I'm a Speech Pathologist and I Lost My Voice, Here is What I Learned

A couple of weeks ago, I woke up to say good morning to my husband and baby, but instead of my normal voice coming out, I heard a screechy, high-pitched, barely-audible voice. I felt perfectly healthy, but since I am a speech pathologist, I knew I had laryngitis. The best recommendation is vocal rest. Meaning, no talking at all. I still went to the office. I felt fine! But, without a voice, I could not do my job. So I begrudgingly either began cancelling my appointments or co-treating with our Clinical Director, Taylor, to see students together. I had to tell everyone I was sick, but when they saw me at work they said, “Oh, I heard you were sick today!” I smiled and tried speaking. Nothing came out. “Oh,” the person would laugh, “I see.” I spent about a week like this. It was fine. I had back up and I could still do office work, but I realized something really important with such a small and trivial little cold—my students, whom have speech and language disorders, walk around everyday with invisible challenges that they have trouble explaining and it likely weighs on them without us even noticing or remembering.

When we see people’s physical handicaps, we (most of us anyhow) try to be respectful by giving that person our seat, opening a door or lending a hand in a small way. The thing is, many challenges are not physical. The challenges my students with speech and language disorders have are sometimes even hard for their own parents to see. That is no one’s fault. It is because they are not always consistent and they change based on context. In other words, some of their challenges are only visible in very specific situations. I am very sensitive to my student’s needs and make every attempt to be their advocate in different situations, but when I had this small cold this realization made me take a step back. This invisible feeling I had that no one knew what was really going on with me, must be a feeling that my students have everyday. The confusing, “You don’t know what is going on with me right now” kind of feeling. The obvious difference was that my little voice issue was kind of funny and ironic, nothing in comparison to their daily struggles. When I thought about it more, I could easily imagine my students not having the emotional capacity or maturity to understand these feelings, let alone express them. I felt like it was part of my job to continue building awareness around individual differences and around the language to use when you see or hear something that sounds like someone is struggling. As sensitive as I thought I was, I felt like this little cold checked my basic assumptions again, which I was grateful for because as cliche as it sounds, things aren’t always what they seem.

This one's for the MOMS

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When I started writing this article, I wanted to title it, “This one’s for the parents” and then thought about how the majority of us women out there, juggling a million things on top of baby need to continue bringing awareness to how much we do and how much support we need, from many different places. So, I’m sorry if you are offended and this title is not inclusive enough, but I am keeping “moms” and hope you can get past that to read the main purpose of this post!

See, I thought I knew. Before my baby-wearing, furiously typing, trying to balance work and mom-hood way of life, I thought I knew exactly what to tell you, parents. I thought I knew how to guide you as parents with your children because I was a professional speech pathologist. I thought I knew what to say to children to get them to comply and what to do to get them to behave, so I relayed that to you. I thought I was that therapist that parents confided in to give them advice above and beyond the suggestions and recommendations prescribed by my degree in speech-language pathology because what I suggested actually helped. I thought I gave parents advice on how to manage behavior, structure routines and discipline their kids. Mind boggling how I came up with anything seeing as I had zero children myself! But alas, I had a degree. So that alone was enough for me and for my families. No one ever let on that I might have not known what I was talking about. I did get a lot of “that’s a good idea” type replies, but see, I never actually LIVED it until I had my baby. I knew my stuff when it came to diagnosing and treating speech and language concerns, but I was giving advice on basic daily behavior issues. I often shook my head when parents gave in, thinking that if only they applied my suggestions in the moment or if they knew a bit more, then it would all go over better. I thought tantrumming babies and toddlers were totally based on the lack of parents accurately responding to a child’s cues. I thought I knew more than parents about what it actually took to help a child in many ways. Then, I had my baby.

It’s actually laughable. It’s laughable to think that I had it all figured out before I had a child. Now having had one (she’s 10 months and the best, most amazing nugget ever!) I was completely humbled by the experience and, I’m sorry. I realized that all of this, “raising children” thing, is purely trial and error. It’s all a guessing game. And guess what, a lot of what we “figure out” and treat in therapy is too. It’s all about having a really keen eye. Watching. Observing. Trialing. That’s what we do best as moms because we want to help our kids through whatever they are experiencing. I realized that being a mom made me a better therapist. I have gained additional skills that I can now apply to real problems, but now I am also completely sympathetic and empathetic to my individual families’ needs and concerns. I feel their pain in my core and want to do better by them to help. I stopped questioning or trying to rationalize their actions and just tried to be there as their therapist. I now try to help create calm and clarity through muddled situations that are multidimensional and complex. I realized that I may not know all the answers, but I know that I’m willing to figure it out with them. Most of the time, that’s all you need. You need someone to just figure it out with you; to bounce ideas off each other, to be there and be present.

Now, I don’t judge. I don’t try to understand or rationalize things I see or hear what a mom does with their child. I give that mom the benefit of the doubt. There’s a damn good reason that mom is doing whatever she is doing in the moment that you feel like passing judgment. I know, because I am often there too. I’m glad I’m a mom. It’s opened my heart and mind to an empathetic side that clearly needed attention in my practice.