Sarah Churman first became known to the social media world in 2011 when the video of her hearing for the first time took the internet channels by storm. You may remember the video — and the tears that it caused you at your work desk — which captured the activation of Sarah’s hearing implants and her shock at hearing her own voice.
Two years later, after numerous television appearances and book signings, life on her Texas ranch with her husband Sloan and their two daughters has settled back into somewhat of a routine. Sarah published her first book, “Powered On The Sounds I choose to hear & the NOISE I don’t,” in the hopes of inspiring others with her positive outlook on life. Talking with NMR, Sarah shared stories about her excitement over her book and her commitment to using her social media fame to create more awareness about the needs of the deaf community.
I was reading that you were nervous that you wouldn’t like some of the sounds that you heard, and that you were even nervous about your own voice. How has it been with the implants so far?
Sarah Churman: My whole life I’ve had to get new hearing aids every 3 years because the old ones wear out, and when you’re a kid your ears are growing so you have to get new hearing aids. Every several years I would get new ones, and I hated it every time because even though it was better technology and was a little bit better than the old pair, it was still a change, and it had taken me so long to get used to the other pair and to get comfortable with things and learning how to adapt. You hear something, and you feel something, and you think, “That’s this. That’s this noise,” because it happens everyday. You might get a new pair of hearing aids, and that sound, what little you’ve been getting from it, it’s different with a new pair of hearing aids. My husband jokes because we’ve been married almost over 12 years and through the course of our marriage I’ve gotten two new pairs of hearing aids, and every time he dreaded it because I was just mad at the world for at least a couple of months. I hated it. I hated the change and having to readapt and reconfigure my whole way of interacting. When I got the implants, I was afraid they were going to turn this on, and I wouldn’t get use to it. But the minute they turned them on it was completely overwhelming. Yes, it’s been an adjustment, and I still have times where I get so overwhelmed, but it’s been a good overwhelming.
Have there been any sounds that you were not expecting?
Yes! The minute I was activated I was freaking out because I moved my tongue inside my mouth and then I swallowed; all those internal noises, all the noises that your mouth and swallowing and breathing and panting, I wasn’t expecting all that, and I wasn’t expecting it to be so loud and clear. And then I remember shortly after I was activated I reached up and scratched my head with my finger, and I jumped in the chair. I was like, “That’s not something that you ever talk about.” It took probably a good two weeks before I could eat food and have a conversation with someone. It was all so new for my brain, and the doctors warned me, “Your brain is going to be firing in ways that’s never fired before. There is going to be a lot of acclimation and a lot of things you’ll have to work to tune out that the rest of the world already tunes out naturally.” I kept thinking, “How do people do this? Will it ever become background noise?”
Are there any sounds you’re especially grateful to hear?
Everything! The list was a mile long, but a couple of nights after I was activated I was sitting at the computer desk doing something and it started to rain. We have a tin roof on our house. We live in a little farm house, and I sat inside, and I was like, “It’s raining.” And I knew it was raining without having to look outside or someone telling me I could hear it. Rain has always been spoken of with such a romanticism to it, and I never got that until I was sitting inside and hearing rain. My kids’ voices were obviously the number one thing.
How has your life changed since your YouTube video went viral?
As far as changed, it’s given me a sense of self esteem, it’s boosted my self confidence. Now I don’t require someone to help me. I don’t mind doing things on my own, I don’t mind having phone conversations without someone helping. I can just go and do without having to rely on Sloan to do something with me to help me. I’m not so insecure and worried about what everyone is thinking and worried about what I’m missing out on. I’m a lot more outspoken and outgoing.
It’s made me feel like a new person in that aspect. I enjoy life in my own way, and my life was enriched and full before the implants because I just adapted. Yes, I have this problem: I can’t hear. I wish I could hear, but get over it, there are other things to be happy and thankful for. So I just kind of lived to the fullest before, and now getting to kind of relive and relearn experience so much all over again at the age of 30 has been crazy. Life hasn’t really changed much for us. I mean, we go and do interviews and TV and fly. I wrote a book, so there are book signings and things, but for the most part we are just our normal selves and randomly at 8:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night I’ll be taking a bubble bath, and the producer from “Ricki Lake” calls and then we are whisked away to wherever for a couple days, and we come home, and we’re like, “Did that really just happen?” Yes, we’ve had changes but we haven’t really changed.
Congrats on the new book! What has the response been like?
We haven’t done much marketing. The publishing company has a slow and steady approach to that. Their goal is to get it on the bestseller list, but it’s a slow and steady process that they have for doing so. When I went to “Ricki Lake” I did give everyone a free copy of the book, and they did mention it there. It’s just pretty much been within our little local area and among friends and family. It’s a slow process, and I wish everyone could get their hands on it, but for the most part the people who have heard about it everyone has been really nice about it.
What do you hope people take from your story?
It’s weird, and it’s really an awkward feeling to put into words those feelings. When this first came about, the video and the book, getting emails and phone calls from all over the world. People had some of the most incredible, nice, kind things to say. I just feel like the most normal everyday girl next door person and it’s humbling for me to read all these responses to things for people having a bad day but seeing my video turned my day around, how just reading my story has inspired them. It’s such a weird, awkward feeling, I don’t feel like anybody special, I just feel like I’m just living and the fact that that affects people is so incredibly humbling. That was kind of like, if I have this platform to reach so many then when the publishing company contacted me about writing a book I was like that would be awesome. If things affect people, just by them reading what I’ve written then yeah I’d love to do it.
Before this video came out, had you had much experience with social media?
[laughs] None at all! That evening when I came home from being activated all of my friends and family were waiting, and they wanted me to post it on Facebook for them to see. So I attempted to put it on Facebook, but it kept saying it was too many MBs. And so it’s like 11:30 at night, and I’m chatting with people online and trying to get suggestions for what I can do. Someone was like, “Just upload the link to YouTube and attach the YouTube link to your Facebook page.” I was like, “That seems easy enough,” and so I did that, and it took YouTube an hour and 45 minutes to upload and it finally uploaded to YouTube ,and I attached the link to my Facebook page and went to bed and never gave it another thought. Got up the next morning and of course had all the well wishes and nice comments from friends and family, and by Friday morning, two days later, I’m getting a phone call letting me know that the video had gone viral and the “Today Show” was trying to get a hold of me. I didn’t even know what going viral meant — just blew me away.