While I’ve read several memoirs by and about Deaf people and their families, this is my only example of an adoption story thus far. Finding Zoe, by Brandi Rarus (she/her) and Gail Harris (she/her), is a memoir about Rarus’s journey to adopting Zoe, a girl born with significant hearing loss. Finding Zoe begins with Rarus’s own story. She was born hearing but became deaf at age six after contracting spinal meningitis. Because she had acquired a language and speech, Rarus continued to speak and try to read people’s lips. Readers get her journey to accepting that she is deaf and learning sign language, then joining the Deaf community. She attends the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, which is “the first and largest technological college in the world for students who are deaf or hard of hearing” (Wikipedia).
Eventually, Rarus gets involved in college activities that you may not expect, like becoming Miss Deaf America and participating in the Deaf President Now protest at Gallaudet University, which not only led to the first Deaf president at “the only university in the world where students live and learn using American Sign Language (ASL) and English” (source), but helped solidify the need to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act.
One of the Deaf activists who is interviewed about the protests, Tim Rarus, was raised in a Deaf family, with generations of Deaf family members. Initially, Tim and Brandi do not like each other because Tim will not acknowledge Brandi. Brandi signs more English than ASL, which Tim judges. Plus, she doesn’t go to Gallaudet University, she attends NTID. However, as you can guess by Tim’s last name, they get married.
Two successful Deaf adults, Brandi and Tim Rarus go on to have three children, all boys and all hearing. But Brandi desperately wants a girl and commences a journey to adopt one. From there, Finding Zoe veers away from Rarus’s personal life and tells the story of Jess and BJ, two young people who find themselves expecting a child after a one-night stand. While Jess wants to put the future baby up for adoption, BJ clings to the idea of fatherhood.
As the story progresses, their baby — who is renamed several times — is sent to foster parents, returns home with Jess, is adopted by a hearing couple, is sent back to foster care, goes back to Jess, etc. Why did this baby have parents choose and then return her? Because she quickly loses her hearing after birth due to her Jess having contracted a virus while pregnant. And poor Jess, who is trying to move on with her life and cope with her decision to relinquish her baby, must keep taking the baby back while keeping things quite with BJ so he won’t try to intervene through the court system. It’s pretty harrowing emotionally.
Finding Zoe is very much a feel-good book about stars aligning. Brandi and Tim Rarus find the daughter they want in Jess and BJ’s baby girl not only because she needs a home, but because they are the right home for a deaf infant. With two Deaf parents, the baby, at last called Zoe, would be communicated with in ASL from only a few months old, exposing her to the language that most deaf infants miss because their parents are hearing or focus on teaching their child to speak.
While I’m not a big believer in stars aligning, readers will notice a lot of heart in Finding Zoe. I’m not a grumpy bear; when the baby girl was first placed in a home, those parents thought they found their one-and-only daughter — that it was meant to be. It was not the best placement for the infant. Pretty much every person written about is Christian, so there is a lot of praying about relationships, adoption, safety, and difficult choices, which will appeal to readers of that faith.
I didn’t find it overwhelming as non-religious person, but instead saw it as part of the culture of the people in the book. For instance, as a teen Jess is sneaking out at night, drinking, and having sex, but it’s her family’s Lutheran faith that stops her from having an abortion. My brain went right to the hypocrisy of pick-and-choose religion, but in some heavily Christian parts of the U.S. there’s being wild and careless, and then there’s a mortal sin. I get it, so I read like an anthropologist. And that’s okay.
I always find adoption stories interesting if they’re well-written, and though Finding Zoe is a little “peppier” than I’m used to, it goes on my list of recommended adoption books.
Looking for other books about adoption? Check out these titles:
- Motherhood So White by Nefertiti Austin
- Prison Baby by Deborah Jiang Stein
- The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss
- Belief is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe by Lori Jakiela.
*note: I am not sure what Gail Harris’s involvement in the book was, but Brandi Rarus thanks her for being there every step of the way. It’s possible Finding Zoe was an “as told to” book, but based on what I found on Google it may have been more collaborative than that?
CW: audism, mentions abortion
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