Finding Zoe: TMI (Too Much Information)

6 comments

I was invited to participate in a review and discussion of the memoir Finding Zoe: A Deaf Woman’s Story of Identity, Love, and Adoption with several other open adoption writers/bloggers by my friend and colleague Lori Holden. Each participant was asked to submit questions for the others to chose from and answer, as well as a submit a few for author Brandi Rarus. The questions I selected, along my answers, follow below.

Brandi Rarus became deaf at the age of six, after contracting spinal meningitis. Her story of how she grew to embrace her identity as a Deaf woman is painstakingly detailed in this memoir. She also provides a nice history of the Deaf culture, including an overview of how the Deaf have been perceived and treated, as well as the activism and advocacy to overcome these prejudices.

I was disturbed by Brandi’s disregard for the daughter she and her husband Tim adopted—Zoe. Brandi shares truckloads of details about her daughter’s story in Finding Zoe, among them: how Zoe was conceived, the history of Zoe’s birth parents, the blatant lack of concern for birth father BJ’s wishes, the questionable practices of agency representative Marlys, and the relinquishment of Zoe (then Celine) by her first placement.

Question: The heroes of this story (in my opinion) are the foster parents. They helped provide stability in Zoe’s early life. As you probably know, November was National Adoption Awareness Month. The original intent of this month was to bring awareness to the thousands of children in foster care who are in need of permanent homes. The dialogue has now expanded to include the voices of adult adoptees. Flash forward – what do you think Zoe will say of her early years?

I didn’t consider Finding Zoe as a hero versus villain story, and I am hard-pressed to add that label to anyone. However, I believe that people act as they are compelled to do, based on life experiences and belief systems.

Some actions may be viewed as less than, others as more than. How a person perceives an act/action is often filtered by their personal belief system. My belief system (shaped from knowledge as an adoption educator, parent coach, and adoptive parent) says that the adopted child’s story is sacred. In other words it is the child’s to share as they wish, when they have the tools to process their story and are able to respond to the questions and comments that that are addressed to them. The parents are the story keepers for their child. Parents should share their child’s story with their child in age-appropriate language, including all of the difficult truths, long before the onset of puberty when being adopted becomes far more complex.

I am thrilled that adult adoptees are speaking up and being heard in greater numbers. Their voices and experiences have long been discounted as not worthy of being listened to, which doesn’t make any sense; they are the children of the past. We have much to learn from them; our children are the adults of the future.

I am concerned about Zoe, about her story being available for anyone to read. I can’t speak for the Zoe of the future and what she will say or how she will process and feel about the intimate details of her story being shared, but I can state my kids would not appreciate their stories being shared.

Question: It seemed to me that the birth father was coerced into signing the adoption paperwork. Did anyone else interpret it this way?

I did. I was stunned by how BJ’s wishes were dismissed. I felt he was strong-armed by Marlys, and this made me ache. How will future Zoe react to this information?

Would you like to hear others’ opinions about Finding Zoe? Continue to the next leg of this book tour by visiting the main list or click on the links for the other stops:

Lori’s interviewed Brand Rarus. We had some tough questions for her, which she handled with grace.

For Discussion: What are your thoughts about the sharing the details of the adopted child’s story? Have you read or do you have any interest in reading Finding Zoe?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Lesli Johnson December 2, 2014 at 1:26 pm

I truly appreciate this dialogue we are having and agree that the discussions allow us to expand our awareness. It’s pretty clear by my post that I had a difficult time reading this book as an adoptee and adoption therapist. I too appreciated the information offered about Deaf culture. I learned much however that all seemed overshadowed by the adoption piece and the way it was portrayed. Even now I feel a sort of “guilt” about expressing my voice in this forum. Many adoptees have been conditioned for so long to stay quiet and go along…for fear of being labeled an “angry adoptee” or “anti-adoption.” I’m neither although I do get angry when I see adoption being portrayed in a non child-centric manner. Adoptees are speaking up and that is a very good thing!

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Judy December 2, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Hi Lesli!
I’m SO glad you are part of his dialogue! Finding Zoe was like reading two books, the second half overshadowing the first. I’m sure the Deaf have a different perspective than many of us we do, as their lens is entirely different.

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Kim December 2, 2014 at 10:13 am

“parents are the storykeepers for their child.”

Couldn’t agree more with that sentence.
And I agree with your comments about heroes vs. villains. That was a question I had submitted and perhaps I could have worded it differently. My thought behind it was that the foster parents seemed to be the only ones (outside of the birthparents) who seemed to have no agenda. That makes them heroes in my book :)

This is a great post and a great response to a book that will hopefully expand the conversation of adoption. Glad to be part of this with you.

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Judy December 2, 2014 at 11:34 am

Hi Kim,
I think your question was worded perfectly. I perceived it as a lens though which roles in adoption can be viewed. Adoptions should be child-centered. I’m happy to be participating in this review and discussion with you. And I also hope that the conversation about adoption will continue to expand. :)

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Lori Lavender Luz December 2, 2014 at 9:43 am

Thanks so much for adding your voice and perspective to this tour, Judy.

Like you, I found value in understanding more about the history of Deaf culture. And I also answered a question about how much of a voice the birth father had in Zoe’s unfolding story.

Regarding your Discussion question, I think it takes heightened sensitivity to FIND the line between one’s story and another’s, and strong will to HEED that line when you so deeply want to tell that story. I say this from personal experience. I am not sure I’ve always been mindful and heeding of that line. Really good food for thought for me.

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Judy December 2, 2014 at 11:45 am

Lori,
These multi-faceted discussions we engage in, from the varying roles and perspectives we experience, enrich and expand our awareness–even though difficult at times.

It is sometimes tough to HEED that line. Don’t be too hard on yourself. I too have crossed that line a few times in the past, when my babies were babies and they had no voices. I realized I represented their voices until they could speak, but they couldn’t so why would I? My resolve strengthened and I became used to being silent, walking away, or responding with a “Why do you want to know?” XO

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