« Back to Blog

Article Reprint: Check out Finding Zoe in Fairmont Sentinel.

April 21, 2015
Two families connect

April 20, 2015

By Judy Bryan , Fairmont Sentinel

Save | Post a comment |

FAIRMONT – The Options Pregnancy Center’s annual banquet Thursday already is sold out. Those fortunate enough to have tickets will hear the amazing story chronicled in the book, “Finding Zoe,” based on a Fairmont student’s unplanned pregnancy, a deaf infant and the deaf parents who adopted her.

The book intertwines the lives of Brandi Rarus who, at the age of 6, lost her hearing after contracting spinal meningitis, and Jess Urban, a Fairmont High School student who gave birth to Zoe, a beautiful little girl who was deaf.

Although author Gail Harris wrote “Finding Zoe” in an undramatic direct way, the story itself will tug at your heart as you read about Brandi’s journey to embrace her deafness, Jess’ choice to put her baby up for adoption, and why Zoe, now 11, passed through four loving homes before her adoption.

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 1.57.20 PM


CONNECTED — Brandi Rarus and her adopted daughter, Zoe. Both are deaf. Their story is told in “Finding Zoe,” which will be featured at Options Pregnancy Center’s banquet Thursday. (Courtesy photo)

A book sale and signing, which are open to the public, will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again from 5-6 p.m. Thursday, right before the reservation-only banquet, at the Fairmont Holiday Inn, with Jess, Brandi, Zoe and Gail as guest speakers.

Jess’ story

Jess was attending Fairmont High School when she became pregnant. A friend told her about the Caring Pregnancy Center, now called Options Pregnancy Center, in Fairmont. Bob and Janet Charnecki, the directors, provided non-judgmental information.

“The center showed me three unbiased options – parenting, abortion and adoption,” Jess said. “The more we talked about adoption, the more I liked the idea.”

She was referred to a local adoption agency, and eventually everything fell into place.

“Every situation is different. This is what worked for me and turned out perfectly for Zoe,” Jess said. “I want people to have faith that somehow everything works out, even if we don’t understand the steps that led to the decision.

“Our vision can be blurred when we are in a perceived crisis, but holding on to hope and trying to do the best you can forms you as an individual.”

In September 2012, Jess married Jerrick Urban, with Zoe Rarus as a junior bridesmaid. The couple has a “spunky” 15-month-old daughter named Adalynn Zoe. Jess will be leaving her job as human resources director at St. Luke’s Lutheran Care Center in Blue Earth to start at Wells Concrete on May 4.

Jess maintains contact with Zoe and Brandi.

“It’s hard to explain our relationship,” she said. “I’m her birth mother, not her Mom – but she is my daughter. She almost feels like a niece to me, but I will always have a special bond with her.”

Brandi’s story

After losing her hearing at the age of 6, Brandi Rarus grew up straddling the hearing world and the deaf world. She eventually embraced the deaf culture and views it not as a handicap, but a pathway to a new world. As Miss Deaf America, she advocated for the deaf community.

Her husband, Tim, a former Gallaudet University student leader, helped craft the Americans with Disability Act. In addition to Zoe, the couple has three hearing sons, the first non-deaf children in Tim’s family in 125 years.

Although Brandi had three healthy sons, she longed for a daughter, and Zoe has fulfilled that dream.

The family now lives in Texas where football is a passion. Blake, Chase and Austin, now 17, 15 and 12, are active in football and other sports. Zoe will be signing up for flag football next year at school.

“I have been in denial mode wanting for her to be the girly girl,” Brandi said. “She loves sports and adores her brothers – and them her.”

Brandi was prompted to write “Finding Zoe” because she was “filled with such gratitude towards the people who had Zoe,” only to have to let her go.

“Each person, each family, truly loved her,” Brandi said. “Letting her go was very painful for all of them. Yet, by being true to themselves, they were also true to Zoe because it allowed her to find her true home.”

Brandi and Tim decided on an open adoption with Zoe’s birth parents.

“There is enough love for all of us,” Brandi said. “I know they both truly loved her and lost a part of themselves when they let her go. Jess, in particular, went through such incredible pain in order give me incredible joy. I am in awe of her, and I am filled with gratitude for the gift she has given me.”

Brandi is director of business development at Communication Services for the Deaf, a non-profit technology-focused organization, the largest in the world to serve deaf and hearing-impaired people.

Gail’s story

Gail Harris answered Brandi’s job posting through the Editorial Freelancer’s Association. After numerous interviews, the story’s original focus on Zoe’s adoption story evolved into Brandi’s memoir about her self-acceptance as a deaf person and a lifelong yearning for a daughter.

“It took me three and a half years to write the book,” Gail said. “The first two years were spent interviewing the people involved in the story and doing research on deaf culture and history.”

She spent the next 18 months writing the story and had offers from three publishers. Another year was spent preparing for the book launch.

“The writing process was extraordinary,” Gail said. “Brandi didn’t provide me with written material, as she shared her story orally.”

When Gail began writing, her goal was to tell everyone’s story in relation to Zoe, including all the experiences they had and the decisions they made, with Zoe as the anchor.

“The story itself had three levels of components,” Gail said. “The first was Zoe’s amazing adoption story, which was really the stories of five people and how their lives became intertwined. The second was Brandi’s story of self-acceptance as a deaf person and her yearning for a daughter.

“The third was the force that kept moving the story forward – how everything had to happen exactly as it did in just the right time for all the pieces of the story to come together so perfectly.”

Her message at the banquet will cover how Zoe’s adoption story “expresses the true perfection of life and how adoption serves a sacred purpose.”

Gail is a featured contributor at blogs such as ScaryMommy, UncommonChick and 30SecondMom

Leave a Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

Please solve the problem above for security reasons.