Mamaspeak: Brook Notary on adoption and the choreography of single motherhood

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As a critically-acclaimed choreographer living and working in New York City, Brook Notary is known for her use of environmental props in her creations. And every day, she deftly choreographs the environment for her most important, passion-filled project to date — her daughter Rowan, who was adopted in a whirlwind in St. Louis eight years ago.

Like most everything that comes her way, Brook tackles single motherhood with intensity and heart. Her mantra has always stuck with me, and inspires me everyday: The way you do something is the way you do everything.


brook_headshot_mamachic_blogBrook Notary, 42

Brooklyn, NY

Occupation: Choreographer and Pilates Instructor

You are the epitome of a do-it-all mama; you support not only your daughter, but your own personal projects as well, by choreographing for celebs and big brands, and instructing private Pilates clients. Can you describe your work routine?

I work my ass off, as a single mama.  I probably give 30 hours of private Pilates instruction per week — it’s a lot, the one-on-one training plus travel time around the city. I am very grateful and I truly love my clients. I get to help people feel better, for a living. It’s a pretty great job. Sometimes I teach 9 hours, back to back. I’m going for it, and it’s all for Rowan.

My true passion is choreographing, and this past year I had to put that aside to focus on teaching and making money. Art has a huge gravitational pull in my life, so rest assured, I’ll be back — with more drive than ever!

You officially separated from your ex last year. What sort of impact did that have on Rowan?

The year after I moved out was very tough on Rowan. That was the worst part of it — feeling like I failed her. I am very grateful that Daniel and I are such good friends. We have done this gracefully and without anger towards one another. He is an amazing father. We are committed to being the best co-parenting team, no matter what.

However, that doesn’t change that Rowan wanted us back together. She was very nervous that first year and it killed me, to watch her go through that.

Now, Daniel and I live 3 blocks from each other, so I’ve seen her calm down about the changes. But still, when we do the drop-off she says, “Now you guys hug. Daddy, don’t you want to kiss Mommy?” We smile and tell her that we love her to the moon and back, and that mommy and daddy are great friends. Then we group hug.

What’s it like to navigate the dating world again?

There’s a fun topic. Dating again… in NYC. The last time I was dating, there weren’t even cell  phones! I’ve definitely had to learn how to text and send emojis in order to express my feelings. I’m not so good at this. It’s a funny world. Are phone calls a thing of the past? Do people do that anymore?

I’m looking for someone who is driven and up for anything. If someone can make me laugh AND inspire me, that’s the winning combo — and I hope to do the same.  To me, a good date is getting out in this fun city and seeing live music, biking around, playing games, having good conversations and watching movies, or just being spontaneous.

My busy schedule doesn’t leave me much time for dating but if he’s worth it, I’d make the time.

Someone recently asked me if I believe in love. Hell yes I do, 100%. My parents are still madly in love after 40 plus years. They are my heroes.  But since Rowan came into my life, I believe in it more.

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What’s the hardest thing about motherhood?

I think every good parent thinks they can always be doing better.  Being a single mom has its challenges but I think I’m doing pretty well. Even though Daniel and I are not together, we are very much a team when it come to parenting Rowan. Staying present with our kid is the key — it is so easy to be distracted. But when there is only one parent at a time, you just can’t. It’s the most loving gift we can give: being present .

I just want to raise a confident, strong, independent, loving, kind, driven woman with a good sense of humor about it all. My parents did a great job balancing discipline and playfulness with my brothers and I.  It’s that balance. That’s the tough part. Being a good parent is  definitely tough love.

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I sometimes feel like I’m not helping Rowan find her special talent. I have this fear — am I giving her enough opportunity? Am I exposing her to enough? She’s a nature kid, living in the city. I want to make sure she’s getting a balance. When I go on and on about her finding her special talent, she says, “Mom, I know what my special talent is. I make people feel great!” I love my kid so much. She’s a really awesome person. If there’s a scholarship for that, she’d get it. She’s a damn good kid. She’s sweet. Determined. Very loving and kind. She’s adamant about standing up to others. She’s not afraid to walk up to someone who is bullying someone else with her hands on her hips. She’s not afraid to tell anyone off. She’s fearless in that way! I’m learning a lot from her.

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Tell us about your adoption story.

When Daniel and I decided to adopt eight years ago, we met with a lawyer who told us, “This process takes about a year and half. Just look at the paperwork.” And showed us a huge stack on her desk. Then she said we had to put together a book about ourselves, so birth mothers could get to know us and decide if we were the right ones.  So I took a week off of work and just plowed through it. I just had a feeling there was a kid out there that I needed, and needed me right now.

We taught ourselves Powerpoint and made a book about our lives. A week later we came back to the lawyer with all the completed paperwork and this book. She said, “Wow — this book is great. We need to send it now to this one birth mother who can’t decide on adoptive parents.” So I wrote a cover letter to her, straight from the heart, and the whole thing was overnighted.  Two days later, after I finished teaching a Pilates class, the lawyer calls me and says “She picked you! And she’s due on Friday!” And it was Tuesday. We had no idea that the birth mom was that far along in her pregnancy! I was out of my head excited, nervous, laughing, crying. You name it, I was feeling it.

It was a very fast experience. The next day we started our 3 day drive through snow and sleet to St. Louis where the birth mother was. We picked up a carseat along the way, and a bunch of diapers. But then she didn’t have the baby for 3 weeks! We camped out at a motel across from a cigarette plant. It was right off a freeway. This couldn’t have been worse! Definitely gave us something to laugh about. Then Daniel had to go back to New York for an audition, so I stayed on my own for a week. In that week, I lost 11 pounds. Just waiting by my phone. I had so much adrenaline — I couldn’t chew, I couldn’t eat. I guess was going through the emotions an entire pregnancy in one week.

Also, before we came down, Rowan’s birth mom had told me on the phone that she was having a boy. So we bought all boy clothes with the little cute baseball and footballs on them– I had taken off the tags and washed it all. But it turns out it was just her feeling. I thought she went to the doctor, but it turned out before we arrived, she did had not been to see a doctor yet — thanks to our wonderful health care system in the U.S.

So I went to the doctor with her, and then found out she was having a girl. (Rowan wore blue for the first 3 months of her life!)  Meeting Rowan’s birth mom and birth father was another one of those moments in life where you feel every emotion, all at once. The four of us met for dinner. We were all so nervous, it was crazy. The birth mom and father kept ordering one Mountain Dew after another and here I am thinking “Doesn’t she know there’s all this caffeine in Mountain Dew?” I was also quite struck by how incredibly brave and selfless this young couple were. She was sweet and he was funny. I admit it was hard for me to watch her drink all that Mountain Dews though.

There were a couple tests done by the doctor that also made me worried about the health of the baby. The doctor could see this on my face and took me out in the hall for a talk. “Babies are resilient. This baby needs someone to help her get healthy. And all her vital signs are perfect. It’s a strong baby in there. If you want to take care of her, you should do it.” It was the pep talk of all pep talks. That’s all I needed. I was all in after that talk, 100%! I couldn’t wait for this baby girl to be born!

Rowan was not born from my belly, she was born in my heart. It was that day in the doctors office that I began to fall in love with this unborn baby girl.

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You got to be in the delivery room when Rowan was born. Can you describe how you felt at that moment?

When Rowan was born, and it was crazy love at first sight. Unreal. Her birth mom was amazing and said “I want Brook to hold her first. The baby should smell Brook first.” That is the most selfless act of loving kindness that I think I have ever experienced . Such a brave young lady. Still makes me cry.  I see that bravery and loving kindness in Rowan everyday.

It was incredible to hold Rowan that first time. All those questions I had, like “Will I have those motherly instinct because I didn’t birth her?” were answered. The second she was born, I felt that immediate bond and love hit me across the chest. It’s a different kind of love than I’ve ever felt.  I know love on a whole new level! It’s insane!

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How has motherhood changed you?

Now I know what matters and that time is precious. I have more of a sense of being spiritually connected to a greater good. I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore.

When do you feel most beautiful?

I feel most beautiful when I’m laughing. I love watching people laugh. Life gets so serious sometimes. A smile really lights up a face. I also feel most in my skin when I’m dancing and choreographing.

That beautiful feeling is also walking with Rowan, holding her hand and talking. Yeah, that’s when I feel most beautiful.

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What’s the biggest thing you do to give back to the earth?

We are recycling maniacs! Rowan is the recycling gestapo. She upcycles everything. We’ll make bird baths out of garbage. She doesn’t let me throw out many things.

If Rowan sees those plastic soda can holders on the street, she gets so pissed. She picks them up and breaks them apart while ranting, “Don’t people know these are killing animals! Mama, why are they still making these? Can’t they find another way to hold the cans together?!”

So do us a favor… Stop drinking soda or cut those damn things up before you toss them.

You are one of the most health-aware people I know. What advice do you have for busy families to eat healthier, more easily?

Have raw veggies all the time in your fridge. I do a Sunday prep for the entire week. Any time you feel snacky… reach for that.

But I truly believe a healthy body starts with a healthy mind. Listen to how your inner voice talks to you. Be nice to yourself. Our thoughts shape everything.

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Rowan’s first Halloween. Costume made by Rowan’s grandma, Judy Notary. 

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3 replies
  1. Kate Zuckerburg
    Kate Zuckerburg says:

    As a mom to 2 wonderful, adopted kids, I hung on to every word of this adoption story. We had a fast process as well and as stressful as it was we feel like we were the luckiest people in the world to adopt our Jessie and Jordana. I feel like I was destined to be their mom whether I birthed them or not. They are a part of my heart and soul and I cannot imagine then not in our lives.

    Thanks for this article and being an inspiration!

    Reply
  2. Samantha
    Samantha says:

    I love you Rowan and Brook! There is so much more I want to say but I’m so proud of you! Please contact us!

    Reply

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