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December 7, 2002

Deafness only one hurdle mom aims to overcome

From: South Coast Today, MA - 07 Dec 2002

By CYNTHIA GOMEZ, Standard-Times staff writer

NEW BEDFORD -- Serena (not her real name) lives in a world of silence; she is deaf. She will never hear her baby's happy laughter or his cries, or even the voices of the characters in the soap opera she sometimes likes to watch.
As if that's not enough of an obstacle, the 20-year-old is raising her child while attending Bristol Community College.
She has big plans for herself, and she's not about to let a few hurdles get in her way.
"My dream always used to be to have a big beautiful house and a good job," said Serena's mother Iris, reading her daughter's hands as they signed her words. "Now I want much more. I'm very proud that I'm a mom and I want a much better life for my baby."
Serena became deaf when she caught viral meningitis as a baby. She wasn't expected to live through the ordeal. Although she lost her hearing in the process, she beat the odds. She plans to beat them again.
"I want to be a veterinarian," she said. "I know I can do everything other people can do. The thing is, people are scared to talk to me; they avoid me or they treat me like I'm stupid. It makes me feel lost, like an outsider. Sometimes I just sit and cry because I feel like I won't make it. But I need to go out in the world and work. I don't want to raise my son in the projects."
Each day is a struggle, though.
She and her child live in a public housing unit. They get by on $500 monthly in disability pay and less than $100 a month in food stamps. The money is barely enough to pay her bills, and the food stamps rarely make it halfway through the month.
"Sometimes we don't have food," she said. "I always make sure I buy more food for the baby, but if there's no money, I try to go to my grandmother's house and get something to eat there."
Her boyfriend Tom, who is also Jacob's dad, is deaf as well. He, too, receives disability pay. He helps however he can, but their income is still not enough.
Both Serena and the baby need clothes. Whenever she has any spare money, it goes toward buying her child the things he needs, though they are soon outgrown.
She doesn't remember the last time she bought herself anything, and she admits that all her clothing, right down to undergarments, is old and worn.
Two months ago, the car she used to get to and from school in Fall River broke down, and the $300 she needs for repairs is just not there. She now must ask her mother for rides or borrow her boyfriend's car. If neither are available, she misses school.
Serena's mom also points out that diapers are usually hard to come by, and baby Jacob doesn't have enough blankets.
"It breaks my heart to see my daughter suffer," said Iris. "We help each other all we can, but I don't have much, either."
With Christmas just weeks away, it's likely the lean tree in her living room will never see any presents.
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