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Monday, April 23, 2007


It's called nesting when you start frantically making changes to your house before the baby arrives. But what is that grasp for control called when you start doing frantic cleaning prior to or during fertility treatments?

People nest because they are preparing a space for an actual baby. There are the logistics--preparing a place for the baby to sleep or cleaning up lingering projects that you know will be further pushed to the wayside once the baby arrives. And there is the emotional side of it too--it makes the arrival of the baby feel more tangible and concrete. Nesting is our way of making a special space before a baby arrives and it's the last vestige of calm before the storm of a new life in the house. The driving impulse is to take care of the small things now because once the baby arrives, you'll wish you had everything in place as your world it turned upside down.

But there is a form of nesting that comes with fertility treatments. The first time around, I began this frantic cleaning and organizing around month nine--the month when we started learning that perhaps there was something wrong. Josh would come home and everything would be out of the closet. "I'm organizing," I would tell him, simply putting the items back in a more dignified order. Two chapters of my unfinished dissertation and five drawers filled with notes and drafts took up the corner of our second bedroom--the bedroom that was supposed to contain a child. One afternoon, I dumped all of the pages into industrial-strength trash bags and dragged them over to the garbage room in the building. "I don't need them anymore," I explained. "I'm never going back to complete that and besides, hopefully we'll have a baby in there and we're going to want room for a glider."

The cleaning didn't just affect my own apartment. I went to Detroit a few days after learning that I produced almost no progesterone in the second part of my cycle. "You're not going to be able to carry a pregnancy without some help," my OB explained over the phone as I sat in a Starbucks, trying to grade student papers. A huge snow storm hit the East Coast while I was there and I was stuck in Detroit for an additional three days. On the first day, I watched old episodes of ER on TNT. I walked to a bookstore and bought an anthology of pregnancy stories to see if I could glean any information from another person's attempts at trying to conceive (oh...blogs...where were you when I needed you?). On the second day, I started the cleaning. I bleached the bathroom that was already spotless. I dusted the surfaces that had obviously been dusted prior to my arrival. I found the motherlode of organization as I took apart her vacuum cleaner, cleaning out every nook and cranny. My Lady-When-Waiting came home for lunch to find me surrounded by dust-covered paper towels and vacuum parts, sobbing hysterically. "Do you think," she asked gently, "like it might be a good idea to go talk to someone about this? I mean, since you've gotten to a point where you're taking apart my vacuum cleaner for something to clean."

It's nesting when you believe that you need to prepare for a real baby. The cleaning--it's all a grasp for control when you don't believe you will ever have an actual baby (or another baby in the case of secondary IF). It's mooring--a desperation to attach yourself to something more stable so you don't float away. An anchoring of sorts when you feel as if you are surrounded by chaos. It's not supposed to be like this. I'm supposed to be able to make a baby.

This mooring, like nesting, can take different forms for different people. It's nesting when you take a prenatal yoga class, strengthening your body for the demands of labour. But what does one control when their time in the stirrups usually involves a catheter or prewashed sperm? I exercised, waking an hour before I needed to leave for work so I could run on the treadmill. I couldn't control conception, so I turned to the closest thing--controlling my weight and my body. I'm sure there are other forms of mooring that other people have clung to as they navigate the waters of infertility and loss.

This weekend, I cleaned the living room. The stacks of paper that surrounded my desk? All gone--tucked into drawers, filed, or trashed. The books that were making it impossible to sit on one side of the sofa? All gone--returned to the library or reshelved on the bookshelves. One hundred post-it notes have been crumpled or saved. Even as I'm cleaning out boxes that don't need cleaning, I'm searching for the next project. Should I tackle my recipe binder, with hundreds of unfiled recipes stuffed in between pages? Should I clear out the kitchen drawers and send my brother all of the equipment that we never use?

Should I prepare the final bedroom again? Clear out the flippers and snorkels in the closet? Mend the clothes that have been tossed on the guest room bed? Empty the drawers of old sweaters and t-shirts to make room for small onesies, receiving blankets, caps.

Do I believe there will ever be a child in that room?

This mooring, this cleaning and organizing, is what keeps me from floating away.


PCOSMama said...

If you start on the 'baby's room' you'll know you are definitely it this for the long haul again. The fact that you are even considering it is a sign that you are preparing for the journey and hopeful of the outcome. I say go for it!

Shelby said...

Well said! You just explained half of what my weekend was about! I thought I was just losing my mind. Now that I know it was just mooring, its' all good! ;)

May said...

I'm doing the opposite. I feel totally out of control in this enforced I-may-not-conceive-now. And the flat is an absolute tip. I did force myself to clean the bathroom this morning, and do some of the dishes, but by and large, when faced with something that needs a good organize, I kick it back under the coffee table and knit instead. Everyone in the family has cute socks, but I think the vacuum cleaner may be getting rusty.

Nicole said...

Great post! This one really spoke to me because I found myself compelled to paint the interior walls of my house this weekend. Someone commented that I was nesting. I didn't know what to do with that thought. I have no baby, and lost my pregnancy, so am I really nesting? Either way, I feel a tremendous urge to go through my closet and steam clean the rugs.

serenity said...

Funny - I'm like May. When I'm cycling, I feel so out of control that I don't even bother to TRY. I make my husband make the decisions; even about something as simple as what I make for dinner. I let the dust pile up. Because it seems so POINTLESS for me, you know? Why even bother pretending like I have ANY control over anything?

And then, when they cycle is all over, I realize that I've let both me and my house go. And then I clean. And clean. And clean.

I suppose it's my way of cleaning away the emotions of a failed cycle - but it's always on the back end of a failure.

I suppose I don't moor - I just work to get back to the surface in between tries.

But I can understand the need to moor, certainly. I maintain that the hardest thing to manage about IF is all of the UNCERTAINTY. You gotta do what you gotta do to manage it best as you can.

Feel free at any time to stop by my house in Massachusetts and clean. :)

Artblog said...

I am so the same!

I was never this neat and tidy before infertility.

Just ask my husband, he puts down a cup for one min, he turns his back, I swipe it away, wash it, dry it and put it back in cupboard, he turns around to take said cup, its not there, he says, "but I havent finished with it yet"! Moan, moan...

He hates that :)

Mindy said...

I wish I could say my house was newly clean and organized, but I tend to react by shutting down; AND, our housecleaners quit two weeks ago!!! This weekend was so beautiful and I should have spent every minute outside with my daughter. Instead I spent half the time wanting to lie on the couch and the other half making excuses to run errands by myself. I did manage to take the kid to the park yesterday afternoon and we did have a great time, but still my house is a mess. Well, except for the cleaning my husband did!

On another topic, I just read your post about your mom being your "lady-when-waiting" and it made me cry. My mom is wonderful, but I just don't have anyone who gets what this is like the way your mom obviously does. After that I watched "My Aunt Jane Knows More Than My RE" and I almost peed in my pants. THANKS!!!

ultimatejourney said...

My house looks pretty good right now, but I'm a mess. I've definitely let myself go more than I meant to these past couple months. I'm hoping to regain some sense of control, but it's hard to care when the one thing you want most seems so far away.

Karianne said...

This is wonderful. I'm linking to this today on my job blog!

A.M.S. said...

Hmmm, I wish infertility drove me to clean. I've never been what one might call "tidy." Heck, I don't even bother with the "controlled" part of controlled chaos.

I do, however, moor myself with knowledge. I find comfort in putting that master of liberal arts degree to good use and researching to the nth degree. I tough my way through medical studies. I may not find control, but I do find a sense of sanity that way. I think that's what is getting me through these last two days before ER...all of the knowledge that I and the clinic have done all that we could and now, it's up to the powers that be.

In a completely unrelated the heck am I supposed to type a word verification string that includes an umlaut? Seriously, does the internet not understand that my brain is fried on hormones?

Ellen K. said...

I've tended more toward the other end -- the letting-go of house chores, the putting-off of decisions about paint and furniture, etc. Drifting aimlessly. I'm sure a Feng Shui expert would find some meaning in the fact that so much junk was stored in the nursery. : P Now I feel a lot more organized. It may be a subconscious desire to prove myself as a good "housewife" since I am not a mother.

Adrienne said...

It's that never-ending search for something to control, in the midst of what you can't. I have small bursts of it, but right now I'm still having my pity party so I'm finishing that pint of B&J's (New York Super Fudge Chunk to be specific) and wondering what I can consume next that's fatty, sugary and will send me straight to weight-hell.

Anita said...

Great post Mel!

Three years ago I had to moor myself upon learning that my friend Peggy's husband had sucumbed to cancer. I took apart every cupboard in my kitchen, washed each and every shelf like it was to be inspected by the military and put everything away once again. Sgt came home to find me knee deep in kitchen clutter and sobbing and the only thing I could say was 'I can't help Peggy and I can't stop cleaning.'.

Cathy said...

Is THAT why I just spent an entire afternoon organizing the recipe drawer?

The rest of my house is a pig-sty. The dust bunnies can breed, even if I can't. I haven't cooked dinner in weeks, and haven't even bothered to try to CHOOSE food for meals. Nothing seems quite worth the effort of doing.

But as the cycle from hell spirals further out of hand, I can now tell you exactly where to find the recipe for fudge.

Starfish said...

I'm in the opposite category too. I never nested. Ever. I figured with my luck I would jinx everything if I so much as even looked in the nursery to be guestroom. Not even when we were close to a referral did I do anything. In fact, we had 6 days from the time we got the call to the day we travelled to Colombia. I had the husband empty the room somewhere in there, and I did everything when I came back and had a real live baby in my arms.

Zee said...

All last summer (during an extended period of separation from VB, and therefore, an extended period of "not-trying") I was mooring as if my life depended on it. (And in a way it did. I was in a BAD WAY!) Exercise, organic diet, yoga, cleaned out ten years' worth of crap from the attic, painted the name it, I did it.

And I remember one day, as I was jogging and wheezing and repeating my "positive affirmations" over and over (all so out of character for my lazy-ass self) it occurred to me what I was doing. I didn't use the term "mooring," but I did think, "Okay, this is all about control--like that (fortunately) unsuccessful toying with anorexia back in college. I can't make my body younger, and I can't seem to make it produce a baby (or, sometimes, even a decent cycle) but I CAN force it to run, and breathe, and get stronger and leaner and healthier. I can STILL MAKE IT DO SOMETHING, damn it!"

(Re-reading this, I'm not sure if this is an example of mooring or just of my own mental illness. Anyway, I think I get what you mean!)

Pioggia said...

So true. But then I thought of a recent cleaning spree. What would you call it, when you have to hide the sharps container in the bathroom, put away the alcohol and cotton swabs, organize the pills into the cupboard instead of the kitchen counter and take the chart off the door of your fridge because your parents are coming for the holidays?

Anonymous said...

I have done all those fact we reorganized the RWSNBN (as in Room Who Should Not Be Named) several times...changing it's purpose based on where we were at with i'm a cleaning fiend because i want some little, teensy bit of control over this demon that has pretty much devoured me...

btw, mel, thank you for that lead via Ms. C...i appreciate your thoughts and ideas...we will be looking into it when we get back from our little holiday and i will let you know what, if anything, pans out!


xavier2001 said...

I think it's partially a control thing, when I was going through infertility treatments, I had absolutely no control over my body, but I did have control over the organization of my house and kitchen, so I just focused on that. I am a big stress baker as well, all my co-workers still ask why I don't bake any cookies or banana bread for them anymore!

Mands said...

You are so right Mel. I do this all the time. When doing my IUI's, I let things be, but since being on a break, I have taken control back in other ways, cleaning, organising, eating properly and planning my life to a standstill. It's all about control.

Brooke said...

I so understand all you described. We just look so hard for SOME control when it feels like there is none to be found.

I wanted to (very belatedly) thank you most especially for your kind words on our little miracle arrival.

I hope it helps to know (and I PRAY this doesn't come off as arrogant or in ANY way superior) that after four miscarriages and at the RIPE old age of 42 (!), the room's finally being used. :)

Bea said...

You took the vaccuum cleaner apart? That's pretty epic. (On a similar note, have you started charting too, or is it just the housework at the moment?)

I'm like Serenity. Cleaning slows, then stops during tense waiting periods, but it comes back with a vengeance after a failure.


TeamWinks said...

You've been hiding in my hall closet haven't you?! You wrote that just for me, after giggling at my crazy mooring!

The Town Criers said...

Pioggia--that is such a good question :-) What is that called when you hide away anything IF related?

Piccinigirl said...

Oh this is exactly how I have been feeling. I thought that it was just spring cleaning but now as I read this, I realized that i am nesting/mooring nd getting ready for our IVF.
I am trying anything to keep my mind off the impending weeks that are coming. Not because I don't want them to, but because I want to savor them and not lose them in a fog of medication and emotional rumblings.

I know once we start I'll be lost in the mess of the cycle, but now before it, I'm definately nesting :)

Ann said...

I completely agree--everybody has their own version of "nesting" while undergoing infertility treatments. For me, it's constantly--as in every day--checking our financials. I view our savings in terms of how many IVFs/adoptions we could afford, and how much it would deplete us (Wisconsin doesn't require infertility coverage). The more money I can save, the better I feel about my chances of conceiving. Ha! Like money can buy a child.