By Sherida Mock
Brandi Rarus’s tale begins like many other adoptive parents’ stories. She and husband Tim had three boys and wanted a little girl to complete their family. The couple began the process of adoption, expecting to welcome a child from China.
Their life-changing journey started when the adoption agency contacted Brandi with news that a 6-month-old girl in Minnesota was available.
The baby was losing her hearing.
It was a perfect fit.
AF: Tell us about your family.
My husband and I have been married for almost 25 years. My husband comes from four generations of deaf family members. I became deaf in childhood. Our three boys are all hearing.
My oldest, Blake, was the first hearing person born in my husband’s family in 124 years. He is 18. Chase is 16. Austin is 13, and Zoe just turned 11.
We moved here because we wanted Zoe to go to Texas School for the Deaf (TSD). There are only five really good schools for the deaf in the entire country, and Texas has one of them.
AF: Your situation is rare in that you could speak for several years before you became deaf. What has that meant in your life?
It’s been a good journey. I became deaf at 6 due to spinal meningitis. My first language was English, not American Sign Language, and because I could hear for 6 years, it’s still a very big part of who I am.
When I first became deaf, I was adamant to prove that I was still the same Brandi. But as I got older, I started to feel different.
My boyfriend and friends were hearing, and I spoke in school. But there was a voice inside telling me, “You’re not the same.” And that was a struggle.
Then I went to Camp Mark Seven in New York. It’s a deaf camp run by a deaf priest. It was the first time in my life that I was with deaf people 24/7. Everyone was signing: the people who cooked, the counselors and lifeguards.
Father Tom gave us lessons every day. One day he asked, “How many of you are proud to be deaf?” It was a powerful moment; he was the first person I knew to say that being deaf is okay.
No one had ever said that to me before.
I realized that I could keep trying to become hearing, go to hearing school and take hearing classes, or I could try to be the best deaf person I could be. I started to delve into the deaf community, and I found my home.
AF: How did you learn Zoe’s story?
All I knew was that they had a 6-month-old girl in foster care, and her birth mother had some involvement in making the placement. The birth mother was 17 and from a small town.
I was obsessed with writing our profile, because I was afraid to put that we were deaf. I thought her experience and exposure to deaf people was probably limited, and I was afraid that she would see us as handicapped and disabled. Maybe she would prefer to have “normal” hearing parents raise her kid.
So I never said that we were deaf. I said we had hearing loss, we sign and we speak. Our boys are hearing. I really tried to emphasize those points. The birth mother, Jess, agreed to meet us, and she decided to have Zoe placed with us.
I read on Twitter last week how mothers research better than the FBI. That was me. [Laughs]
I was able to find out that we were Zoe’s fifth home. She was with her birth mother, and then the foster mother. The third was the first adoptive family, but they decided they didn’t want to keep her. She went back to a foster home.
AF: What led you to write the book Finding Zoe?
I felt like when Zoe came to me, the world was standing against her. I was particularly mad at the first adoptive family, because I felt like they agreed to adopt her, but when they found out she was deaf, they just put her back.
As if she wasn’t perfect.
That first adoptive mother was a speech therapist. She knew some sign language. And I couldn’t comprehend how they could do that. I was really, really mad.
When Zoe turned 1, that first adoptive mother sent a birthday card for Zoe and a letter for me. We had never met, never communicated.
She said, “I just want you to know that we love Zoe with all our heart. But we knew that it was in her best interest that we not keep her. We didn’t know anything about the deaf world. It was the worst day of our lives to have to bring her back to foster care, but God worked immediately, because she ended up in a home like yours.”
That was an “ah-ha” moment for me. My anger went away, and it was replaced with compassion and gratitude. I realized it was a painful choice for them, but it led to my home. Her birth mother and father had a very painful choice, as well. But they did it out of love for her.
It was a very different way of looking at life. It changed me.
AF: Are you still in touch with Zoe’s birth mother?
Our adoption is not legally an open adoption. I mail updates once a year, but I wanted to do more, if Jess wanted that. I contacted the agency and asked if Jess wanted to see Zoe again. Once we exchanged emails, we had open communication.
The first time that Zoe saw Jess, it was Zoe’s 6th birthday. Jess had come to visit a friend, and asked if she could stop by. We were going to bring Zoe her birthday cake at school. When we got to the classroom, Zoe was looking at her teacher.
She turned around, and she saw me, then she saw Jess. She ran and hugged her. I was bawling. I couldn’t even look at them, I was crying so much. But it was awesome.
Wow. I’m still emotional about that.
AF: How is Zoe doing now?
Good! She is her father’s daughter: she’s a very proud deaf kid.
She uses American Sign Language beautifully. She’s involved in sports, school and friends. She’s thriving. It’s the right place.
National Adoption Day is November 21