Title: Finding Zoe: A Deaf Woman’s Story of Identity, Love, and Adoption
Author: Brandi Rarus
Publisher: BenBella Books
Genre: Biography/Autobiography/Personal Memoir
Purchase at AMAZON
In Finding Zoe, Brandi Rarus shares the story of her very personal path of self-discovery and the struggle of being caught between two worlds—the hearing and the Deaf. We travel with her through her mainstreamed younger years and later on to college at The National Technical Institute for the Deaf where she embraces Deaf culture and realizes that being Deaf is not a handicap, but a passport to a whole new and exciting world.
Brandi brings us behind the scenes as she takes on the world advocating for her Deaf Community as Miss Deaf America; meeting and falling in love with Tim, a Gallaudet University student leader who later helped write the landmark Americans with Disability Act on Capitol Hill. The two married and had three hearing boys—the first non-deaf children born in Tim’s family in 125 years, but with all their blessings something was still missing.
With a powerful foreword provided by Marlee Matlin, an Academy Award-winning actress and member of the National Association of the Deaf, Finding Zoe is an inspiring recollection of how two individuals who, already bonded by their diversity, come together as an unbreakable mother-daughter pair to navigate a silent world and shed light the adoption/foster care system.
(For some reason I never posted during the book tour in October but I am now posting. Forgive my oversight–that was the crazy time in my life!)
We waited to have kids for three years, and then I didn’t conceive for another three. By then, we were both more than ready. I was hoping for a girl. Throughout my life, I had just always assumed that I’d have a daughter. When I was young, I never dreamt about my wedding day, but I did dream about my daughter.
Tim also wanted to have a daughter; he’d longed to have children. Because of his parents divorcing when he was young, Tim has always wanted to be the kind of hands-on father he had never had. We were both overjoyed when Blake finally entered the world. And we felt the same when Chase followed.
When I became pregnant the third time, I just felt inside that it was another boy. Tim, wanting to be positive, sent me a card that said, “Congratulations, babe, on the birth of our daughter.” I knew that the card was an expres- sion of his love, and I really appreciated it, but I just knew that it was wrong. Still, I never prayed for a girl—I didn’t believe in messing with fate—I just prayed that I would be happy either way.
When I delivered Austin in August of 2002, I felt joy as I held my little darling tight. I wanted no baby other than him. But I will never forget the look on Tim’s face when he saw that brown-haired little boy. I think that for a moment he was afraid that I would be disappointed. But he quickly realized that I was more than just okay. Nevertheless, later that day he said to me, “Let’s go to China.”
We had talked about adopting a baby girl from China when we first married back in 1991, and I loved that he wanted to continue to expand our family.
Early on in our marriage, Tim would tell me the story of our future deaf daughter, saying that she would look and act exactly like me. “She’ll be blonde with two pig- tails, wear a red dress and black shoes, and carry a black purse,” he’d say, grinning. “And she’ll have a strong person- ality. She’ll think that she runs the house! She’ll be classy, smart, and stylish.” He also said that she’d look just like the Coppertone baby from the television commercial—the little girl who looks back while a cute puppy pulls at her bathing suit, revealing her adorable, little white butt.
I laughed and I believed him, not only because he was describing my reason for being, but also because I was always so blown away by Tim’s ability to tell stories—they were always so graphic, visual, and funny. I’ve always been
fascinated by ASL and, in particular, Tim’s ASL, how he just paints a picture. It’s similar to when a hearing person reads a story to a child and the tone of their voice just cap- tures them. Tim made our future daughter seem so real, so alive, that I could practically reach out and touch her.
When Blake was born in 1997, Tim was beside himself with joy. I was sitting in the hospital bed still exhausted from giving birth, and Tim was sitting in the chair next to me. The nurse did the BAER hearing test to check Blake’s hearing right in the room when he was born, and he passed instantly. She jumped for joy, while Tim, my mother, and I just stared at her. Looking back, I think that she had never been in that situation before and realized that she might have made us feel a little uncomfortable because when she left the room, she never came back.
Having a hearing child, now that was news. I was thrilled for Blake. I wanted him to have the world at his finger- tips. But had he been born deaf, I would have been just fine with it. But I thought that Tim was going to faint—not because he was upset that Blake was hearing but from the shock of it.
For Tim, finding out that his child was hearing was probably just as shocking as when hearing parents find out that their child is deaf. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been such a surprise. The genetic counselor we saw when we first started dating told us that we had a 50 percent chance of having hearing children, so Tim knew that there was a defi- nite possibility. Even though he had many hearing friends by then, including some of his best friends, I think that growing up in a family that was so steeped in Deaf Culture and in the Deaf community made the situation impossible for him to even imagine. It just did not compute. And there was little Blake all wrapped up in his hospital blanket, the first hearing child born into his family in well over a century.
For a split second, he wondered how on earth he’d raise a hearing child who would go to public school. He worried how he would communicate with Blake’s hearing friends because he wouldn’t be able to talk with them. What would happen at Blake’s birthday parties since Blake’s friends and their parents wouldn’t know how to sign? These were all just passing thoughts—gone in a few seconds. After he was over the initial shock, the adjustment felt on par with hav- ing to buy blue clothes and trucks instead of pink clothes and dolls. Blake would just have to learn how to sign.
Tim had to make some changes, however, now that we had a hearing child. For example, he had to learn the cor- rect volume for electronics. I remember once before when a few of his hearing friends had come over to watch a base- ball game, they told him that he’d turned the volume on the television up so high that it made the entire house shake. Living with deaf people his whole life, he had no reason to be aware of the intricacies of sound. He would turn on the car radio and sort of dance to the beat, only to find out from a hearing friend that he was dancing to a talk show.
When each of the kids was born, we turned on the tele- vision for audio stimulation and also played mood music on a boom box to help them fall asleep. My family gave us Beethoven, Mozart, and country music CDs, and told us to turn the volume on the boom box up to five. I, too, needed to be reminded about when I made noise—whether it was turning on the television, closing the cabinets, or with my voice, even—and to be quieter. I had forgotten.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I began reading this book, I knew very little of the struggles of the deaf community. I knew about Helen Keller, and I had heard things here and there. But there was nothing like reading the account from the perspective of a deaf woman. I had no idea how hard they had to fight to be hard–almost harder than African Americans did. And that part of the story was completely engrossing.
Her adoption story was truly heart-touching, and my eyes were opened to so many things. Deafness is something that is not mentioned much in the hearing community. How refreshing it was to read the personal perspective. The book was never boring, and I believe the author accomplished more than she even set out to do. She told so much more than a simple adoption story. She gave life to the people of the deaf community, and I believe I will pay more attention to this group of people in the future.
I was sent a copy of ths book in exchange for my honest review. I was not financially compensated, and all opinions are 100 percent mine.