There is a phenomenon in the animal kingdom called nesting. In the wild, animals burrow, build, or spruce up a place for their baby to be born. Humans do it too. When a person is expecting to be a parent, sometimes something flips in their brains that makes them have unusual urges. Most of my mom-friends have expressed how strange it was to be 8 months pregnant and insisting on shampooing the carpets so the baby had a clean place to…do what exactly? It isn’t like they are going to put a newborn down on the carpet, and by the time the newborn is a crawler, the carpet will be dirty again anyway. And yet, something in the parent’s brain is signaling “make this nice for the baby.”

Before I was an adoptive mom, I assumed this phenomenon was exclusive to biological parents. After all, it is a change in hormones that is thought to bring on the nesting instinct in people. An adoptive mom’s body wouldn’t have the same triggers as a biological parent would, right?  I was so wrong. I don’t know if it had anything at all to do with hormones. I suspect not. The second the last paper was signed for us to be adoptive parents, my nesting instinct went beserk. 

I am not, by nature, a tidy person. I wish I was. I wish I was the kind of woman who had one of those exquisite day planners with stickers and tabs and fancy pens. I am not that woman. I am the woman who in an impulsive act buys the expensive exquisite day planner and . . . loses it . . . then finds it weeks later with all the stickers taken out and plastered underneath someone’s bed and every page colored on in sharpie marker that you didn’t even know was in the house. Or…something like that. Theoretically, of course. Ahem. 

All that to say, it would not be in my nature to feel an urgent need for tidy, clean, beautiful spaces. I wish I was. I think I’d fit in better as a person overall if I could somehow put myself together in a way that at least properly mimicked a grown, mature, adult person.  Alas, as I have just crested over my 40th year of life, those dreams have turned to ash. It’s fine. Really. What was I talking about again? Oh right. Nesting. So anyway I am not that woman. 

I was a  cleaning monster for three weeks. I ruthlessly scrubbed, organized, rearranged, vacuumed, assembled, and hoarded supplies like my life depended on it. I’m glad that we didn’t have any children in our home yet because I may have traumatized them permanently if we had. My sweet husband had to bear the brunt of my sudden obsession. However, I was extraordinarily proud when the caseworker came to our house and noticed how clean and tidy everything was, so it worked out. 

I would have thought that particular impulse would have been quelled with our first round of adoptions. Alas no. Thankfully by the second round, I had a friend who offered to help and another friend who offered to watch the kids so it all worked out. I can say with certainty that our house has never been as clean as it was that week since then. 

It was gratifying to hear from other adoptive moms that my nesting wasn’t unique. Almost all of them had felt some sort of urgency to get things ready for the baby (or toddler, or pre-teen, whatever) they were preparing to adopt. I listened to other moms chortle as they described how overcome they had been by the impulse to nest. 

Another way I found myself nesting was hoarding little things I thought my kids might like. Every trip to the store yielded another stuffed animal or monster truck. There were cute bedsheets, fluffy towels, soft cozy blankets, and hot wheels tracks. I was a disaster for a while there. I used to avoid the baby aisle when I was facing my infertility struggles. While I nested I could stand in those aisles for an hour just examining things I hadn’t known existed before.  My baby girl ended up with dozens of pacifiers, washcloths with duckies on them, and more clothes than she could wear if I changed her clothes every other hour she was awake. (Which, for a while there, seemed like something we were doing. Diaper blowouts are no joke.) 

I suppose my point here is that maybe as an adoptive mom it feels like we have missed on a bunch of the special baby stuff that new biological moms get to enjoy. While that is true for a few things (giving birth, breastfeeding, in utero bonding, etc.), we do get to take part in some of the silly, sweet parts. I have fond memories of squealing over adorable baby socks knowing I’d have a baby to wear them soon. 

If you find yourself needing to nest, here are a few tips so you can learn from my mistakes:

  • Set a budget for yourself. You only need a finite number of washcloths, duckies, newborn onesies, etc. 
  • Ask someone who has been there before. You might think you need a baby formula maker but chances are good you have a friend who used one and hated it, and another friend who is giving away hers so you can try it for free. 
  • Gender-neutral is your friend. I wasn’t certain if we were going to have boys or girls until pretty far along in the process. I bought a bunch of stuff that could go for either gender. There is no such thing as boy colors and girl colors. 

Good luck and happy nesting! 

Christina Gochnauer is a foster and adoptive mom of 5. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with her husband of 16 years, her children ages 3, 3.5, 4.5, 11, and 12, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from “hard places” in her church and community.