By Pamela Grant, Correspondent
For many of us, it’s difficult to imagine a world without sound. We might imagine it as a loss, living in a world of silence. However, Brandi Rarus, author of Finding Zoe, asserts that if someone offered her the ability to hear again, she doesn’t think that she would take up the offer. For Rarus, she did not lose anything; she gained a culture.
Brandi Rarus shared her story with students at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor at the Walton Chapel at 10 a.m. and again at 11 a.m. on Wednesday. Rarus used sign language to share her story while an off-stage interpreter spoke. Rarus shared her experiences with the audience including what her life was like after she became deaf, the process and circumstances surrounding the adoption of her daughter Zoe, and how and why she wrote Finding Zoe.
“Being deaf is not a loss. It’s not a negative thing,” said Brandi Rarus. “It’s a culture. It’s a way of life.”
Rarus lost her hearing at age six due to spinal meningitis. Rarus became completely deaf. She described her journey to self-acceptance though she signed that she had never mourned the loss.
After having three sons, Rarus wanted to adopt a daughter. She and her husband had some disagreements about whether or not it was a good idea to adopt a fourth child. However, she received a letter asking her about adopting Zoe, who was also deaf, and she knew that Zoe was the daughter they were going to adopt. Rarus shared the story of how Zoe had come to be up for adoption. Zoe’s birth mother was only 17 and there was a lot of anger and tension between the two birth families.
Eventually Zoe found a foster family, but they put Zoe back up for adoption after discovering that she was deaf. Rarus admitted that she was initially angry that Zoe’s foster mother had given her up, especially since the mother was a speech therapist and knew some sign language.
However, on Zoe’s first birthday, Brandi Rarus received a letter from that foster mother about why she had given up Zoe stating that they had given her up with the hopes that Zoe could go to a deaf family that would be able to give her everything she needed since they knew that they couldn’t. Rarus called it her ‘ah ha moment’.
Brandi Rarus encouraged the audience to make sure not to judge others without knowing the facts. Don’t judge others the way she had mistakenly judged Zoe’s foster parents.
Rarus said that it was after receiving that letter that she knew that she had to share her story of finding Zoe.
“I’m really happy that I was adopted,” signed Zoe Rarus after her mother brought her on stage and asked about her feelings on adoption. “I am so happy to be in a deaf family now, and it’s so easy to have full communication access in my family. If I were in a hearing family, I wouldn’t have that level of communication, so I really appreciate being adopted.”
Wednesday marked Zoe Rarus’ first time signing on stage at a speaking event. Brandi Rarus said that she made sure that Zoe always knew that she was adopted. It was part of her story all along. After the speech, Zoe signed that she hopes the audience learned about the importance of being true to themselves. “Be true to yourself,” signed Zoe Rarus. “It’s about love, not judging others.”
Brandi Rarus talked about the positive advancements that have been made with regards to those who are deaf. She talked about how AMA has helped to bring equality and that the deaf community now has better representation in the media. However, she did talk about how the media often focuses on sounds and the lack of sounds and how she’s hoping that with more representation and more positive works (like her story) that the interpretation can be reframed. Rarus said that there is a big difference between saying that a deaf person cannot hear and that a deaf person does not hear. Can’t implies loss, and it’s not a loss. She signed that she hopes her works can help challenge the perceptions that people have about deaf people.
“I liked it a lot,” said Mikayla Hutchins about the presentation. “It was cool seeing her story and her definition of deaf culture. I really liked how she brought up her daughter and answered questions afterwards…She could no longer hear when she was six and then she learned to live through that and see the positive side of that. It was amazing to hear how she went through that.”