Five months after my husband and I got married, we moved out of our urban apartment and bought a four-bedroom house in the suburbs. Like most married couples, we anticipated filling those bedrooms with children. Over the next year we painted every room in the house, including our bedroom and two others, which we decorated for guests. But we left the smallest bedroom, the one closest to the master, untouched. It was to be the nursery, and it didn't seem right to get it ready before there was even a baby on the way.
The room remained unfinished for six years.
Having a baby turned out to be the most difficult thing we ever experienced—or, more accurately, couldn't experience. We went through seven IVFs and five miscarriages while the room sat neglected, it's blank, white walls filled only with holes where the previous owners had hung things.
As time passed, we turned the empty room into a makeshift office, with an old desk and an even older computer. We added a file cabinet to store our paperwork. The closet held shoebox upon shoebox (my unorganized organization system) of bills and receipts. Any piece of old furniture we didn't have a place for ended up in the room. A hand-me-down exercise bike found a home in the corner behind the door. I occasionally rode it, tears streaming down my face as I looked around the sad space and forced my tired body to move—tired not as much from physical exertion as from emotional drainage.
I know a space can’t really be sad, and that I was ascribing feelings to something that can’t feel. Yet if these walls could talk, as the expression goes, they would surely have asked me, “So where is this baby you promised me? This creature who is supposed to fill me with new life? That little being who is meant to add color to my world and bring me unending joy?” But those were really just the questions I was asking myself.
Apart from using the exercise bike, I didn't like to enter the room. When I gave house tours to guests, I never knew what to say when we passed to explain its barren state. “This is supposed to be the nursery,” I mumbled to one friend. She patted me on the arm. “It will be one day,” she said. I didn’t believe her.
After several years I wondered if we should, in fact, do something with the room. Every time I walked by it, I felt like it was mocking me, laughing at me. My sadness over its lonely existence was turning to anger. I hate you, stupid, ugly room, I thought. Why do you have to remind me of everything I don't have?
We could have just gone ahead and given the walls a fresh coat of paint, but what color? I didn't want to do the whole pink or blue gender-stereotype thing anyway, but no doubt the thought of how baby furniture would look against whatever hue we picked would affect our choice. I didn't want to think about anything to do with having or not having a child in the house, and any baby-related thought seemed to be jinxing things.
Eventually, though, the room was in need of a clean-out. During “Shred Fest 2012,” as I liked to call it, we went through all my old shoeboxes and committed to the paper shredder most of our old bills and receipts. It felt good to purge, to clean out all the clutter and attempt to regain a clean slate. Getting rid of stuff made me feel productive while I was still stuck on the hamster wheel of infertility treatments.
At the end of that year, I found out that I was pregnant again, and held my breath as I waited to see if I would miscarry. I didn't.
As I entered my third trimester it occurred to us that we finally needed to get the room ready. All the old furniture was trashed or relocated. We held up color chips of VOC-free paint and decided on a shade of light yellow called, oddly, “Rainforest Green.” We ordered a crib. We recruited family members to help my husband paint the formerly white room because I didn't want to risk the physical exertion.
“Do you want to see it?” my husband shouted down to me. Slowly I walked up the stairs. This is it, I thought. This is what I've waited for all these years. Tarp was still on the floor and painting paraphernalia was strewn about–trays, brushes, paint cans, gloves–but the room was transformed. It had emotion. It had joy. It had happiness. (Or maybe that was just me.)
I could not truly feel at ease until the baby arrived, so I still avoided the room. Decorating further would have to wait until after the birth.
My son was born safe and sound. He slept in our room for the first four months of his life, so the room—his room, the nursery—sat alone, patiently waiting for its tiny new occupant. Eventually it was time for him to sleep there, and in fact, it was the first time anyone had slept there. As I carried him in, I looked around. The new white crib took up one wall, and pieces from my husband's grandmother's bedroom set took up the others: a chest of drawers, a desk that was used as a changing table, and a dresser that smelled like mothballs so nothing was put inside it. Artwork of animals and hand-drawn Sesame Street characters adorned the walls. Stuffed toys rested on a shelf. The diaper cake from my baby shower and balloons from his birth sat atop the dresser. A night light shaped like a turtle cast green stars over the ceiling.
I sat in the glider in the corner nursing my son and wondered what happened to the sad little fake office that had once been here. I looked at the opposite corner and remembered crying atop the exercise bike that had resided there. At the time I wondered if this room would ever exist, but now it was hard to remember that old room ever existing. The green glow from the turtle, coupled with my new-mom fatigue, gave the darkened room a dreamlike quality. I couldn't decide, though, what felt more like the dream—the six-year nightmare I had just woken up from, or the surreal existence I now found myself in. I closed my eyes and realized it didn't matter.
The room was no longer empty.