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The Nesting Instinct

The Nesting Instinct


I spent the entire morning reorganizing my kid's closet – plus I sorted through all the old baby clothes. Ultimately, I handled every single item of clothing from newborn to six years in one sitting. After I dropped off the five full garbage bags of 'give-aways' at a local charity this morning, I cleaned out, wiped down, sorted out, and re-stocked our three-door bathroom chest. I now have a trash bag full of outdated prescriptions and lipstick and a shopping list. My neighbor is coming down this afternoon to help me put up new shelving in the laundry room. I'm in my ninth month of pregnancy and I've got the nesting instinct big time.

I cleaned out, wiped down, sorted out, and re-stocked

What is that distinctive urge that drives pregnant women to seek and destroy dust and mold, to re-caulk bathtubs and reorganize anything within arms reach and very often beyond? Physiologists have named it "nesting instinct." This urge often begins around the fifth month, but some women begin to nest shortly after conception – while others sense no need to nest at all. Very commonly women experience an acute nesting impulse in the final days or hours of their pregnancy, and this often signals that labor and birth is close at hand.

In my last pregnancy, I darted out of bed at 3:00 am with the distinctive feeling that an internal balloon had just popped. Sure enough my water had broken, so, after calling the midwife, I took out my sewing kit and began mending a hole in the shirt I was wearing. Like I said, I'm a big-time nester.

Most females in the animal kingdom experience similar patterns of cleaning and preparation when they are pregnant, although as far as I know, they don't sew. From birds to bears, cats to camels, they all appear to have an intrinsic need to prepare space for their new arrival. Animal researchers explain that females are programmed to experience this nesting instinct in order to ensure that their offspring will be cared for properly after birth.

Pregnant or not, the desire for a clean and orderly place to put down roots is universal. We all share a natural instinct that guides us toward creating a comfortable space that counteracts the chaos of the outside world. With pregnancy and birth it seems that this instinct is simply enhanced.

So, what is it exactly about a clean and orderly nest that is so hyper-appealing to so many of us pregnant mammas? Chassidic thought explains that everything that exists in our physical reality has a parallel to our spiritual reality. In simple terms, if my drawers are a mess down here, chances are, I've got some soul-clutter that needs tending.

As most mothers would concur, along with the blessing and beauty that comes with the birth of a new child comes disorder and chaos – on both a physical and spiritual level. Introducing a new life to the family is a colossal undertaking. It challenges every fiber of our existence.

A temporary state of bedlam is not uncommon in the first few weeks after birth

When Mamma needs to tend to herself and a new, little, fragile life, routines fly out the window, bath times get pushed off, laundry piles up, beds don't get made, dishes get left in the sink. A temporary state of bedlam is not uncommon in the first few weeks after birth. In fact, it might even be inevitable. So if we accept the thought that muddle down here mirrors muddle up there, then, preparation, or damage control, would be the logical next step. And herein lays the deeper wisdom of the nesting instinct.

It is my opinion, that in attempt to minimize the disarray that comes with the introduction of a new child, our bodies, on behalf of our souls, switch into overdrive in the "order" department, because that's the only way we can begin to get a grip on the wave of changes that are headed our way. It's our body's way of counter-balancing the unknowns and the joyous upheaval of birth and mothering. The power of this instinct is that the very act of organizing and tidying our physical space can actually create a vessel for some profound spiritual growth.

The trick is bringing that soulful consciousness with us while we nest. We have a very rich Torah directive, which instructs us to build a "Dira B'tachtonim" - a dwelling place for G‑d in the Lower Worlds. It is important to understand that G‑d does not live in the "Upper Worlds." G‑d is not spiritual… He creates spirituality. Nor is He physical, He creates this "lower" physical existence. Jewish philosophy explains that what G‑d desires is a fusion of these "upper" and "lower" realities. He desires a fusion of all things spiritual and soulful with all things material and physical.

When the Talmudic Masters expound upon this idea of building a dwelling place for G‑d, we find instruction to build a "beautiful house with beautiful furnishings." Interesting to note that our Sages seem to be concerned with the way our house looks and is perceived. They explain further that when a house is full of conflict and disarray, G‑d does not dwell there. Understand that it doesn't mean He can't be there; G‑d can be anywhere… what it means is that we have not created a vessel to house Him. Disharmony in the home implies that we have not taken active measures to invite G‑d in to our reality. However, when we are mindful to tidy and perfect our physical space, we make it more peaceful and receptive. Essentially, we welcome G‑d into our home by making space in our everyday and physical lives.

Organizing and tidying our physical space can actually create a vessel for some profound spiritual growth It is clear from G‑d's commandment to make Him space here, that creating a clean, orderly, beautiful, peaceful space is not only a biological imperative, but a spiritual imperative as well. This message has been hardwired into our souls since our inception.

As a perpetual nester, I can't tell you how comforting and balancing that thought is for me. Knowing that when I clean and organize my home, I am creating space for G‑d to make Himself comfortable in my home... to hang out, as it were, with my family and me. It is utterly delightful to understand that while I am creating a physical "nest" to house and care for my new baby, my impulse to organize and decorate and beautify it is paralleled by an equally compelling urge to garnish my "soul nest" with a sense of inspiration and order, and peace. As the ancient proverb says, "Cleanliness is next to G‑dliness." How true it is.

Sarah Zadok is a Jewish educator and lecturer, a childbirth professional and a freelance writer. She lives in the Golan Heights with her husband and five children.
About the Artist: Sonia Young attended Pratt Institute and continued her education at the University at Buffalo. Sonia has also studied pastel drawing with artist Barbara Greene and has studied under painter, Gustavo Glorioso. Sonya resides in Buffalo, NY with her husband and children. Her current show, "Partner in Creation" deals with the beauty of the role of a Jewish woman and our unique position as Mothers.
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Kelly Rae Sydney, AU January 31, 2007

Excellent I too was a nester. 10 hours before I had my second child I flipped a king sized mattress all by myself. Well, flipped it against the bedroom wall with me inbetween. Ha! I have no idea why I did this.

I also prepare food ahead, buy plenty of staples and make sure I have a clean bathroom and kitchen at all times. I am not perfect at it, but I tend toward good housekeeping.

It makes sense that if our physical lives are calm{ish}, balanced and orderly, then our spiritual life will be also. I know that when I attend shul regularly my home is normaly in good order and the rest of my life tends to be more balanced. The two seem to go hand in hand.

Life seem so much smoother and troubles easier to bear when one is in step with HaShem.

Thank you for this good reminder. Best success with your impending new arrival! Reply

Chana Jenny Weisberg January 31, 2007

wonderful! thanks so much for this wonderful essay (I love them all!) Thanks for this new perspective on the nesting instinct- that really opened my eyes to a new way of seeing things. Reply

JMM Stamford, CT January 30, 2007

Nesting Great article...this is the first article (since Deena Yellin's Upsherin piece- a long time ago) that i can recall immediately printing out and wanting to discuss/laugh about with my wife! Well done! Reply

Melissa Mequon, WI January 30, 2007

Fusion of "upper" and "lower" realities What a great thought! My family moved into a new house recently, and I have very strong, positive feelings about living in this house. I think it's amazing that my feelings for and in my house are a reflection of my spirituality. Thank you for such a good thing to think about! Reply

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