The spiritual practice of decorating the nursery

The nursery is the first gift we give to our baby and choosing furniture, sheets, and toys isn’t frivolous—it’s an important and holy act of love.

Lumina | Stocksy United

Fifteen years after I’d last decorated a baby’s room, pairing white baskets with pink gingham liners and whimsical fairies that proclaimed “It’s a girl!”, I found myself arranging a different nursery, in a different home, for the sweetest surprise of our lives. You see, that baby girl is a sophomore in high school now, and her infant brother’s nursery sits next to her room.

This time last year, as my belly grew, I folded and stacked the onesies and footie pajamas pouring in from friends who delighted in shopping for tiny clothes again. I washed crib sheets in unscented detergent, and lined up diapers that seemed adorably, impossibly small.

The nine long months leading up to a birth, or the often longer time leading up to an adoption, may seem interminable, but that season can be useful as we ready ourselves as best as we can for the enormous change about to take place.

As a woman in her mid-40s, I needed that time to recalibrate my expectations and feelings about how my middle age would play out. After all, I thought my nest would be empty in three more years, not 18. I wondered if I could take care of a teeny-tiny baby again, and if toddler tantrums and fourth-grade math might do me in this time around.

For first-time moms, the many unknowns can be the most stressful part of this waiting period: how to juggle career and caregiving, what to do if the baby won’t sleep, or how a little one will affect a marriage. My worrying, however, centered around what I already knew: that motherhood can be glorious and grueling, beautiful and painful, often in the very same moment.

Decorating a nursery is a place to practice trust

A nursery is where an expectant mom can anticipate, pray, and dream; planning its design can be a spiritual discipline.

It’s also a place to exercise trust. Preparing for a baby can be terrifying for a woman who has experienced infertility or pregnancy loss. For her, each decision carries the weight of both fear and trust as she moves forward in hope. For me, as a bereaved mother who lost my first child, a son, to an accident, each detail I checked off my list was a step toward the life I had been given and a relinquishing of my idea of how I’d thought life would be. I spent a lot of time in the nursery remembering what came before, and praying for what was to come.

Decorating the nursery is a profound moment. It reminds me a bit of Advent—also a season of preparation and anticipation. It’s a tangible way of readying yourself and your home for both the inward and outward changes to come.

I measured the plain room with its blank white walls, and wondered what theme we should pick for our little boy. Nursery décor sure has improved in the past few years, and with Pinterest and online shopping, the creative possibilities seemed endless. It soon became clear that the baby’s room could end up being the nicest room in the house!

Whether a nursery is designed by a professional, or pulled together with bargains, it’s a loving way of saying, “We’re getting ready to meet you, Little One. This is your place.”

The nursery is the first gift we give to a child.

Eventually, modern gray elephants seemed like the perfect choice for us. A cheery yellow crib reflected my joy and wonder that light could pour into a home and a family that had experienced much darkness in the previous years.

I soon found more gray elephants, just the right inspirational quotes for the walls, and a gray and white rug with a geometric pattern. Relying on the wisdom of friends and online reviews, I started to gather other supplies: a changing pad, a “Rock and Play” bassinet, a sound machine, and an exersaucer. The room began to fill.

Keeping the walls white, repainting a changing table from a garage sale with chalk paint, and accepting hand-me-downs helped us stay within our budget (although it was tempting to break the bank outfitting the room for our late-in-life “miracle” baby).

The nursery is the first gift we give to a child. It feels loving, important, and holy. Some nursery needs won’t arise until after the baby is born, of course, when we find ourselves late at night on Amazon searching for glow-in-the-dark pacifiers, colic medicine, or special swaddles. But the act of laying in supplies, choosing colors, and anticipating needs is a gesture of welcome and generosity to this unknown new loved one.

Of course, the real gift, to us, is the baby himself. Like a gift yet to be unwrapped, we won’t fully get to know the babies we already love until after they are born. The special challenges and joys that lie ahead will unfold in time.

But until then, there is the nursery. Gray and yellow. Ready and waiting. Filled with anticipation and love.

Who knows if Baby Andrew will even like the elephants on his walls? Soon enough, his personality will blossom and his nursery will morph into a little boy’s room, just as it should.

Bright primary colors from superhero costumes, or Thomas the Tank Engine, might clash with the gentle colors and coordinating fabrics I’ve chosen so carefully, rubbed between my fingers, and prayed over. And that’s okay.

It turns out those beautiful fairies 15 years ago were really for me, after all. When that baby girl—that gift—grew into a strong-willed young lady, she proclaimed, “I never liked those fairies,” and promptly re-decorated her room.

Anna Whiston Donaldson
Anna Whiston Donaldson
Anna Whiston-Donaldson is a popular author and speaker whose New York Times bestselling book, "Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love" chronicles the raw, early grief of losing her 12-year-old son in an accident. Selected one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2014, Rare Bird resonates with readers looking for hope in impossible circumstances. Anna lives with her family in the Virginia suburbs and blogs at An Inch of Gray.

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