Madz shares the story of a night when the dog seemed unsettled, then began whimpering as the family was going to bed. “I looked around but everything seemed to be okay,” tells Madz. “I went into my bedroom but something still wasn’t right and Sharn just wouldn’t settle.”

Eventually, Madz got up again and, in the kitchen, saw the glow of a stove element, which had been left on.“It made me realise how very lucky I am to have her.”

Hearing dog Sharn has helped Madz and her girls immensely.

Madz – who moved from Auckland to Invercargill 10 years ago – says Sharn has helped with her confidence when out in public, which is something she’s struggled with in the past.

At times, she has battled crippling shyness and unease but these days, thanks to a wonderfully supportive local psychologist, she’s feeling a lot more confident in herself. “I’m still nervous about talking to strangers but with Sharn and my daughters, my life is so much richer now.”

Her eldest Perdita is an enormous support to her and although she’s had her own difficult times, coping with an ADHD diagnosis and the recent discovery that she too needs hearing aids, she’s happy and settled with her partner Anthony Sullivan (24).

“I’ve seen what Mum’s been through and it makes me want to help people in the same situation, so I’m studying mental health,” she says. Madz adds, “I think the key to getting better is putting the past right behind you and living in the moment.”

When her silent world leaves her feeling lonely, she often heads to the community message board on Trade Me. “I’ve been a member since 2001. In fact, I was one of the originals,” Madz says. “I’ve become firm friends with a few of them and we’ve met up and kept in touch. In fact, Emily-Maree is soon going up to stay with my Trade Me friend Gin in Auckland.

“So many times I’ve gone online, on a bad day, and the support and encouragement I’ve received has been what has got me through.”

When she isn’t busy with the family, Madz enjoys her hobby – bone carving – and will be exhibiting her work at Southland Museum later this year. “I’m best if I’m doing it specifically for somebody because that keeps me focused,” she says.

“When I was pregnant with my two children, I promised myself that they would have lives filled with fun and happy memories, and I think I’ve really achieved that. I look at them both and I feel so proud.”

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