I recently read “Finding Zoe: A Deaf Woman’s Story of Identity, Love, and Adoption” by Brandi Rarus as part of an online book tour organized by Lori Holden of LavenderLuz.com.
The first half of the book provides an in-depth history of deaf culture in the United States. I learned a great deal and am embarrassed to admit I was truly unaware of the prejudices the deaf community faced for many years. I appreciate all that Ms. Rarus and her husband did (and continue to do) to bridge the gap between the hearing and deaf communities and I admire their advocacy to ensure equal rights and equal access were available to all through the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The last half of the book moves into Ms. Rarus’ family life and her deep desire to parent a girl, in addition to the boys she and her husband were raising. “Finding Zoe” is a book that was written from the heart. This is evident on every page. The love she feels for her husband, her sons, and the deaf daughter she would eventually adopt is palpable and genuine. In spite of all this goodness, I still had a tough time with this book. It left me with a lot of mixed emotions. Why? Well, maybe my answers to the questions below will offer some insights.
Each of the participants in this book tour submitted questions for discussion. I selected two (three, really – but two of the questions were quite similar, so I combined them and will answer all three).
Disclaimer: This book was difficult for me, at times. It left me with a lot of mixed emotions. I cringed at certain passages that appeared as though the birthparents were being coerced during the adoption process and that the social worker had an agenda all her own.
(passage from the book): “As for Marlys (the social worker), we may never know why she didn’t tell BJ (the birthfather) that Sandy and Stephane had relinquished Celine (Zoe) and that she had gone back to foster care. While I can certainly appreciate BJ’s anguish, in a way I believe that what Marlys did turned out to be a blessing. It prevented him from fighting for Zoe all over again, saving him and his family so much extra pain and heartache. And it allowed Zoe to find where she really belonged.”
(here’s the actual question): This passage creeps me out. It colors Marlys as unethical, especially with some of her earlier pressure to get BJ to agree to relinquish. I also feel the viewpoint is somewhat dismissive of BJ as Zoe’s birth father. How did this passage strike you?
(similar question): Was anyone else curious why BJ wasn’t given more support when he clearly wanted to parent his daughter? It seemed like the Christian agency and the agency representative, Marlys, had an agenda and the biological father and his parents were not part of their plan.
My Response: The element of coercion in the italicized passage above bothered me. But more than that, the agency and the social worker acted unethically. The birthfather can and should be a part of a decision to place his child for adoption. The birth father in this real-life situation should have been heard, and he was not.
I am of the belief that homes and families need to be found for children. Not the other way around.
When birthparents and adoptive parents come together to form an open adoption plan, I believe the best interests of the child are served. Ultimately, Zoe landed in a very loving and supportive family environment and that is most important. But as with any adoption, there is pain and grief and loss that need to be acknowledged.
By all accounts, this was a journey with a singular focus: to adopt a baby. And not just any baby; a girl. And not just any girl; a girl who is deaf. I say this with the utmost respect: we need to be extremely careful when the fulfillment of our own dreams is intricately linked with someone else’s life.
It’s worth mentioning that I believe the author’s deep desire for a daughter was in no way wrong or misguided. We all have dreams of how we would like our family to be. In this story, the author was already a parent to three sons. I admit I cringed a bit when she said she was afraid to have another biological child for fear it “might be another boy.” Rather, she says she had a dream or a vision that she would parent a daughter. I don’t dismiss her desires at all; but should her dreams supersede the desires of the baby’s biological parents?
My heart hurts for the birthfather in this story. He did not look at Zoe’s deafness as a “negative.” Would there be challenges if he were to raise her? Of course. Would it be difficult at times? Yes. Did he have every right to parent his own child? Yes.
I find it very sad and incredibly ironic that his concerns, his needs and his desires, were unable to be heard by anyone else. His choices were taken away from him and it appears as though he was unfairly coerced into making what others told him was “the best decision.” My heart aches for him; but I admire his ability to remain a part of Zoe’s life in this open adoption.
QUESTION: I felt like the focus on what Brandi “needed” to make her life feel complete was very one-sided and did not acknowledge the deep grief and loss issues that are inherent in adoption. Adopting a child is not a replacement for having a biological child no matter how much they resemble or are like you. I also don’t think “God’s plan” involves separating a baby from his or her biological mother. Deafness is a difference as is adoption. Both must be talked about with truth and transparency. Does anyone else agree that this story exploits Zoe who is not yet old enough to truly understand the complexities of her story – a story that is hers to tell?
My Response: I don’t feel this book is exploitative at all. As I said earlier, I do believe that Ms. Rarus and her husband have nothing but love for all of their children. However, I do agree with the sentiment that the book felt very one-sided, with little discussion about the inherent losses in adoption.
Again, I have issue with the element of coercion. The phrases “it’s God’s plan” or “it’s meant to be” indicate (to me) that people believed this young mother was just a vessel to carry Ms. Rarus’ child. I think that’s an efficient way to dismiss the role of the birthparents.
With all sincerity and respect, I believe Zoe’s deafness is irrelevant to the adoption. She was born to two young people who may not have been ready to be parents. Her deafness may have complicated things since it was clearly not something either of them had experienced. However, it does not mean that they would have been unable to parent this child. In the same way an able-bodied mother and father can learn to care for a child permanently confined to a wheelchair, a hearing mother and father can learn to care for a child who is deaf.
From the Epilogue and other things I’ve read and seen online, I believe this is a very close and loving family. I wish them nothing but happiness in the future and I admire their resolve to parent Zoe in an open adoption relationship with her birthparents.
To continue to the next leg of this book tour, please visit the main list at LavenderLuz.com.