“Do I really need to wear this? You look like you can hear perfectly fine.”
👆 That was said to me by a doctor in a hospital after the birth of my third child in the early stages of the pandemic.
She was referring to a mask with a plastic panel over her mouth so that I would be able to read her lips.
The mask was uncomfortable and she didn’t want to wear it – she wanted to wear her more familiar mask.
Thing is, I’m hard of hearing and have been my whole life. I learned to lip read so that very few people would ever know that I can’t hear very well.
But when the pandemic hit and everyone had to wear masks, I became overly anxious that I wouldn’t be able to understand anyone.
And I do struggle – masks muffle sound making it even harder to hear for people with perfect hearing; let alone me who doesn’t.
On one of the most important days of my life, I wanted my familiar comfort. I wanted to be able to lip read.
I reached out to the hospital and self-advocated for the masks. Hospital leadership was so accommodating, understood how difficult it must be for me, how anxious I was.
They guaranteed that these lip reading friendly masks would be available for anyone interacting with me.
Not once did I consider that I would encounter someone unwilling to wear one.
What did I say back to her?
“Yes, I need you to wear one. I hear that you find the mask uncomfortable but this encounter should be short and I am far more comfortable being able to read your lips.”
She wore it, the visit was short and I never saw that doctor again.
I was left feeling so incredibly empowered for owning my needs and standing up for myself.
After a lifetime of trying to pretend that I can hear perfectly fine, that ONE question helped me accept that I cannot and that’s okay.
It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to have needs.
And it’s okay to advocate for yourself and claim accommodation.
It can be really scary sometimes to be vulnerable and ask something you need that may create a conflict with someone else. Women especially are often told that their needs matter less than those of the people around them.
And that is NOT true – your needs matter just as much as someone else’s.
It’s important when engaging in these types of situations to be curious and ask questions. Maybe this doctor was feeling suffocated or her discomfort was so great that it may have negatively impacted my care.
If that was the case, we could have had a conversation about finding a different doctor who felt more comfortable wearing the lip-reading friendly mask.
Any time there is a conflict between someone’s needs, it’s important to understand both sides. It’s important to get clear on your needs and invite the other person into a dialogue about theirs.
When people enter a conversation with an awareness of what they truly need, it creates a space for respectful dialogue that allows both parties to advocate for what they need most.
Each of us has our own experience – our own differences, opinions and preferences.
**The more we claim our differences, the more we normalize that there is no normal.**
I’d love to hear from you and how you’ve claimed one of your differences for yourself.
Send me a message and let me know how you advocated for your needs!