Author Q&A: Brandi Rarus Answers Questions about Finding Zoe

adoption memoir by brandi rarus

What was the social worker’s take on this story? What is the relationship like between birth mom and birth dad today? How did you decide how much of your daughter’s story to share?

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We’ve wrapped up the book tour for Brandi Rarus’ memoir, Finding Zoe,  and today we have the author herself answering questions our book group put to her.

Book Tourist: I wonder if you considered not sharing the explicit details of Zoe’s backstory with the reader? As an adoptive mother, adoption educator, and parent coach, knowing the explicit details of your daughter’s story bothered me. I believe our kids’ stories are theirs, and it is our job as parents to hold their stories sacred. In other words their stories are theirs to share, when and how they wish, as they understand them. How do you feel Zoe might react to her full story being shared when she is older?

Brandi Rarus: On sharing explicit details of Zoe’s background:  I appreciate that comment and do understand the concept that our children’s stories are theirs to share. Finding Zoe was written from the perspective that her journey of arriving into our home was nothing less than “perfection” — because the chances of a deaf child finding deaf parents the way Zoe found us were so slim.  Her story was not traumatic, but rather a story of celebration and I wanted to write to that. There is no one size fits all, what felt right for me and Zoe may not be right for another adoptive child. How Zoe may react to her story being shared when she is older — that I do not know — but I wrote it for her so she would know how much she was loved and wanted by everyone who cared for her. I would hope that she would embrace it as she has embraced everything in her life today. If she does have concerns later on I trust that we will work through them together and that she will understand I had her best intentions at heart.

Was social worker Marlys interviewed for your book? I didn’t notice her in your acknowledgements.

No,  Marlys was not interviewed. We tried on several occasions to reach out to her to ask — and had everyone sign confidentiality waivers so that she would not be breaching confidentiality if she spoke with us, as we thought she may have concerns with speaking publicly on an issue that requires confidentiality.  She never did respond to us, so we wrote the book based on the feedback and perceptions of the characters who were interviewed. Marlys was Jess’s saving grace during her entire pregnancy.  BJ did not feel she was supportive. We tried to capture these perspectives.

Have BJ and/or Jess learned to sign?

No, BJ and Jess have not learned to sign.  I would love them to do that, as that is really important in having a relationship with Zoe.  However, those who learn to sign need to be in environments where it is used frequently so they would have to find other deaf people in their areas to practice with and communicate with. Neither of them live in an area where there is access to a large deaf community.

How did BJ and Jess respond to learning each other” thoughts and fears during that time? Was reading your book conciliatory for them? (Not in a romantic way, but in a coexisting way.)

I believe Jess and BJ have made peace with each other and found forgiveness because of the very meaningful experiences they both had from interviews for the book. They  met up and talked about what happened, as they are both now at an age where they are mature enough to listen to the other and understand the others’ point of view. Their two sets of parents got involved so quickly when Jess found out she was pregnant that they really never did have a chance to work through this themselves.

The one thing I know for sure is Finding Zoe was therapeutic for everyone involved because they felt like they were “heard.”  We tried very hard to write their stories from their points of view and humanize them. They are all really, really good people!!

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Lori: Thanks to all book tourists for their participation on each others’ blogs, and to Brandi for entertaining our questions. Find Brandi at www.brandirarus.com.

In case you missed it the first time, here are links in this book tour. Click around to see what we’re discussing in Finding Zoe.

Lori of LavenderLuz.com
Judy of JudyMMiller.com
Kim of KimCourt.com
Lesli of AskTheAdoptee.com

Readers Discuss the Adoption Memoir Finding Zoe

adoption memoir by brandi rarusBut what about supporting the birth father when he indicates an interest in parenting? Why didn’t we hear from the social worker involved? What about a sense of destiny — a meant-to-be-ness — in an adoption scenario?

These are just a few of the questions posed by virtual book club readers who are sharing thoughts today about Brandi Rarus’ brand new memoir.  Finding Zoe combines Deaf Culture and the adoption of her daughter, Zoe, who lived in four homes in her first eight months of life.  Even if you aren’t part of the tour and even if you haven’t read the book, check out what readers are saying — you might find that Finding Zoe is one you want to put on your gift list or wishlist.

Via the links below, you’ll get to be a fly on the wall as readers answer questions put to each other in our virtual book club. In a day or two we’ll hear from the author herself as Brandi Rarus responds to questions we posed to her about sharing her daughter’s story, the status of openness between Zoe’s birth parents 10 years in, and the role of the social worker in her story.

See the master list at the bottom of this post, following my own contribution to this book tour.

My stop on the Finding Zoe book tour

I enjoyed reading about how Brandi, who became deaf at age 6 due to spinal meningitis, moved between two worlds as a child and as a young adult. Early on, she was a deaf person in a hearing world. She’d already developed speaking skills prior to losing her hearing, and proved adept at lip reading and at being understood with speech. She accepted her new reality and continued to function well despite losing her sense of hearing.

As she grew up, she moved into another world, the one of Deaf Culture.  She’d found her peeps, those who shared her experience of being deaf. Yet she found that there was quite a split between the two worlds. Some could be militant about how deaf people should relate to the world: (a) the deaf should do their best to fit in with hearing people by lip-reading and learning so speak (oralists), OR (b) the deaf must learn sign language to communicate with other sign language speakers (manualists).

The book gives a history of the large chasm between the likes of Alexander Graham Bell, who advocated for oralism, and the likes of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, who was a proponent of  manualism.

Brandi took these Either/Or worlds and became a bridge, a Both/And, between oralism and manualism.

Later, she married deaf activist Tim Rarus and they had three hearing sons. But Brandi had felt all her life that she would one day have a daughter. The realness of this would-be daughter was almost palpable to Brandi. As decades passed, that dream of a daughter looked more and more unlikely to come true.

But we know Brandi eventually does become mom to a daughter, and Zoe does get a permanent home. The second half of the memoir tells of the meandering paths Brandi’s and Zoe’s lives took separately to eventually intersect and inertwine. Viewpoints of both birth parents are included.

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Two questions from the book group and my responses:

Was anyone else curious why the birth father, 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.

The book states that “BJ believed that his child belonged with him,” and from the telling it does seem that the agency was more intent on the outcome than on the integrity of the process of this adoption (perhaps that’s because the agency was advocating for and abiding by the wishes of the placing mom, its client, but who knows).

BJ, who had been involved during the pregnancy, wasn’t told that his his baby had been born. Social worker Marlys later said when breaking the news to the first adopting parents that BJ was interested in parenting: “His response is fairly typical, but they [birth fathers] usually come around” — meaning that BJ would probably end up relinquishing.

BJ, already nervous about parenting a child solo, was dealt a final blow with the news that his baby probably had special needs. The social worker came to his house and told him that “he couldn’t possibly earn enough money to provide for Celine [later Zoe] because there wasn’t enough money to be made in landscaping.” BJ did have the support of his parents for whatever he decided.

So yes, I do think that the agency, through the social worker, acted with perceived omniscience, as if she knew what was best for all involved.

Really, though, who among us has an omniscient point of view? Even the people who live with the consequences of a decision (unlike the social worker, who will walk away from it) have a hard time grappling with possible and desired outcomes.

What are your thoughts on “meant to be” in adoption – a sense of destiny? Do you think it makes a difference how this feels in different parts of the triad? Explain.

Many adoption bloggers addressed this topic two years ago when the New York Times published an article called “Adoption, Destiny and Magical Thinking.” I made the point that that there’s a flip side to saying a child is meant for you, and that flip side is that the child was meant to lose his/her original parents. I closed with this:

I don’t believe my children were destined to be mine. But they ARE mine ( I say that by way of claiming rather than owning). I don’t believe they were destined to be separated from their birth families. But they WERE. I don’t believe that this is the ONLY way things could have turned out, with us as their parents and them as sister and brother. Yet they DID.

And yet, I can see how Brandi would come to the conclusion that she and her husband were highly qualified to parent Zoe. Brandi says about the time infant Zoe was in limbo,

…a deaf infant could be severely slowed down in acquiring language unless early and effective measures are taken — unless she is given sign language… [She needs] parents who know how to address her and who use dialogue and language that advance her mind.

and

…it is language, rather than what kind of language, that nurtures not only linguistic competence but also intellectual competence.

I bet anyone reading here would go to great lengths to avoid the withholding of language to a hearing child. I can understand how Brandi would want to make sure that the window of language acquisition for baby Zoe didn’t begin to close before help arrived in the form that would best serve Zoe.

As for the question about destiny and different parts of the triad, as I said  about the NYT article:

Those on the Win side of an adoption are more likely to recognized destiny’s hand than those who feel they were on the Loss side.

Anecdotally, it seems more likely for adoptive parents to express a sense of destiny about the path that brought their children to them than for birth parents and adoptees to express a sense of destiny for their paths.

What do you think about adoption and destiny?

To continue to the next leg of this book tour, please visit the links below. Comments are much appreciated by the book tourists!

Lori of LavenderLuz.com (see above)
Judy of JudyMMiller.com
Kim of KimCourt.com
Lesli of AskTheAdoptee.com

Thanks for following along on our book tour, and be sure to come back later this week for Brandi’s responses to our questions.

#flipthescript 4: Someone Profited From My Adoption But It Wasn’t Me

As we close out November — National Adoption Awareness Month — I’ve turned this space over to adoptees, sharing a small portion of the highly successful #flipthescript movement. I  can see that many, MANY of you are reading. But few of you are commenting, so I can’t quite tell how these posts are being received. I hope it’s with the spirit intended — to be helpful to all involved in adoption by adding in the less-often heard voice of the adopted person.

Some believe information is power and some believe ignorance is bliss. I suppose if you fall in the camp of the former, you’ve taken these last few #flipthescript posts  for what they are — cautionary tales of how adoptions can feel to the adopted person (the guest posters have not generalized their experiences to all adopted people). And if you fall into the camp of the latter, you may feel provoked by these posts, worried that you’re participating in a social institution that’s not as glowy as you’d previously thought.

I think  it’s healthy  to periodically examine what we “know” to be true. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, when we know better we do better. A good reason to be open to alternative or uncomfortable points of view.

As you’ll see from today’s guest poster, it’s important for adoptees who have felt silenced for decades to raise their voices and be heard, if only to take back their one story.

adoptees flipthescriptImage: Tracy Hammond

Today’s #flipthescripter is JoAnne Bennett. JoAnne has spent the last 21 years trying to piece together an adoption journey that has too many twists and turns to count. Her blessings, on the other hand, include having raised three wonderful now-adult daughters alongside her supportive husband of almost 40 years. You can find her at her blog, Stories By JoAnne Bennett.

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adoptee joanne bennett during national adoption awarness monthI struggle to give myself permission to say out loud that I am angry. It’s not because I am supposed to be nice, or that I always try to find the good in everything. The truth is that this painful story is about my beginnings, and it’s messed up and wrong. Until now, all that once-little-girl in me could do was cry. Over the years, though, mad has replaced sad, and I no longer want to feel invisible and insignificant as an adoptee. I’m flipping the script.

Now that all the players in my under-the-table adoption placement are dead, I feel safe to say without fear of some kind of backlash, I’ve had to pay dearly for the losses; the roles each of you played underhandedly in my bogus adoption for whatever inexplicable reason that is still murky but was obviously criminal.

Whenever I share with others my disturbing story about my not-so-above-board adoption involving a dishonest judge and a conniving delivery doctor (and most likely other players as well) often I hear the words, “Someone profited from your adoption.”

Defensively, I say, “Well, it certainly was not me!” My adopting parents were in the process of adopting another newborn only two months older than me. His adoption appears not quite as sketchy as mine, but both of us had waivers typed slightly different and signed by the judge after-the-fact (fishy), curiously stating that it was not necessary to check the adoptive home we were being placed in.

The reason given for this legal short cut? Both my non-biological brother and I were supposed to be separately related by blood to someone in our adoptive family.

That is far from the truth.

People I’ve spoken with in the courts of this jurisdiction later said they have never seen anything like these two waivers, filed in the 1950s. My file is empty except for this mysterious waiver, according to the State of Nevada.

Many who hear my story think, Oh, my, this must have been a desperate young couple, not able to conceive a baby, for professionals to put their careers on the line to get them a baby at any cost.

Again, that was far from the truth. My adoptive parents already had a biological son and, in fact, were not emotionally fit to raise any children. I’ve always wondered, Did the judge and delivery doctor know what was the deep dark secret that would have prevented these adopters from parenting me had they obeyed the law?

Disappointingly, another professional did know that secret.

Years ago, I spoke with my childhood pediatrician and he said, almost proudly “I knew your adoptive father was an alcoholic. I had absolutely nothing to do with your adoption!”

But he didn’t stop it, even knowing the truth, that my adoptive father had a serious drinking problem and rage issues. The last time I saw my adoptive father was when I was 6. The police were taking him away on one dark, scary night for domestic violence fueled by his alcoholism. It was a terrifying night for a little girl who already felt sad and confused by the constant turmoil in our family. My verbally and emotionally abusive adoptive mother suffered from serious mental health issues, too.

In recent years, when I was searching for my birth father, I sent letters to many of the old-timers who still lived in the small mining town where I was conceived. I enclosed my phone number saying it was okay to call collect if they might have some information about his identity. I heard back from some of the kindest individuals; only one bitter woman called me collect.

She started our phone conversation by saying, “Now I know what that money your mother borrowed was for and she never repaid me!” Her insinuation was that she’d been the one who paid the hospital bills from my birth, which was downright insulting but probably not far from the truth. My birth mother was married to a man other than my birth father and already had three older children. She was in a bind in more ways than one.

When I hear sirens even today, sometimes for a quick second it triggers that dark, scary night when I was 6 and my abusive alcoholic adoptive father was taken away forever.

I am not about a pity-party for myself, but rather I want to be a voice for changing mind-sets. I believe there are many people still wearing blinders, much like my childhood pediatrician. As a society, who are we trying to fool, and why won’t we look behind the veils of secrecy? With adoption being a lucrative multi-billion dollar business, I am sure it wouldn’t be far from the truth to suggest there are many individuals and agencies still profiting off adoption.

The doctor who delivered me decided after he retired he would talk with me on the phone. Of course, he was evasive in answering any of my questions, no matter how non-threateningly I tried to present them. It’s what he said at the end of our brief conversation that left me speechless with anger. This man, who had played a major role in putting me in harm’s way as a newborn for his own personal gain, had the gall to ask me, “Have you had a good life?”

I can’t tell you how many times we adoptees have heard that being adopted is supposed to be a magic cure for being conceived in less-than-perfect circumstances. My hope is that even those who have no connection to adoption will start thinking about the consequences of people in power making decisions for the defenseless. Please understand that what happened to me still can and does happen now.

Flip the script and listen to us adoptees – the ones whose voices have been silenced by the powerful for decades. It’s time we are heard.

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JoAnne’s passions are writing and making a difference in young people’s lives.  She contributed a chapter to the new book Dear Wonderful You, written by adult adoptees for adopted and fostered youth,  and she’s proud  to have an essay in an upcoming anthology, The Adoptee Survival Guide.  Painfully transparent through her words, as an author her heartfelt desire is to reach others whose voices have been silenced by abuse and adoption issues.

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Thank you, dear readers, for opening yourself to these stories, for completing the #flipthescript circuit simply by listening.

Other post in this series:

Open adoption parenting & mindful living