by Jane Anderson, Columnist & Featured Contributor
[su_dropcap style=”flat”]W[/su_dropcap]HEN I WAS 7 YEARS OLD, my mother told me about a family who put their child in an institution because they found out she was deaf. I was young, but I remember feeling like I couldn’t breathe, and I wondered how it would feel to be given away because I couldn’t hear. Fast forward 20 years. I moved with my husband and baby daughter to a neighborhood where signs warning of ‘Deaf Children Playing’ were posted. I was endeared to this book right away. First – by the title, because who wouldn’t want to be searched for, and second – because Brandi Rarus and Gail Harris wrote a true story of how it all happened.
Brandi was born hearing but lost it at age 6 when she fell ill with spinal meningitis. What if her parents had given her away? Instead she grew up knowing she had choices. Except for not being able to hear, Brandi had a pretty normal adolescent season of her life. In school she have options of being mainstreamed and attending ‘hearing’ schools or schools for the deaf. Brandi says she was “caught between two realities” the hearing world and the world where people were deaf. “Deep inside, I began feeling that I was different and functioned different than they [hearing] did.” That realization was the impetus Brandi needed to make choices about where to go to school and college.
From 1988 Brandi was very active in advocating for the deaf. Many of her activities involved speaking engagements, presentations, and workshops on “Deafness 101” and “Deaf Culture in the Workplace”. Brandi could speak because for her first few years of life had been able to hear. She still had an interpreter though. Brandi was able to promote programs and be a spokesperson for the deaf community as Miss Deaf America. She had a huge role in learning about and speaking to thousands on deaf education. What I learned in this book about education, communication, and organizations for the deaf was the equivalent of attending a seminar. I had no idea that there are very different philosophies on how deaf people should communicate. What an eye opening education!
Brandi fell in love and married. Her husband, Tim Rarus was deaf and wow! Tim’s heritage spanned four generations of deafness. His parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, all deaf. Tim’s sister was deaf. Brandi and Tim Rarus got married, and six years later, their son Blake was born – hearing. Then Chase was born – hearing. And Austin was born – hearing. Family complete, right? But Brandi had dreamed of having a daughter since she, herself, was a young girl. Brandi said she never dreamed about her wedding, but she dreamed of one day having a daughter. Tim and Brandi started the adoption process. It wasn’t without conflict, soul searching, and heart stretching communication. Tim and Brandi will still extremely busy as advocates for the deaf and their professional roles. Brandi kept her passion for having a daughter, but Tim was beginning to back away from the pursuit of a fourth child. But God didn’t see their positions as a deterrent to having a daughter at all.
The adoption agency they had worked with contacted them about adopting a six-month-old baby girl who had been diagnosed with severe hearing loss. I couldn’t put the book down when I got to the story of Zoe. Zoe was the child of two young people who made poor choices, but conceived a baby together. After counseling during the pregnancy and even for three months after the birth, the future of who Zoe’s parent would be was in question. The story that unfolds over the next chapters is disquieting. Zoe’s birth parents were in conflict about giving her up for adoption. Her mother wanted Zoe to have a better life than she could offer and decided adoption was best. Not so with her father who dug in his heels and insisted that Zoe be awarded to him. Then as if clouds were lifted, Zoe’s birth father realized what he needed to do and signed over his parental rights. Hearing tests for Zoe seemed to be inclusive. The source of the hearing issues were unknown at first and were at one point even assumed to be minor. Zoe’s first home was foster care until she could be placed with an adoptive family. Stephane and Sandy had already adopted a boy and were ecstatic to have a daughter. Over the next few months however, they became increasingly disillusioned as the truth about the care Zoe would need in her future proved to be too much for them to bear. This all brought turmoil around decisions to be made about who would be parents to Zoe.
God knew. The forever parents of Zoe would be the family of Tim, Brandi, Blake, Chase, and Austin Rarus. He knew Zoe’s special needs would be met by loving parents who would never be too busy to raise this beautiful little girl. So at the age of six months, Zoe found a home stable, happy, and lovingly devoted to making her life whole.
Do you like to come to the end of the book and it just ends? Me either. Brandi Rarus and Gail Harris tell the story after the story of the key players in an epilogue. It would be a spoiler to write about them.
If you want to bless someone’s life with a story that brings them joy, I have your gift right here. Finding Zoe: A Deaf Woman’s Story of Identity, Love, and Adoption by Brandi Rarus and Gail Harris