17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Nesting Instinct Is Real

When I first got pregnant 8 months ago and started diligently reading every book on pregnancy I could find, I was a little skeptical whenever I came to the “What you’re experiencing emotionally this month”-type sections. How could they possibly generalize what every pregnant woman feels from month to month? I was especially skeptical of this thing they labeled “the nesting instinct”: this urge to “nest” like a bird, set up a home, clean, organize, put things in their places, and just generally prepare a place for “baby” (I can’t stand how these books insist on leaving out the definite or possessive article when referring to our unborn children).

But I’m here to confess that, at least with this one generalization, the pregnancy books seem to be right.I first felt it in the middle of my fourth month when my constant nausea was finally gone. I found myself not only cleaning and organizing everything but actually accomplishing major projects that I’ve been wanting to do for years but never found/made the time for: cataloging every book we own (by author, title, pub date, publisher, ISBN, and price—yes, I admit it’s a little overboard!); making a list of all our CDs and DVDs (not quite finished); creating an address table with names, children’s names, phone numbers, email addresses, and home addresses of everyone we’ve ever known and wanted to keep in touch with; finishing my wedding album; labeling and uploading all our digital pictures to the web. I couldn’t believe how quickly and efficiently I got these things done. I’ve been just a planner and a thinker when it comes to these kinds of things. Suddenly at 17 weeks pregnant, I was a doer! It felt great.

But this need to nest really set in when it came time to disrupt my future baby’s home. And I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that went along with it. At the beginning of my fifth month, it was time for my husband and I to pack up our entire household and move back to the States: our first overseas post with the Foreign Service was coming to an end. Now, to adequately articulate the emotions I felt in this process, I have to explain that I was really looking forward to this move: we’d been in Sarajevo for 18 months, and although we enjoyed the city, found the culture and history of the country fascinating, and made a few really good friends, we felt—mostly because the church hasn’t been established in Bosnia yet—lonely, isolated, and empty most of our time there. Our life was never as full and rich there as it had been previously in New York. Then once we found out we were pregnant, the desire to leave the country and be back in the States in time for our first delivery was stronger than ever. I was eager to pack up and come home.

But the weekend came when we needed to prepare for the packers, and I freaked out. “Preparing for the packers” meant deciding what—out of everything we own—would go into our 450 lb. air-shipment to the States and what (everything else) would go into storage in Antwerp, Belgium for the next ten months to meet us in Tokyo (our second post) after our “temporary assignment” in the States. Do you know how little 450 lbs. is? Do you know how hard it is to decide what you will need to live for almost an entire year? I had to stand in front of my wall of books—my beloved books—and decide which ones I could live without for a year; my husband had to choose which of his precious cookbooks would stay behind; we had to anticipate what clothes, shoes, cookingware, linens, and important documents would be absolutely necessary over the next ten months and then send the rest to storage to be completely inaccessible until a year later.

I don’t think I made a single decision that weekend without crying. My husband and I argued. I deliberated for hours over the smallest choices. Here I was, anxious to make this change, ready to move on to an exciting new transition, and I resisted every step of it. Something inside of me reacted so negatively I barely knew how to behave.

I think it was when I was sitting on my bedroom floor trying to decided whether or not I would really need/want to have my first journal with me (the journal my mother started for me with an account of the day I was born and that I took over when I was able to write) that I first recognized my baby’s movement inside of me. And it all became clear. Internally, I was feeling the need to “nest,” and here I was ripping apart my “nest.” Everything that I was looking forward to and doing that weekend conflicted with this very subconscious maternal instinct to prepare for my baby’s arrival. Inside, I was feeling the need to have things settled and stable, and yet my actions were producing the exact opposite results; I was tearing things apart, disrupting the order I had created in my home, and creating instability and chaos. (Incidentally, I decided that my first journal was something I did want to have with me.)

Needless to say, the weekend became easier when I understood what I was feeling. But the feelings have persisted to this very day. Now, at the beginning of my eighth month, I am finally settled into the home that will welcome my first child. I have felt (subtly and internally) anxious and crazed every day until now—anxious to “set up” my life, compelled to “settle” and have things ready. Traveling for a month of home leave in December and then taking the last five, six weeks to find an apartment, furnish it, and create a livable space have been accompanied by this constant sense of urgency. It’s as if nothing else matters but getting ready for this baby, and getting ready means having a physical place prepared for its little existence.

I know that so many women give birth in unsettled circumstances. I have countless friends in the Foreign Service who leave their home six weeks prior to their due date and give birth back in the States, often without their husbands, in temporary homes or living with family. I know tons of women (some of whom participate in this blog) who have moved into a new home just weeks before having a baby.

Has anyone else felt this? It has been such a powerful feeling these last few months, and I’m grateful that things have worked out such that I’ve been able to finally comply with my crazy maternal needs!


  • Oh good gadfrey, yes! You are so okay and good and normal. My situation isn't nearly as drastic as yours, but we have to be moved across the country less than a month after my due-date.... and I'm going nuts! I can't act on a single nesting impulse I experience... most of our belongings are already in storage. And because we don't want to move more than we have to... I have to wait to accumulate any baby-things until after the move... unfortunately that means after the baby is born... and heaven only knows how much time and energy I'll have left to invest at that point... some days I think I'll go mad! Must stop using "....!"
    posted by Blogger Em at 2/21/2006 04:13:00 PM  

  • Great post, Sunny. Yours is definately a dramatic illustration of the desire to "nest" and the difficulty in doing so when your life takes you all over the world. All of your feelings are normal and you're handling them well.

    We moved across the country (NYC to San Francisco) when I was 7 1/2 months pregnant with our second. Our first was 17 months old and between juggling his newfound toddlerhood, finding a house to buy, getting set up with a new OBGYN and preparing for another c-section, I was a mess. I knew that we weren't going to stay in our corporate housing much after we brought our daughter home so it was hard to make that place feel like "home". We closed on our house when she was 2 weeks old and moved when she was 5 weeks. And do you know what I was OBSESSED with at the end of my pregnancy? The right bumper pad for her cradle. I was CONVINCED that if I could locate the perfect bumper pad, I could make her feel at home and our temporary quarters would look and feel like a proper home.

    So ridiculous, but since it was my second I recognized my need to "nest" and just went with it.

    She ended up having 3 different bumper pads for her cradle, by the way...
    posted by Blogger chloe at 2/21/2006 08:07:00 PM  

  • Were there any other foreign members you could meet with for church in Bosnia? We're living in Kyrgyzstan right now and I understand what you mean about the isolation.
    posted by Blogger Amira at 2/22/2006 06:43:00 AM  

  • Hear hear! We moved from NYC when I was almost 7 months and it was HARD. I didn't want to leave, not excited AT ALL about the whole thing but have since come to grips. Now my problem is a different one. Our house (we are building) is supposed to be done about one week before our baby is due. I am in a total panic because I don't know if I'm ready or not. I read an article in the doctors ofc last week entitled "are you ready for your newborn?" Ahhh! No! I'm not! I went home and separated everything into boxes, washed all of his sheets, clothes, towels and nothing. No satisfaction. I am still in a panic and feel guilty everytime someone brings up "nesting". I feel like I can't, because I don't have a tree, and will my son be messed up because of it? I just keep praying everything works out (and that our builder responded to my cookies and other "tactful" attempts to light a fire under his workers!)
    posted by Blogger Melissa at 2/22/2006 07:06:00 AM  

  • I have been fortunate enough to have stayed in the same place for all 3 of my pregnancies and births.

    That said, nesting instinct is the same! EVERYWHERE! It's very, very real. It doesn't matter if the house seemed perfectly organized with baby #2. It must be perfect for baby #3!

    My dh would freak out when he would come home and find out that for 6 hours straight I had been moving furniture in the basement and organizing things into boxes and then LIFTING those boxes onto shelves, etc. Good grief! Like the baby needs the furniture in the basement realigned...it was quite sad. :) :)

    However, I think it's more than just having a physical place for our babies to come home to. I think it also has something to do with the fact that a lot of things (like your cataloging and pictures and things) will not be touched or even thought about until the baby is much, much older. Babies occupy all our time --and our minds. Nesting in that sense of organization is a way to clear the pathway for our minds to be at peace and so we can focus our attentions on our sweet newborn.
    posted by Blogger Cheryl at 2/22/2006 08:38:00 AM  

  • P.S. Dh would "freak out" because I was 8 months pregnant...
    posted by Blogger Cheryl at 2/22/2006 08:39:00 AM  

  • You're very ambitious! Got some projects in the works myself ... reorganizing office, then the "junk room" will become the baby's room. I just hope I don't run out of energy before it all gets done ....
    posted by Blogger Damselfly at 2/22/2006 02:59:00 PM  

  • What Cheryl said. I start nesting about halfway through my pregnancies, maybe partly due to hormones, but mostly because 1) I realize how badly things have gone to heck during the preceding months of vomiting continuously, going to bed at 7:30, and generally doing not much else; and 2) I realize that I have a brief window to get all this stuff done before I will be challenged with sleep deprivation, nursing and changing diapers continually while trying keep up with my older kids' needs. Even with a ridiculously low-maintenance baby, it's hard to get much done with one hand while holding an infant in the other.
    posted by Blogger Allison at 2/22/2006 05:11:00 PM  

  • Because i lived in an itty bitty apt. for baby#1, all the reorganizing i could do was ONE drawer that was set aside for his clothes. I must of reorganized that drawer at least twice a day for the last two months. And even while i was doing it i knew i was being absolutely crazy. I feel anxiety for you in this huge transition of life and home. You are a strong woman Sunny! Good Luck...
    posted by Blogger ksl at 2/23/2006 06:19:00 AM  

  • My nesting instinct with my first child consisted of my looking down at my belly when I was eight months pregnant and wondering how that was going to get out.

    I was that stupid. I didn't even know our vaginas and ureters were separate places. My little sister told me.

    I almost had that baby at home because I didn't know I was in labor. I thought it was a kidney infection.

    My husband moved us while I was in the hospital (they kept you longer in those days). What a mess I faced. Two men moving all our stuff into a garage converted to an apartment.

    Second baby, cleaned up the house and totally nested in the hours before birth.

    Third, same. All down with all the holes in one's bodies and what they're for.

    Thank God, no moving.
    posted by Blogger annegb at 2/24/2006 05:41:00 AM  

  • Ah! So many of you have dealt with circumstances FAR worse than mine: closing on a house just weeks after the baby is born, finishing a house right before the baby comes, moving in the middle of it all! I've had it easy!

    Chloe--I think your concentration on something as simple as a bumper pad is a great example of all this--when everything else is beyond our control, at least something like a bumper pad can make a little "nest."

    Allison--amen! to that brief window between morning sickness and birth. If nothing else, the urgency comes from just knowing the time is running out.

    And then in contrast to all of this, there's my good friend whose philosophy is: all you need is a pack of diapers!

    Amira--as for members in Bosnia: most of the time we were there, church was held in our home and consisted of my husband and me, a member from Belgium (who became our great friend), and various US military guys, who came and went without their families.

    We were very blessed, about eight months before we left, to find one local/native member of the church who attended regularly, and a whole American family, including two kids, who had been in the area for a while but not known how to find the church. They were such a great addition to our group. I didn't realize until we found them how much I had missed the companionship of women in the church.
    posted by Blogger sunny at 2/26/2006 06:52:00 PM  

  • I, too, understand your plight. However, I'm still in the middle of mine. I am 36 weeks pregnant and all of my belongings (save a suitcase full of clothes, some toiletries, and my computer) are in a storage container in my backyard as we attempt to complete this phase of remodeling before the baby arrives. I have paint on my walls and my floor is refinished. But my husband doesn't want to move in until the millwork is up and painted. Today, he told me that would take almost 2 more weeks. I feel like I may go out of my mind. What to do?

    I just needed to vent.

    PS... My other child just turned 1. They'll be 13 months apart.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 7/10/2007 02:10:00 PM  

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