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Adoption and The Nursery: How preparing our nursery helped me be hopeful, be expectant and be ready

By Kate Helmberger 

If you ask any prospective adoptive parent what the hardest part of the adoption journey is for them, many times you’ll hear the same answer: the wait. By the time a family has decided to pursue adoption, they’ve already been waiting for years to build their family. Once they’ve begun the adoption process, they are faced with a potentially long wait to bring home their much-hoped-for child, with no definitive timeline or light at the end of the tunnel. This was very much the case for my husband and me; the wait for our domestic infant adoption was brutal and felt endless.

One question I received early during our wait was: “Will you put together a nursery?” It was a hard question to answer. Part of me wanted to respond with confidence (and a little indignation): “Of course I’ll set up a nursery! We’re having a baby! Isn’t that what expectant parents do?” Another part of me wanted to retreat and sob. How could I set up a nursery when we were facing that unknown, unending wait? What if the child we were hoping for never arrived? Could I look at a room every day that reminded me that we didn’t have the family we wanted?

I had been dreaming about what my baby’s nursery would look like for years – I yearned to be a mother. But the decision to prepare a nursery is a very personal, very emotional thing for adoptive parents. There’s no right answer. For some, it isn’t the right choice. For me, it was. I hope that in sharing what preparing our nursery (without a birth mother match or any concrete timeline) did for me, you’ll also be encouraged to consider doing the same.

First, preparing our nursery allowed me to be hopeful. There’s something about taking a concrete, visible step toward something you’re hoping will happen that instills optimism and confidence that maybe, just maybe, it will happen. You can start small. My first purchase for our nursery was a whimsical painting of a llama. Seeing that painting in the space that would become our nursery made me smile almost every day, and was a reminder to myself that I could hope. Each other addition to our nursery, whether it was a crib, a rug or a lamp, was an opportunity for us to “put our money where our mouth is” and believe that we would be parents.

Second, preparing our nursery allowed me to be expectant. As a prospective adoptive mother, you miss out on most of the natural cues of expectation that come with a biological pregnancy – the biggest being that growing midsection, reminding you every day that a baby is coming.  It was important to me to allow myself to feel like an expectant mother, and the nursery was a great place for that. I would sit in the rocker (often with my dog on my lap), and dream about what it would be like to rock our little one in it. I would touch the gender-neutral baby clothes hung carefully and wonder if we’d have a little boy or little girl to wear them. Having a space to dream about and anticipate our little one helped to remind me that he or she was coming, even when the wait felt long.

While preparing the nursery helped me feel hopeful and expectant, like all things in adoption, there were a lot of mixed emotions. Some days, I’d close the door so that I wouldn’t need to see the reminder that we were still waiting. At some points during our wait, I felt so discouraged and hopeless that I wanted to pack up the nursery altogether (and even tried to, though my loving and patient husband gently stopped me). Other times, I felt foolish and wondered if I looked like a crazy person with a fully stocked nursery, but no baby. Many tears were shed in that room. But having these feelings mixed with hope and expectation are the story of adoption – there are so many differing emotions. It’s no surprise that the nursery brings the same mixed feelings. And that’s okay! In the end, I’m glad we did it, because…

Most importantly, preparing our nursery allowed me to be ready. Our wonderful adoption agency, Haven Adoptions, told us early on that adoption placements can happen very quickly and without notice. After seeing this happen for another adoptive family early in our wait, we decided that we wanted to be ready should that be our case. It gave both of us peace of mind to know that our nursery was well stocked and ready for a little one at any moment. I’m so grateful we did this, because we matched with our daughter and had her placed with us two days after she was born. As overwhelmed new parents, it was hard to imagine needing to scramble for a car seat, a bassinet or clothing on such short notice!

And now, rocking our daughter in the nursery I spent hours preparing and dreaming in, it was definitely worth it.