Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Dear Birthmother

As previously mentioned, in an open adoption, the birthmother chooses the people or person with whom she is going to place her child. From an objective point of view, this is not only completely fair, but makes the most sense, especially considering that potentially, the birthmother-adoptive parent relationship in an open adoption can be a lifelong one. You want to feel some sort of connection with each other. Additionally, many studies have shown that in the long term, it's much healthier for the child to have some kind of relationship with (or at the very least, understanding of) where they came from.

When you're the adoptive parent, however, it's a little nerve wracking. Old fears of being the last one picked for the dodgeball team are quick to resurface, and to be honest, when I was first looking into the whole adoption/foster world, I was turned off by this aspect of open adoption. Rational thinking soon prevailed, however, and here we are.

So, in order to attract a birthmother, prospective adoptive parents such as I have to create something called a Dear Birthmother letter, which is a glossy brochure full of pictures of me in various scenarios (with kids, without kids, with friends, at work) all while being awesome at whatever I'm doing. These are accompanied by text describing my awesome life, awesome friends, awesome plans for my child... you get the picture. There is a very specific writing style and pattern to the text as laid out by my adoption agency, and while the writer part of me mentally rebelled at the constrictions, I had to ultimately cede to their far greater understanding of the Dear Birthmother genre. However, when they informed me that the writing and editing process can take up to 7-10 editing cycles back and forth with their writing specialist, I silently responded in my head, "not with me it won't." (Final text: 2 edits. Boo-yah.) A sample line: "I can’t wait to take my child to my weekly farmer’s market to sample fresh fruit and veggies, or walk over to LACMA (our big art museum) and check out the cool, interactive art." Offensive to literally no-one is the bottom line.

Equally, the photos chosen have to tread a very fine line of accurately representing you without potentially putting any human off. For example, I love this picture with my nephew:

But it's way too risque for the letter.

The Dear Birthmother letter, not to put too fine a point on it, is a sales pitch, yelling "PICK ME!" in a sea of other, equally deserving Dear Birthmother letters (a typical birthmom will get around 100 brochures). I heard a birthmom speak about how she automatically disqualified anyone she didn't think was good looking. While this is, of course, massively unfair, and obviously not all birthmoms would do the same, they still have to figure out some sort of criteria for narrowing down the selection when every single person or couple is equally worthy of becoming a parent. It may be something as simple as liking the idea of their kid growing up in California, or that a pet in a picture reminds them of their own dog. For the adoptive parent, it's the ultimate in having no control. I was recently emailing with a friend, who very perceptively wrote, "I won't ask how the adoption is going, because it's probably the same, until it's not, and then you have a baby." (That's exactly how it's going.)

The Dear Birthmother letter that I really want to write is very different than my sales pitch. It goes more like this:

Dear Birthmother,

First of all, this is totally weird. Can we agree on that? I'm trying to entice you away from the other people who want to be parents so that you ultimately pick me. And what you're picking me for is you're going to give me your baby to raise as my own. Bananas. Here's the thing: we're both in a completely strange and foreign situation here and neither one of us knows exactly how it's supposed to go down, so we're just going to have to work it out as we go. I think you're awesome for doing this, by the way, and I'm not sure if I was in your position I would have it in me to do the same. I promise I'm going to do my best, which means I'll probably screw some stuff up, but that's how life goes.

Lots of love,

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Calm Before The Storm

There was a huge blur of activity when I started fundraising for my adoption, what with the paperwork and background checks I had to do for the agency, a successful home study during which my prone-to-weirdness dog did not act weird at all (extra treats and hugs for that), and a lot of facebook posts. Your generosity has helped me get incredibly close to my initial goal, and I'm so very, very grateful. (There's a link below if you still want to donate.)

Right now what's happening a lot is people are asking, "So - what's going on with the adoption?" which is a totally fair question, since most of them are donors, and have basically paid for the baby's left pinkie toe, or right lung. My dad asked it in the funniest way: "So, where are you in line?" (I picture an assembly line of babies coming down a conveyor belt and a waiting queue of adoptive parents.)

What's happening is this: the To Do list activity has died down to a low background hum. I have a few more things to complete before I go 'live,' which is when I become visible to potential birth mothers with both a glossy brochure and a webpage for them to peruse. I'm sort of guessing that's going to happen in the late May/early June time range, and that's when the real waiting begins. The average wait time for a single woman is 15 months, but really, it could be anywhere from 3 months to 3 years.

I retain my sanity by hanging out with my almost 3 year-old twin nephews, who are a constant source of amusement and fun. My brother and sister-in-law are already plying me with hand-me-down swings and baby monitors, which one of my nephews solemnly showed me last time I was over, explaining, "You can have this for the baby," and then asking, "When is the baby coming?" (get in line with that question, kiddo.) Not to be outdone, my other nephew began handing me random household items (cushion, broom), "For the baby."

Over the years I've knit many baby blankets for friends and family; now I am knitting for my own not-yet baby, blankets and hats and sweaters, all in gender neutral colors (and may I say, knitting books are rife with gendered language and color coding: "Congratulations! It's a girl! Break out the pink yarn to knit a layette as sweet as she is"). I permit myself moments of fantasizing about holding my not-yet baby, and then I pack that thought away with each knitted piece and refocus on my physics homework. I walk around with a tinge of fear that this whole thing isn't going to work out. I try to remember that just like earthquakes, it's not a matter of if, but when.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Giving And Giving

Asking people to give you money is a strange and somewhat uncomfortable thing to do. The only way I was going to feel ok about asking people to donate to my adoption process was if I could offer them something in return. As a yoga and movement teacher for the past ten years, I have developed a network of peers all over the world, so I turned to them and asked if any of them could donate a private session that I could then pass along to a financial donor. The response was overwhelming, and the match-ups that I have been able to foster as a result between donors and teachers has been incredibly cool. A pregnant college friend living in Italy had a skype session with a pregnancy specialist in Los Angeles. A woman dealing with a lot of different health issues was hooked up with a holistic health teacher in New York. A friend who wanted to train intelligently got a session with a CrossFit owner in Brooklyn. Here's some feedback from the donors and teachers alike:

"I had the absolute pleasure of meeting with Brooke Thomas this past weekend in New Haven. I'd never done rolfing before and she made it so easy and relaxed. She is masterful at what she does and uncovered some fascinating information about my body. Things I felt for so many years and had no words for, she was able to describe and explain in our quick meeting. Thank you, Sarah, for the opportunity to meet her. My donation was given in the spirit of helping you on the path toward motherhood and this was an unexpected and much appreciated bonus. Thank you." 

"Walking away from my session with Trina Altman I feel as though I have a superhero postural suit on - love it. Thank you Sarah Court for your campaign." 

"I just finished a Thai Massage session with Kimberlee, and wanted to thank you. She is a beautiful, beautiful human, and I am so grateful for the matchup!"

"I loved loved loved my Thai massage. She was a super sweetie pie and so talented and when I have extra money I want to go back. Really special experience. Thank you!" 

"I have connected with Dinneen Viggiano and she is great! She is very helpful for me at a time when I really didn't have any hope left. I thank you for finding her for me and hope to give you more details as I continue to work with her. All the best to you!!"
- Teresa Scotto

And here's a picture of my friend Dallas Dickinson in Texas, an avid runner, skyping with Ariel Kiley in New York, a specialist in movement for runners:

I still have lots of teachers who have donated their time to my cause - even writing that sentence blows my mind - so if this sounds interesting to you, please click through to my campaign page below.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


I'm at the beginning stages of the adoption process, which means I did a bunch of research into various adoption options (international, domestic, lawyer, foster/adopt) and I landed on a domestic adoption agency that I really like a whole lot called Independent Adoption Center. Contracts have been signed. Fees are being paid (thanks to you!). It's on.

So far, however, the child part of the adoption is still a faraway dream state that seems entirely unrelated. So far, I'm elbow deep in paperwork and errand-y things, because I am in the full upskirt part of the process, which means a very bright light is being shone on every single heretofore private part of my life. I have had to prove a lot of things, including:

I was born
I was married
I was divorced
I have fingerprints
I have a job
I have health insurance
I do not have tuberculosis
Or major mental health problems
Or anything else that would be problematic, health-wise
Or a criminal record
Or a driving record
Nor did I do anything bad or questionable while I lived in New York
Or really at any point since I have been alive
Several people think I'm parent material and willingly committed that belief to paper
I have recounted my entire life in prose, both long form and Q and A style
I bonded for two days in a conference room with other adoptive-parents-to-be
I will let someone approve the child-worthiness of my home (once I've scrubbed every surface twice)

Right now I am wrestling with the "dear birthparent" letter, which is essentially a brochure about me, and why I'm so terrific and therefore the right person for a birth mom to place her child with. It's one of the hardest things I've ever had to write, and feels like a ridiculously sincere online dating profile. I'm trying to give it a little jujsh, but there's very little room for the sharper edges of my personality. And to be fair, this is not the time to try and make a stranger laugh. This is an honest moment, and it deserves my unabashed, clear-eyed desire to parent to be front and center. Of everything I'm doing at the moment, this is the most obviously connected to becoming a parent, which may also be why it's so hard. But as I wrote in my letter, the things most worth doing in life are the ones that aren't easy. Now if you'll please excuse me, I need to go wash my ceilings.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A New Kind of Deferred Gratification

So... hi there.

It's been a while since I've writted (so long that I actually did just write 'writted' and frankly, I think it should stay as evidence). A lot of things have happened, many of which have propelled me to a new, exciting event that, in keeping with the rest of my life, also involves deferred gratification.

School is still humming along in the background - I got accepted to Mount St. Mary's DPT program, which is awesome because it was my first choice school, and at the exact moment I found out I was accepted, I developed a severe case of senioritis and almost failed my physics class (who cares about pre-recs when you already know you got in?) which would have put a very big spanner in the works. (Do people say spanner here? It's English (people, not language, though obviously language as well) for wrench.)

[As an aside, I got an email from another school that shall remain nameless (C Sun Northridge) that I was #46 on their waiting list for a class of 32. Which I think means that an entire class and almost a half again would have to turn them down before I could attend. Had I not already been accepted to the school I want to go to, this would have been depressing, but the delicious irony is that I'm lecturing in their undergrad kinesiology department this spring. Will I be able to restrain myself from mentioning this detail? Unlikely.]

But I did somehow pass physics, and I have one more semester of pre-rec classes, and my teaching/traveling work schedule has exponentially exploded in multiple directions, which is how I like it, so all is right with the world.

Or - almost all. One of the things that happened over the past year involved having to make a horrifically painful choice about a relationship that involved the question of becoming a mom (stay and don't, go and retain the option, but no guarantees, was the reality I wrestled with for months). I realized eventually that the slow suffocation of my deep desire to be a mom was already building, and that I couldn't let that be the room tone of my life, as much as leaving the relationship felt like harakiri.

After many months of trying to figure out what the heck happens now, I am embarking on the long process of adoption, which thrills me to the bone, not only for the parenting part that I will get to do, but also for the 'it takes a village' aspect of open adoption. When I describe open adoption, a lot of people think it sounds like a scary bad idea in which the birthmother will inevitably try to take her baby back, but in reality it works out to be a massive extended family of people who understand their roles and are just that many more people who love a child. I'll be using this blog to chronicle the long, crazy road ahead.

This endeavor requires a lot of funds, however, and so I am fundraising for it like this: If you donate $75 or more, you get a private session with me or one of my fitness professional colleagues (yoga, pilates, massage, training, etc). It's been so much fun to 'match' donors and trainers, and so far we've had some great matches take place. I have teachers and trainers all over the world who have generously donated their time, so if this is something you'd like to take part in, check it out, and thank you in advance!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Normal/Not Normal

Today is 3 weeks post-surgery, and I vacillate between wanting everything to be back the way it was pre-surgery (minus the pain, of course) and wanting to continue to do mostly nothing interspersed with bouts of inertia and moments of fugue. I started teaching a little last week, and it was both exhilarating and exhausting: I loved feeling that teaching groove of expressing exactly what I mean in clear and concise terms, and immediately afterward I wanted a quiet dark room and a cool compress, because apparently life is more tiring now that I am INTEGRATING A PROSTHESIS INTO MY MARROW HELLO.

I behave the same way around other people: when offered assistance, I counter with "I can totally do this, thank you but I'm fine," but when no hand is held out, my mental dialogue vibrates with a self-righteous "oh my god I'm exhausted why on earth would you think that I could carry a plate of food by myself."

In school last semester I learned about cognitive dissonance (or rather, I was finally given a name for it): the act of holding two opposing concepts in our minds at the same time. Our human dislike for this jarring, discomforting sensation often leads us to validate one idea over the other for the pure mental relief, regardless of actual value. "I am a regular person just like you/ My needs are special and must be acknowledged" is my dissonant song lyric du jour. I can go to the store and carry a shopping basket,  but when someone holds the parking elevator to squeeze in an extra couple and their cart, I exude irritation from my pores and shift to make sure everyone can see my cane.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." I'll keep working on the function part.

Friday, June 29, 2012

How To Be A Teacher

This past semester, I had class with perhaps the most terrible teacher I have ever experienced.

I've talked about this privately to a few friends, but felt I had to keep it basically under wraps until the semester ended, in the very, very slim chance that the teacher in question would somehow find his way to this blog and my grade would be affected.

And even now, I'm going to attempt to maintain a certain amount of anonymity in terms of who I'm talking about, though it wouldn't be hard to figure it out if you really cared to. But my point in writing is less about one person's behavior and more about what I think is an essential quality for any kind of teacher. I teach yoga, and I teach anatomy. Both shove my faults in my face constantly:  my know-it-all tendencies, my impatience, and my desire to be liked by everyone. I know a teacher who at the end of yoga class often says "Thank you for teaching me." I used to think it was corny, but he makes my point for me:

As a  teacher, you have to listen to and learn from your students.

I have to - have to - pay attention to the room and what they need, and adjust myself accordingly. If I'm not doing a good enough job explaining a concept or a pose, it's not their fault. In addition, if I am coming up against resistance (in any form - frustration, boredom, attitude), again, it's not their problem, it's mine.

Here's what happened in school, with the terrible teacher (let's call him TT for short):

About halfway through the semester I was approached by another student in the class who wanted to bring a list of very specific complaints about TT to the Dean of the department. I readily agreed, because I had been privately harboring many of the same grievances, but up until then had taken a more passive, put-your-head-down-and-do-the-work-on-your-own approach. So a few of us wrote emails to the Dean listing our complaints - and lest you think these were frivolous, the list included things like "refuses to answer questions" "does not explain lab procedures" "makes one class rule then changes it the next session" "is not present in his office during office hours" "makes rude comments when confronted with these issues."

The next time we had class, TT set up his power point as usual, and the first slide began with the words, "THE FOLLOWING EMAILS WERE SENT ANONYMOUSLY."

It was followed by a cut and paste slide of the emails that we had sent to the Dean, who had forwarded them to TT without our names on them (perhaps not the wisest move, the Dean later agreed). TT clearly had decided that an aggressive offense was his best defense. He spent the next 15 minutes going through the points made in our emails (take a second to imagine - an email of complaint you sent in confidence about a teacher is now being read aloud, word for word, by said teacher, to the entire class) and then flashed a second slide, in which he had created a point-by-point rebuttal to each complaint. These rebuttals were variations on "This is an unfair statement" and "This is not true" (though my favorite, in response to the complaint about his rudeness, read "Gas station attendants are rude. Grocery store workers are rude. I am not rude.")


[Not to brag, but I got an A, and I'm pretty sure the other students who complained did well also.]

Then we had to pretend like nothing had happened and take a quiz.

This is obviously an extreme example of how not to deal with criticism of your teaching. However, it reinforced my desire to stay vigilant in my own teaching and not allow myself to become complacent, lazy or indifferent to my students' needs. It means adjusting my teaching plan to match their level of ability or comprehension of the material (no one learns anything when it's going completely over their heads). It means picking up good teaching techniques from other teachers (I have had several exemplary teachers at this same school whose clever tricks I steal and use constantly). And it means not taking it personally if a student looks bored, or doesn't engage with the material the way I want them to  (including in yoga class. Students doing asana with a 'bored' body is my personal bugaboo and I have to do everything in my power not to hover over them and try to perk them up in every pose).

Being a teacher has to be a constant learning experience, otherwise you have nothing to teach. So thank you for teaching me.