WARNING: Cute Baby Pictures May Cause Peeing (Lots of peeing)


I’m a major sucker for cute baby pictures.

My Pinterest account’s been largely created just so I can scope out adorable, wrinkly, chubby-cheeked darlings in all their precious glory.

So, imagine my excitement at dolling up my own little princess for cutsie pics.

About three weeks before my due date, my family photographer Melissa Jacobs began asking if she could shoot our princess.

Melissa’s more than a photographer – like any great photographer, she’s part of the family.

I met Melissa while working for Supervisor Pam Slater-Price. On the professional front: she’s the best. I’ve seen her all over town, from the PRSA Bernays Awards to weddings to elected official press conferences.

I’ve recommended her to clients (and they’ve always been pleased), plus she’s done my professional headshot and some shots of us when I was five months pregnant which we used for our 2011 Christmas cards.

The one below got rave reviews from family and friends:

Right away, I pilfered my Pinterest account for this little magical shot.

In true Melissa form, she responds saying “no problem” and she can’t wait to meet her when she arrives.

What I loved about the above picture: it focuses on the size difference of the baby. Can’t you just “feel” that cute little baby’s soft skin?

I just happened to have a cute stuffed elephant my mom gave me for the nursery this past Christmas.

Here’s Hank all ready for Dagny to come home:

When Baby Bird arrived two weeks ahead of my due date, it threw off our photo session calendar and instead of being two weeks old – she was three weeks on the dot.

I thought those baby photo sites must be nuts for recommending a baby be 10 days old or younger for newborn pictures.

What’s to shoot? All she did was sleep.

Bingo.

All the mommy sites recommended I have her well-fed, calm and be prepared for another soothing feeding.

But our best-laid plans quickly devolved into a comedy of errors made more intense by her screaming bloody-murder.

  • Best lighting caused her to blink angrily.
  • Peaceful visions of a naked baby butt replaced by a screaming, kicking, Army-crawling baby.
  • Sitting up to snuggle with the elephant. No. Laying down with the elephant. Kinda (see below).
  • Peeing. Lots of peeing. Peeing on hubs (he changed his shirt for the family shots), peeing on the nursing glider, peeing on the carpet, nearly peeing on Melissa.
  • Pacifier did not earn it’s name. She would either purse her lips or spit it out like a watermelon seed. The only thing that kind of worked was giving her hubs finger to gnaw on between shots.

After the sitting up pose flopped, Melissa re-assessed.

“Let’s lay her sideways with the elephant.”

Worked in theory (like the rest of the shoot), but she kept throwing her leg up in the air as soon as the camera started clicking and showing the world her pikachu.

Hubs sighed: “I’m failing already.”

Here was the best of the lot (it’s not cropped or touched up):

We finally took the elephant out of the equation and went far more simple.

Once Dagny calmed down and focused on Melissa, some beautiful shots materialized.

Hubs and I originally didn’t plan on being part of any shots and so, we didn’t get gussied up.

But since we were throwing plans out the window, what the heck?

I’m glad we did because she snapped some candid shots of hubs calming Dagny that brought tender little tears to my eyes.

Plus, she captured the three of us in our natural three-weeks-postpartum state: tired, unsure and making lots of mistakes.

I thank God everyday for bringing this priceless creature into my life.

She’s already teaching me how to let go (quite literally).

Our deepest appreciation to our dear (and patient) friend Melissa – she’s a celluloid maven.

Here’s some of my favorites from the day:

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Childless no longer…


A slight and soft creature, a tender 7 pounds in weight, with thick dark hair and an angel kiss on her forehead lay still in the crib beside me.

Hubs matched her exhausted, motionless state in the spare bed of the postpartum room at Naval Medical Center San Diego while I absorbed the moment.

After hours of chaos, it was silent.

A nurse walked in quietly and presented a tray of food. If I could have, I might have lunged at him for what amounted to very bland hospital fair.

I ate greedily adding up the hours in my head of my last meal: about 35. The makers of Jell-O would be wise to get hungry new moms to write their ad copy.

With my tray sufficiently scarfed, I turned my attention to the gentle sleeping face of my new little girl eying every strand of hair, her tiny finger nails, the curve of her mouth knowing all that grew within me.

I laid back in bed trying to rest but it was hard. Everything about her fascinated me.

Just as I was about to drift off, she began to cry in hunger. Hubs hardly stirred as I pulled her crib to me and feebly, awkwardly lifted her out.

Once cradled in my arms, her soft eyes opened and I felt the first of many awesome waves wash over me: I’m her mother, her teacher, her life giver.

We lay embraced for some time before hubs stirred and the spell was broken with the interruptions of nurses and doctors caring for her and me.

Sunday, I celebrated my first Mother’s Day with hubs, my mom and sis, and of course, my Baby Bird.

As I got ready for our celebratory brunch, I thought of a Mother’s Day several years ago when I attended Skyline Church service alone in the midst of our infertility struggles. Countless women filled pews wearing corsages, holding hands with their children, dressed in their Sunday best.

Rev. Jim Garlow began to bless the service with a special prayer for all the women who longed to be mothers and were dealing with infertility. Painful tears streamed from my closed eyes.

The road to motherhood since amounted to as much pain and sorrow as that enormous joy payload in those first precious silent moments alone with Baby Bird.

One day in the midst of my pregnancy, hubs caught me in thought and asked why I was shaking my head to myself.

“Even now, I know that it happened, but I still find it hard to believe.”

He smiled and said: “Everyone keeps saying it’s because we stopped ‘trying.’ But we stopped when we started the foster care process. Maybe it happened because we were finally ready.”

In life, some seeds of happiness just won’t grow no matter what we do.

While they might not be what you expect, life just might surprise you with something (or someone) greater than you ever imagined.

My first postpartum nurse came in to wish our little girl a happy birthday and write a note up on the wipe board for her. She asked how to spell her name and as she began writing with her back to me, she turned around with a confused look.

“Did you make that up?’

In the weeks following our ultrasound, we slogged through the girl’s section of a baby names book several times over. One night in bed while reading “Atlas Shrugged,” hubs was rebuffing my latest name suggestion and I jokingly said gesturing at the book: “How about Dagny?”

He looked it up in the baby name book sitting bedside. Old Norse meaning “rebirth.”

In the months that followed, we “tried it on” to see if it fit and sometimes I wasn’t sure until hubs brought her to me for our first collective snuggle.

She lifted her head, opened her dark and stormy eyes and looked at me.

At 34, my life started anew.

Dobby the Wonderdog, Truck Stop Coffee and Other Roadtrip Ruminations


At about three hours into our road trip to Houston from San Diego for a week of Thanksgiving eating, I finally decided to reach down for my neglected pile of public relations trade magazines.

Somehow, I wasn’t months behind in my reading, but I don’t imagine I gave the articles nearly the same attention as I did with nothing else but endless sky to distract me.

Road trips force you to slow down your brain, think deeply about what you want and also what you don’t want (another Sonic burger…).

I read some thought-provoking pieces out loud to my patient husband on the role of CEOs and the importance of self branding. Bridging those two takes time and I realized that I do what we all probably do throughout our workdays. I grind. There’s not a lot of personal thought that goes into my work sometimes and that causes a nasty side-effect: I lose the chance to tell stories.

My clients range from politically-adjacent to completely grassroots and independent-thinking, but they all have the same two basic goals: grow membership and increase influence.

But what makes a Steve Jobs stand out with his product compared to Bill Gates and his product? In recent years, we’ve grown to like Gates but not in the way that we love Jobs. Perhaps because we saw a person in Jobs, not just a CEO, who founded a company he ended up losing to another leader for a time. He learned much and humbled himself in later years at the helm once again making light of his failure.

Gates lost our support during the monopoly scandal and then started a nonprofit with his wife to benefit public education. We like him, but we don’t love him and the brand loyalty of Microsoft certainly isn’t as rabid or personal as Apple.

Perhaps that’s why CEO blogs rose in popularity for some companies. When used properly and with a certain level of transparency, our fondness grows for their product and perhaps we’re more forgiving of mistakes.

On the second day of driving, I enjoyed some of the most delicious coffee I’ve had in a while and it wasn’t from Starbucks. In fact, I hadn’t seen a designer coffee place anywhere between San Diego and San Antonio. No, it was from a Love’s truck stop. I liked the coffee and the unpolished, but friendly service so much, I stopped there on my way back for two tank fill ups – my car and my caffeine levels.

Road signs flew past me along the desolate West Texas highway. It seemed to take forever, but time does pass and experiences collect.

How do we capitalize on making a lasting impression on just one passer through enough to love and benefit our brand for life?

I shared some of my ruminations with my brother, Jeff, who handled human relations for some 15 years at Exxon. He learned much and some the hard way about what resonates with the public for CEOs and what doesn’t. He now works in a similar capacity in foreign relations for a private oil company, but the challenges to humanize CEOs remains a challenge.

In the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the company CEO took a back burner and became a case study of what not to do. In the end, another “face” might have been better to look at than his but he needed to step up and learn how to be his company’s brand. It’s where we public relations professionals can make such a difference  by making sure our people are prepared for the sharp fork in the road.

“What the CEOs don’t get is that they’re the company,” he said, as we watched our hometown team lose – a long-standing Thanksgiving tradition for Detroit.

When the game was truly hopeless, Jeff walked me around his ranch grounds visit with his horses, sheep and some dang noisy chickens. As we walked, some plucky dogs and sneaky cats zipped in and out of fence lines.

One dog rescued in the 11th hour was fondly named Dobby for her strange appearance of large eyes and ears similar to that of the Harry Potter character. She’s not a traditional sheep dog, but she has the love and enthusiasm for it. The sheep resist at first, but then they respond eventually and go with the program more readily than they do with the other ranch dog more suited to the work. In fact, they actually try to bite the other dog.

You could say Dobby dresses for the job she wants and my brother happily encourages her good work.

Companies aren’t much different. Some people “look” the part, others work at being the part despite rough edges. In the end, it’s the heart and passion behind the job that motivates the best results and loyalty.

With the notion of being personal on my mind, I prepared a client during a conference call for what’s to be a great opportunity for her organization and decided that her focus shouldn’t be all work and no play.

“Be personal and visionary,” I suggested, while stretching out my mom’s house phone cord to my laptop. “Tell your story about what leading this organization means to you. With all the jobs in the world, why do you love this one?”

Sounds a tad touchy-feely, doesn’t it? But think back to those narratives that tells us about the lifes-blood of people’s work.

What drove Mark Twain to write about a poor boy in the south? Why did James Watt dedicate his life to building the steam engine? How did Tom Brady forge ahead after being a bench-sitter in college to winning three Super Bowls? Can a middle-aged Julia Child just rise to French-food stardom in a freezer-dinner world?

We’re suckers for the story behind the story.

And while most CEOs struggle to seem cool, calm and collected under pressure, as my brother pointed out, sometimes the best approach is the human one.

Standing at what seemed like my 20th fast-food counter somewhere in west Arizona, I thought about the parallel to my work ethic. I’m more of a from-scratch type who bakes my proposals with personal love.

As a friend who shares my mantra says to clients: “For better or worse, you get me.”

But I’ll admit, during a hard and heavy work week, those french-fry ideas do seem better. They save time, money and lots of people think they’re just fine. Plus, just imagine how many more clients I could serve with a few fry cooks. Fresh idea require research, vetting and sometimes, a few trials before they’re just right.

Even still, visions of poulet a la creme looking, smelling and tasting good enough to make Julia warble “Bon Appetit!”danced in my head as I looked contemptuously at my final handful of fries. I dumped the remainder in the bag.

After a full week away from my desk, I’m back to work cooking up new approaches to help my clients speak their language, not a “CEO” language, but in genuine terms that are practical, ambitious and true. We should all aspire for the lasting impressions Dobby the Wonder Dog and Love’s coffee.

Be real, be yourself, do what you love and do it well. And try to stay away from French fries – figuratively and literally.

Doctor Four and the Great Fainter


We have wandered down the road of infertility for nearly three years.

The stages of our path mimicked those of grief and we have emerged from those dark early days with hope. I’ve learned to be more open when folks ask those once painful questions.

Plus, we see ourselves as future foster/ adoptive parents, with a particular organization in mind. We just need a schedule to coincide with the classes.

But sometimes, I still get a gentle shoulder pat or a look of pity. But it rarely bothers me anymore. I know mostly what others struggle with in knowing we’re childless has more to do with them than me.

When I quit my job at the County of San Diego a few months back, Brian added me to his Navy health care plan which allowed me to keep my dentist and optometrist (woohoo!), but lose my longtime family doctor, Dr. Roth (boo!).

The process of finding a new doctor gives me hives.

It’s one more person who knows all about my medical history; truly, the most intimate nonsexual relationship we have. I had the same family doctor until I was 23 when I moved to California 10 years ago. Since then, I’ve had three.

But what I found behind doctor door number four has been a pleasant surprise so far.

“You’re 33, healthy and no babies,” Dr. Deckert began. “Let’s talk about that.”

I thought back to my early dark days struggling with depression at discussing this very topic.

“I wish my therapist had been this warm,” I thought.

She asked about all the testing I had been through, which had all come back suggesting on paper I was a Fertile Myrtle. One test, somehow, had escaped me and she wanted to eliminate that factor straight away.

I was game. My heart and mind was ready for whatever this final progesterone test revealed.

Over drinks with two of my close girlfriends, I told them I was going through another test. Their mouths dropped open.

“I thought this was all done,” one said.

Yep, me too.

The morning of my lab appointment, Brian sent me a text message: “Good luck, this morning, Pica.”

I’m notoriously bad at giving blood. The American Red Cross would not take me in a million years; I’m a faint risk. But I find if I tell the nurse I’m a baby upfront, breath slowly and pay no attention to what’s going on, I can get through it fine.

I sat in the chair while the nurse reviewed all the testing my doctor ordered for me. I felt fine and calm until I saw her pull five tubes.

“A lot of testing this morning, huh?” she asked. “Don’t worry. I have a gift from God; I’m the best at this.”

Turns out, God was off-duty during my visit.

First, I nearly fainted followed by an embarrassing bout of shock. She pinned me back in the chair until help arrived. By the time she and another nurse virtually dragged me to a table to elevate my legs, I had sweat through my clothes, my pupils looked like pin tips and all the blood drained from my face.

Eventually, all five tubes were filled while I lay limp and soggy on the table. I sat up very slowly to find three nurses peering in at me from the hall. Like a good little girl, my nurse rewarded me with a chocolate chip cookie and a can of Pepsi.

The next day, I was driving to meet Brian for dinner when my cell phone rang. I answered my silly earbuds headset and it was my cheerful doctor.

“So, I like to see a 10 or better for progesterone levels,” she said, getting right down to business. I took a deep breath. “You’re at 18.5. You have the fertility of a 20-year-old girl.”

I was silent.

“Erica?”

“I’m here,” I said, and smiled. “Thank you for calling.”

She was right. It was good to know. And amazingly, I felt not one ounce of regret at how it all played out over the years.

I called Brian, emailed my girlfriends and then talked to my mom, who had her youngest child at 42.

Later at dinner, a cloud came across Brian’s face. He had been through his share of testing too and this meant more was likely on his horizon.

“So, it’s definitely me,” he said, sounding resigned. My heart broke.

I could see his wheels turning the information over in his mind. Then, the eternal optimist smiled.

“Well, if it has to be one of us, I’m glad it’s me,” he said.

“Oh? And why is that?”

“Well, for one, I can handle needles.”

End Run, Touchdown!


The quarterback gives the play in the huddle. Just after the snap, the defenders push to the center and the quarterback gets plowed from the side. The reason: the line decided to go with another play.

In case you’re wondering, the public is the quarterback in this end run on the tax cap increase for the Centre City Development Corp. By passing the cap increase through a state bill, proponents avoided the slower, publicly-involved vetting.

Bad governance.

Due process in government should occur in public with all the requisite scrutiny. The public is not a nuisance to be sidestepped.

Let’s put aside whether we all love football, the Chargers or were the team to leave, if it would cost taxpayers more in the end to attract another team back here. The fact remains the City Council approved a plan of action in a public meeting that seems abandoned for political expedience.

True – the bill was heard and approved “in public.” But we don’t live in Sacramento. The slick, last-minute dealings at the Capitol aren’t likely to catch anyone’s attention here, particularly when designed as such.

Perhaps all would have worked out: the cap would get raised, the stadium would get built by local workers and the Chargers would stay. But wouldn’t you like to know we’re all on the same page as a team?

Shades of Gay


Maria Ydil (left) and her fiancee Vanessa Judicpa embrace... Paul Chinn / The Chronicle

“Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license.” ~ U.S. District Judge Vaugh Walker

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/08/04/MNQS1EOR3D.DTL&type=gaylesbian#ixzz0vgD3fWOc

I knew about Mick before we met in person. My best guy friend, Randy, described the member of his social circle as a narcissist, womanizer and an overall manipulator.

So naturally, Randy’s voice on the phone after hearing I was going on a date with him sounded less than pleased.

“He’s not for you, but I’m not gonna tell you what to do.”

“Nice thing to say about a friend.”

“Right, a friend and a guy, so I can overlook it. But you’re like my little sister.”

Of course, like many things in life, Randy’s assessment of Mick was dead on. What Randy failed to tell me: Mick was incredibly good-looking, smart, funny and terribly magnetic. People orbited around him and his beautiful light.

So he was tough for women to resist in spite of his flaws. Conversely, it made men feel threatened.

One day at my locker, a guy with a touch of crush on me named Mark stopped by for a brief chat.

“So, I heard you’re dating Mick,” he said. “We were in the same grade and then his mom transferred him to Powers Catholic High.”

“Yes,” I said, beaming with pride.

“Ya, he’s OK,” he said. “Too bad his mom’s a dyke.”

It felt like a slap across my face. My eyes blinked from the surprising statement and hurtful delivery.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Ask him,” he said. “Who do you think Susan is?”

I felt embarrassed by my ignorance. Turning on my heels, I marched off to my next class, art, and walked right up to Sherri who knew Mick.

“Is Mick’s mom a lesbian?” I asked quietly.

Sherri’s strangely dark facial features froze.

“I think you should talk to Mick about this,” she said, turning toward her sculpture. I pushed the sculpture aside, “No, tell me now.”

She softened somewhat and seemed to show a sensitive side toward Mick she never had before.

“It’s better if I don’t,” she said. “That’s his life.”

I realized I was being a jerk out of pride. That night, he came over to watch TV and I inquired about the remark as soon as my mom left the room. His eyes widened, but showed no signs of embarrassment or surprise.

“I didn’t know how to tell you,” he said. “You’re parents are so …”

The word he couldn’t find was likely conservative.

I sat and listened to his story with an open heart and mind. At the tender age of 18, his mother Joan set out to disprove to herself of her preference for women. At that point, she had been with neither, but she knew she felt no attraction toward men.

She met a beautiful man at a bar, took him home for a night-long romp and they dated a few months before she became pregnant. He stayed until Mick was born and then, they parted. While Mick was a toddler, Joan met Susan and together, they raised Mick.

“I was angry at school when I didn’t know,” I said, feeling emotionally drained by the story.

“And now?” he asked.

“I wish you had told me sooner. I could have punched Mark in the face.”

We dated off and on until I left for college. One day, Randy called to catch up and I could tell he was dancing around something.

“Susan died,” he said.

We all knew Susan had several health problems and always appeared frightfully thin, which was why it was funny that she was the disciplinarian.

I called Mick to express my sympathy. That weekend, I came home and drove over to see him and Joan with my friend Shannon. I had never seen Mick truly sad before.

“I loved her so much,” he said sincerely. His mother, Joan, never had another partner.

While Randy to this day would probably say my dating Mick was an error, it was landmark in my development as a human being.

I still attend church, believe in God, vote Republican and love my gays. Some would disagree all that can exist in one person – both gays and straights, liberals and conservatives alike.

I suppose using broad brush strokes allows a mind the easy out by seeing life in black and white. Blind prejudice usually comes from a desire to stifle convergent thought just as coloring inside the lines provides the oxygen to allow those thoughts to live.

My life’s painted with various brushes in shades of gray without excuse or apology. It might not be a perfect paint-by-number, but those never hang in a museum anyway.

Not Quite Dickens: Part III


Part III in my series on adoption.

When I burst into the adoption orientation, my heart was pounding.

Mostly because I was late, late, late. Seems I’m late to everything these days, especially to the finish line of the mommy race.

Suddenly, I realized that unlike the four other couples seated around the conference table, I was wearing a business suit. The facilitator Sarah greeted me with a smile.

“Barry called the other day,” she said, almost before I sat down beside Brian. “Thought I might have already met you, but I’m glad to meet you now.”

I quickly scanned the room and felt burning questioning eyes upon me.

“Yes, well, it seems we know a lot of the same people,” I said.

After learning about the process from the outside through the trusting eyes of my friends, Barry and Mindy, I sat in the room they once sat in looking across a long conference table at other people like us – childless. 

Sarah opened up the meeting by asking us to speak to one other person and share our story. It was a way for us to feel connected, maybe not feel so alone or odd in a world dominated by the happily fertile.

I turned to my right and met Jeff. He and his wife, a slight woman, went through Hell to get pregnant with their first daughter six years ago. Then, they faced the assisted reproduction process all over again. Finally, they were exhausted and decided it was time for another option.

He spoke softly and looked defenseless, raw. He and his wife wore their stress, their sadness, their longing like soaked heavy blankets from their thin frames.

We soon moved on to a topic he more enjoyed: his landscaping business.

The couple on the end seemed the youngest of the group. They were perky, cheerful and unlike the other couples, were eager to start the process without knowing a single thing more than what they knew when they arrived. 

“Can we start tomorrow?” he asked at one point.

A third couple diagonal from me were slightly older than Jeff and his wife. In their household, she was the one who resisted adoption.

“She’s a school teacher,” it was explained, as rivers of tears flowed from her eyes. “She sees kids all day and for her, it was important to have a baby of her own.”

The couple directly across from us met later in life at a sporting event. He seemed gregarious and she, a quiet wallflower. She looked at once hurt and relieved when Sarah explained that she has limits on the age of her couples, which we all qualified to meet. Whew!

Sarah detailed the various forms of adoption for both international and domestic.

Her nonprofit, Adoption Center of San Diego, offers independent adoption. She facilitates the adoption between birthparents and adoptive parents, suggests though doesn’t mandate any particular adoption attorney to handle the legal matters, offers counseling both to birthparents and adoptive parents, and makes the connection with the county for the home study visit after the baby is born and home with the adoptive parents.

In theory, any couple could arrange such an adoption with a willing birthparent, an attorney, and a home study appointment. However, Sarah’s 17 years of adoption matching does seem to suggest she knows what she’s doing. That, and I had seen the results of her successful matching for my friends.

She showed us a video of some of her matched birthparents and adoptive parents with the children. I had watched it online before the meeting, but the school teacher clearly had not. In a few minutes, the tissues on the table of hardly touched food was passed her way.

I recognized several of the interviewed adoptive families, and one new one that I somehow overlooked before. I learned forward, looked at Sarah and she mouthed: “I thought you would know them too.”

Most of the birthparents were actually single birthmoms. The ages ranged from 16 to 36. Sarah said her oldest birthmother was 44. In each instance, the reasons to place for adoption was different.

One 20-year-old single mom already had a baby and was unable to care for another. Another 36-year-old single birthmom always wanted to be a mom, but her partner left her alone without means to care for her baby.

One of the birthmoms sat beside her adoptive mom and explained why she felt good about her decision: “She told me that I gave her this great gift, but she was the gift. I don’t have to worry that my baby will grow up in a good home.”

The rounds of questions began post video.

The number of birthmothers who change their minds? In nearly two decades, less than 10.

How close are you with birthmoms after the birth? Really up to you and the birthmom, but communication before the adoption can deliniate your path.

Then, the school teacher’s husband asked: “How many of the birth dads have contested custody?”

Sarah looked around at the men: “None.”

Silence.

“You’re surprised?” she asked. “I’m not sure why they don’t, but I’ve thought about this over the years. I think if they had other options, I probably wouldn’t get a phone call.”

Then, Sarah explained her “funnel” theory.

You take all the potential qualities of a child: race, sex, mental/ emotional/ physical disabilities, fetal drug or alcohol exposure. From that, you determine the width of your funnel. The less restrictions, the wider your funnel and the more likely you’ll be matched sooner than those with a more narrow funnel.

I considered my funnel as we wrapped up the three-hour session. Could I care for a disabled child? What about a child exposed to alcohol or drugs? Would a child of a different race face social problems?

I realized that I wasn’t prepared to define my funnel.

A funnel. Not something I dreamed about when I wanted to be a mom.

I did dream of how I could deliver the news: a romantic card to my mate asking what they were doing on the due date. I even imagined the dinner scene and maybe I’d even tape the positive testing stick inside the card (cleaned, of course).

Then, just as we were about done, Sarah passed out her fee sheet.

And that’s when I almost passed out.

Based on our income, her new fees could be $20,000 to $25,000 depending on the additional cost I had not considered (care of the mother). That was roughly $5,000 to $10,000 more than we expected and even then, we would be tight.

The federal government allows for an adoption tax credit of nearly $14,000 and the Navy reimburses costs up to $2,000 for Brian. But much like my college years, the feds just don’t quite get me there.

Still in the fog of sticker shock, Brian and I discussed the matter over a beer. We were excited to be parents and we wanted a baby. But like the rest of America, we have to be financially smart during the economic downturn. Neither of us expected income increases anytime soon and our safety net funds would need to grow by leaps and bounds to swing it.

As the weeks wore on after orientation, our hope peaked and valleyed.

We continued to save as much as possible and reviewed the after-orientation meeting letter from Sarah. The next step would be to sit down with her for an in-depth meeting to discuss our path. 

What to do? Continue saving and hope for a windfall? Reconsider that path and attempt to navigate the County adoption process hoping its less than the average 2 year wait? Go back to fertility treatments and roll the dice while Brian’s Navy care could pick up those heavy costs?

Two weekends ago, I went to my third baby shower of the year (a fourth happened last weekend out-of-state). I tooled around the Babies ‘R Us seeking out registry items, something I’m becoming more proficient at than wedding registries, when I saw this young pregnant woman with her little girl in the shopping cart.

As they passed by, the little girl smiled and waved at me. I returned the gesture.

The next day, I sat besides my girlfriend Erin H. at our girlfriend’s baby shower while she breastfed her newborn, Lily. She, like our many other friends, asked about our adoption plans. I told her where we were and from the outside, it sounded like I had it all figured out.

Really, I still felt like Alice dashing through limbo asking the Cheshire Cat for directions with the clock-ticking White Rabbit ushering me to hurry, hurry, hurry.

Two days later, a fifth friend announced her pregnancy. I congratulated her and then, I checked my watch.

“I have to go. I’m late for a meeting.”

Not Quite Dickens: Part II


After the press conference promoting San Diego County Adoptions concluded, my boss asked to see a picture of the adoptive mom’s children.

The pictures of beautiful waiting children through the county’s Heart Gallery program surrounded us. The pictures would tour the county’s libraries to promote the county’s adoption program. One picture of a young boy captivated me (above).

Kim, the adoptive mom, reached into a bag and pulled out – not a wallet – but a 8 x 10 framed picture of sisters, 7-year-old Melody and 6-year-old Valina, with her and her husband.

She beamed with pride as Pam asked about the little girls. The new mom shared their personality differences and her 2 1/2 year process to complete the adoption.

“They’re beautiful,” Pam said, showing the picture around to the library director and others.

“They’re my whole life,” the new mom responded.

I turned to my co-worker Jill, who knew of my infertility struggles: “I’m going to adopt.”

A few weeks later, I found myself on my fourth jury duty and unable to locate a parking space at the El Cajon Courthouse.

Luckily, as a county employee, I could park at the county’s Health and Human Services Agency building nearby, which just happened to be the child services office.

After the court released me and the remaining jurors, I marched right into the child services office.

“Do you want to foster a child?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t think I could give a child back.”

The idea of mothering a child that could be returned to birth parents or extended family seemed too difficult.

I came home with information for Brian. A letter would soon come in the mail with some upcoming adoption/ foster care orientation meetings. We would simply pick one, attend and the process would begin.

When the letter arrived, I felt some dread. The adoptive mom at the press conference said it took 2 1/2 years and in some cases, adoptive parents foster a child first. We had already been trying for more than 2 years and I was eager to move forward.

A light bulb went off and I recalled that my dear friend, Barry, told me years earlier that he adopted his daughter after I said how much she resembled his wife (I still think she does).

I fired off an email and asked how he adopted: through the public county agency, a private agency, an adoption attorney? Was it open, closed, semi-open?

He soon wrote back and offered to speak with me. He and his wife went through open adoption through an independent facilitator at Adoption Center of San Diego. Little did I know, it was the very same organization that fasciliated the adoptions of five other couples I knew.

I immediately took his offer and explored the company’s website.

Open adoption seemed weird.

All the parties know each other, they meet before the child is born and essentially, select each other. Though I longed to adopt, a birth mother carrying a child for nine months knowing someone else would parent it felt odd to me.

The day I was to speak to Barry, I had my questions written out. A million butterflies clanged around inside.

“Do you know what open adoption is?” he began.

I gave a very basic response that all parties know each other and disclose pertinent details (medical history, racial and ancestral information, etc.).

Correct.

But, as he explained it, the relationship could vary from the vary basic (meet before the birth, relinquish rights, occassional correspondence) to very close (meet and become friends, stay friends with the birthmom after the birth, visit in person regularly).

His experience tended to swing more to the “very close” with his birthmother. But as his birthmother grew up and had a family of her own, the relationship loosened up some and visits over 10 years became less frequent.

Along with all the other open adoption aspects come the standard legal requirements for the signing over of parental rights to the adoptive parents, background checks, character references and the home study, when the county performs an inspection of the home.

It all begins with the orientation, a follow-up one-on-one with the fascilitator and then, the Dear Birthmother letter introducing yourself to potential birthmoms.

While its a much faster process, its also a much more costly option than public county adoptions. The nonprofit bases all the possible associated costs on a sliding scale according to income – anywhere from $15,000 to $22,000.

Gulp. That’s a sizeable bite.

While most of the birth parents are just birth moms, there are some couples and not always the stereotypical teenagers. The reasons they seek to place their children through adoption are as varied as adoptive couples’ reasons to adopt.

“Don’t think for a second they’re ‘giving up’ their children,” Barry said. “It’s a tough decision and they are trying to find the best possible couples to parent their child.”

From start to finish, his adoption took a few months (not years).

I grew very excited and took all my notes home for Brian.

The range of the relationship spectrum with the birthmother concerned Brian. There’s no way of knowing how close the relationship might be and what constitutes sufficient contact (birthday parties, Christmas, or the annual picnic hosted by the organization).

I shared my plans with my current and former bosses, both of whom responded to my emails in mere seconds with the kind of loving support you would expect from your parents. Very touching.

I reached out to another Adoption Center couple and this time, I spoke to the mom. She’s also a friend whose first adoption fell through; a possibility that gave me pause despite knowing it worked out well in the end.

Mindy immediately agreed and we met a week before our orientation meeting for coffee.

After catching up on the latest political happenings, we dove into the topic she and I had been discussing for years: motherhood.

We first met nearly six years ago when the baby itch hit her hard. She spoke at a club I presided over and during a meeting break, I asked how her job with the governor was treating her.

“Some days, I just want to give it up, stay home and have babies,” she said very matter-of-factly.

Months later, her husband told me they were having a hard time conceiving. I was heartbroken for them.

She felt she waited too long and devoted too many years to her career. She even toyed with writing a book on the subject (which I still think is a good idea).

A few years later, here we were in the same boat.

I remember when their first adoption fell through. An email popped into my mailbox explaining to their friends and family what had transpired to handle all questions at once.

Then, just a few months before the Presidential Election, another email arrived.

They were the proud parents of a baby boy! A few days later, I met tiny Zach at a Cindy McCain event in Coronado. Love at first sight.

The successful adoption match took place in a matter of days.

“We met on a Thursday, we liked each other and the process was under way,” she said. “Zach was born the next week.”

My mouth hung open.

“I know,” she said. “But we already had much of the other requirements done.”

Her relationship with the birth mother also contrasted Barry’s and has been nearly non-existant since the birth.

She pulled out a picture book of Zach. At 2 years old, he was quite the charmer.

Mindy sits on a board for a foster care organization that tries to reunite children removed from the home with biological parents, if possible.

“In the middle of all this fertility and adoption stuff, here I am reading cases of parents putting out cigarettes on their babies,” she said. “Some of those babies never attach, never get held and feel loved. They grow up dysfunctional.

“The world needs good mommies,” she said.

I looked forward to my orientation the next week and felt like I belonged for the first time in a few years.

As you grow up, you find ways to feel connected to those around you – learning to drive, turning 18 and 21, graduating college, traveling, weddings and marriage and finally, parenthood.

My girlfriends who conceived spontaneously will luckily never knew the pain of my struggles. As a result, they can’t relate to my experiences anymore than I can relate to theirs.

Mindy and I laughed about knowing more than anyone should about conception, drawers filled with testing sticks and that day when you find an old birth-control pill packet and toss it away.

When she decided to adopt, she said it felt like a weight lifted off her shoulder and knew then it was right.

Like magic. Like love. Like faith.

As my girlfriend Erin W. keeps reminding me, no one way to become a mom is easier than any other. 

You have to take risks, and you have to be brave. 

Learn more about foster and adoption services:

*Not Quite Dickens: Part III will examine our orientation meeting.

A Great Lakes State of Mind


“I’m actually forced to write about Michigan because as a native of that state it’s the place I know best. ” – Jim Harrison, author

A Mormon once told me they often sensed each other’s fellowship before its confirmed; like twins separated at birth. Sharing a birthplace tends to work in the same fashion, especially when more than 2,000 miles separates you from that Earth you long called home.

In San Diego, my circle of friends includes two people: people I met in San Diego and Michiganders. Somehow, our orbits intertwine and we instinctively ask with knowing smiles: “Where are you from?”

The answer rarely surprises me, but never fails to delight. Why should you care that I’m from Lake Fenton Township anymore than I care you’re from Grayling (as Mr. Harrison)? Because its another tie that binds us together and gives us a sense of belonging, of feeling understood and a bit less lonely in a world that doesn’t know the joy of a hockey game, a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, a rouwdy game of Euchre or standing on your porch watching a twister headed your way (I promise, very entertaining).

And yet, some things about home never appealed: deer hunting, unemployment, trailer parks, high crime rates, union battles, poverty, snow.

The first Californian to ride in my car amusedly reached in my backseat and picked up a monsterous life-saving combination ice and snow scraper.

“What’s this thing?” she asked, waving it around like a toy.

“Ghost from my past,” I said. At that point, I still had a car lock de-icer on my keychain. If you don’t know what that is – good for you.

Few friends and even fewer family moved away from Michigan after I started life over in California nearly a decade ago.  When I married in San Diego, there were grumblings among extended family. I was not a “bride’s bride,” but I also could not picture hosting my reception beneath the grim glow of community center florescent lighting.

Many phases passed in an out of my California life, one of which included a misguided attempt at being a blonde. Some may wish they were California girls, but I’m happy as a small-town girl living the Pacific Coast lifestyle. I’m an unfinished, unrefined brunette who make a concerted effort at sophistication.

This weekend, I will travel home to help my parents break-up housekeeping so they can sell the house and live pemanently near my brother in Houston. Many emotions swirl around in my head as I try to focus on the enormous task at hand of dissolving a home more than 35 years in the making.

Every nook and cranny, every beam and wall, every sidewalk crack and lake ripple, every apple tree and blade of grass, every firefly and frog, the remnates of childhood forts illustrates the blueprint to my birth, my history, my soul.

The neighborhood virtually remains unchanged – same families, same jobs, same houses, same cars, same twisting dirt road. All elements of that world remains frozen in time as if only for my memory to retain that sense of childhood and of never growing old.

As we discussed the week’s plans a few nights ago, my mom asked if I could handle the food for an impromptu family reunion on Sunday. She listed off what I should buy at VG’s grocery store.

“Potato or egg salad, chips, sandwiches – subs at the party store are good and we can just cut them up … ”

Flashbacks to childhood potlucks struck me. By comparison, my diet today seemed a bit “fru-fru” and produce heavy. 

“Mom, I think I can handle it,” I said. “Just let me worry about the food.”

She hesistated for a moment and then said: “These are Michigan people. Remember? Please don’t get anything weird.”

“Like what? I asked, laughing. “Pretty sure they don’t even sell avocados in Michigan.”

“Yes, like that stuff,” she said. “Never cared for it.”

Its the little things that change us over time ever so slightly. The more time draws out between me and home, the less I look like it as if my fingerprint lines shift from pressure like water against a rock.

A worn page I dogeared in Thomas Wolfe’s “You Can’t Go Home Again” reads like this: “All things belonging to the earth will never change … all things proceeding from the earth to seasons, all things that lapse and change and come again upon the earth – these things will always be the same, for they come up from the earth that never changes, they go back into the earth that lasts forever. Only the earth endures, but it endures forever.”