By Lauren Woolley

The weeks before a child’s first day of school is a nerve-wracking whirlwind. Buying uniforms, shoes and book lists – not to mention the worries about first day tears (mostly mine), making friends, and shuffling work schedules to accommodate a new morning drop off.

For us though, the most important part of preparing for the first day of school started when my daughter was just eight weeks old.

When Eliza was born, we noticed almost immediately that something was different. Ten fingers, ten toes, a sweet little mouth, but only one ear.

In those first moments, we were filled with relief that she was here, and she was healthy. Plus, I was ready for a hot shower and my hospital sandwich.

But, our concerns grew when Eliza failed her newborn SWISH test and we were referred through to The Deafness Centre at Westmead.

Hearing loss doesn’t run in our family, so we were surprised, confused and naturally worried about what this might mean for our daughter’s future. We googled like crazy.

Lauren’s daughter Eliza was born with no ear and no ear canal.

At Westmead, they confirmed that Eliza has microtia and aural atresia – no ear and no ear canal – so the sound has no way to reach her inner ear. It’s a permanent conductive hearing loss.

It was a lot to contemplate. There were questions that hadn’t even been on our radar when preparing for a new baby.

Would Eliza have the same opportunities as other kids? Would she be able to express herself in the same way? Could she go to a mainstream school? Play sport? Sing?

Our tiny baby was fitted with her first hearing aid. As we caught our breath and started to think clearly, we knew we needed extra support.

When she was a baby, Eliza’s mum worried for her future.

That’s when we found The Shepherd Centre, a charity that provides early intervention services for children with hearing loss.

I remember making the first call to the 1800 number on The Shepherd Centre website. I wasn’t sure who to speak to or what to ask for, but I thought maybe they could help us.

From that first phone call, everything got easier.

The team at The Shepherd Centre knew exactly what we were facing and gave us the targeted support and advice we needed for Eliza.

Eliza started mainstream school this year and is on par with her hearing peers.

We live in Orange in regional NSW but all our sessions were tailored and delivered through their Online Telehealth System. If not for this, we wouldn’t have had any of these specialised services available locally.

I can’t emphasise enough what an impact these sessions have had over the years. Not only did they help Eliza develop the necessary listening and speaking skills, they provided us with education, advice and support – sometimes even before we knew we were going to need it.

The Shepherd Centre have been with us every step of the way. It’s a testament to them that we’re sending Eliza off to school for the first time tomorrow on a par with her hearing peers.

Maybe we’re a bit worried that she’ll talk too much in class or lose her hat 10 times in term one, but we have no concerns about her ability to listen, learn, voice her opinion and dive right in to “big school”.

We can’t wait to see what’s in store for her future.