In her memoir, Finding Zoe: A Deaf Woman’s Journey of Love, Identity, and Adoption
(2014), Brandi Rarus tells her story of losing her hearing as a young girl and, later in life, adopting a deaf child. Rarus contracted spinal meningitis when she was six years old, and the condition left her deaf. Feeling stuck between the deaf and hearing world, she is an activist for the deaf community. Finding Zoe
is her debut book. Nominated for various awards, the book has been praised by critics for its original subject matter.
Rarus recounts her life from the day she lost her hearing until the day she finds a deaf child desperately in need of a family. Rarus, who has three hearing children of her own, explains that she felt something was missing from her life until the day she met Zoe, a deaf child. Rarus believes that fate brought them together—she was meant to adopt Zoe and give her the love and attention she couldn’t get from others simply because they didn’t know how to handle her disability.Finding Zoe
begins with a prologue. Rarus, her husband, Tim, and their adopted daughter, Zoe, are playing together one day. Although Rarus has three biological sons, Zoe holds a very special place in her heart. Rarus worries that her sons feel neglected and that she doesn’t show them enough love. She expects she will spend the rest of her life wondering how to prove how much she loves them. Rarus admits that Zoe will always be special to her because Zoe, also deaf, understands her in a way that her sons never will.
Rarus then goes back in time to March 1974, when she loses her hearing. Though she is only a child, she knows that there is something seriously wrong with her. Doctors surround her and she feels gravely ill. The doctors are testing her, and the examinations are painful, but she is too sick to care. What she doesn’t know at the time is that, while the doctors can cure meningitis, they can’t repair the damage the illness does to her auditory system.
Rarus learns she is deaf when her family visits her in the hospital, and she can’t hear what they’re saying. She learns to lip-read quickly, but she doesn’t know how to tell her family that she can’t hear them. Rarus’s talent for lip-reading will make life much easier for her as she grows up and learns to accept her deafness. However, Rarus is honest about how unsettling it is to go from the hearing world to being deaf.Finding Zoe
is the story of a woman who doesn’t give up in the face of adversity. As an adult, Rarus campaigns for deaf people. She meets her husband, Tim, after winning Miss Deaf America. Deaf, Tim is also an activist. He campaigns for his university to elect its first deaf president. Rarus could not be prouder of him.
They marry and have their first child—an astonishing moment. Their son is the first non-deaf child born in Tim’s family in more than a hundred years. Three children later, Rarus and Tim are delighted with their life. However, Rarus feels she has another purpose to fulfill.
Miles away, Zoe is born. Zoe’s mother, a seventeen-year-old unmarried girl who can’t handle raising a baby, gives her daughter up for adoption. However, since Zoe is deaf, other families don’t know how to raise her; she re-enters the foster care system many times. When Rarus finds eight-month-old Zoe, Zoe has already lived in four different homes.
Rarus travels across the country speaking with Zoe’s former adoptive parents. Angry they let such an incredible girl go just because she can’t hear, she tries not to judge them. She soon learns they gave Zoe up because they wanted what was best for her, and they couldn’t give her the support she needs. Rarus realizes, then, that God always planned to bring them together.
Rarus teaches Zoe everything she can about being a deaf person in a hearing world. She knows that, as Zoe gets older, she will have many questions about her adoptive history, and Rarus fine with that. To Rarus, what is most important is that her own tragedy shaped her into the perfect mother for Zoe, who so desperately needed love. Zoe has helped her finally come to terms with her own deafness, and she is looking forward to whatever the future brings to her family.