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Nursery, now or never?

Special to The Times

AS A first-grade teacher and admitted kid magnet, Nancy Nielsen always assumed she would have children of her own -- so much so that when she and husband Todd looked for a house in Corona, they bought a place with three bedrooms. Until those spare spaces were needed as nurseries, they used one as a home office and the other as a library and craft room.

Seven years later, those rooms remained crib-less.

“It had never entered my thoughts that we wouldn’t be having children naturally,” says Nancy, 40. “We figured, ‘Yeah, we’ll have it as an office for now. They’ll be kids’ rooms later.’ ”

What happens when “later” starts to look like never? Empty nest syndrome may afflict parents seeing the last of the kids off to college, but the term has an entirely different meaning for women and men dealing with infertility or long, doubt-riddled waits for adoption. For some parents, provisional spaces -- that guest room, office, gym, storage area -- can come to symbolize a future without children. For others, the best way to deal with the unknown is to prepare the baby’s room, as emotionally risky as that may be.

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Scroll through online fertility and pregnancy blogs, and you’ll find a lively debate about the proper time to decorate, a back-and-forth between the pragmatic (Who wants paint fumes when you’re pregnant?), the cautious (Will the empty nursery only add stress?) and the eternally optimistic (Maybe the sheer sight of a glider will put those ovaries in overdrive?).

“When we moved into our house, I knew exactly where I wanted the nursery,” Kaye Popofsky Kramer of Laurel Canyon says of her room with an alcove by the window -- “perfect for a rocking chair.”

“It was never the guest room or a storage room,” she says. “I just wanted it waiting for a child.”

So Popofsky waited. And while she waited, she co-founded Nurseryworks, a company that makes modern baby furniture for design-minded parents. Creating cribs and changing tables while struggling with fertility issues?

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“It was a really challenging time. I’d go to the trade shows for Nurseryworks, and stand there for days in a sea of cribs and baby clothes and pregnant women,” says Popofsky, who adds: “I thought the world was ending, and I’m not the kind of person to fall apart.”

It took two years and a couple of rounds of in vitro fertilization before she got the good news -- twins -- and tricked out the room she had decorated in her mind. She installed cribs, painted grass green, and a rocker upholstered in an animal print with pink piping.

Popofsky’s kids have turned 3, but she’s still reminded of those old anxieties every time there’s a client longing to replace a sofa bed with a crib.

“A lot of people are having kids later, and they’re often already in that bigger house with extra bedrooms,” she says.

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Whether prospective parents choose to decorate a nursery or ignore the room isn’t the issue, Beverly Hills psychologist Angel Kahane says. Both can become ways of avoiding uncomfortable, sometimes painful feelings.

“People often think a specific behavior will give them a desired outcome, a sense of control,” Kahane says.

Decorate or don’t, she says. Just make a conscious decision. “Acknowledge feelings of grief and longing, and be mindful of those feelings.”

Hayley and Clay Babcock were familiar with the process when they shopped for a house. After three miscarriages, the couple still was drawn to a Culver City block dotted with strollers and set in a good school district.

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“I knew we would have a child, somehow,” Hayley says.

Though they decided to forgo fertility treatments, the Babcocks bought a three-bedroom home and embarked on a studs-to-sofa renovation that included plans for a nursery. Like many other couples trying to adopt, they thought they needed a Pottery Barn-issued baby room for the “home study” part of the adoption process.

“We were worried that it was going to be a white-glove test where everything would have to be perfect,” Clay says. “But it wasn’t about that. For the first home study, a woman came and there was a plastic tarp separating a hole from the rest of the house. We showed her the hole and said, ‘That’s going to be the baby’s room.’ But basically, they’re just looking to make sure that you have a healthy environment.”

The Babcocks were in mid-construction when the call came: An adoption had been approved.

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“At that time, what was to become his room was still bare studs,” Clay says. “You could even see the ground through the floor.”

The Nielsens of Corona got their adoption news in March: A baby boy is joining their family.

“We realized that we had to complete all of these ongoing projects, like cement floors that we never finished,” Nancy says.

In the last few weeks, she has outfitted the room with mostly second-hand furniture, including a crib from someone at church and a changing table from her sister. But the best piece of furniture, she says, is a glider -- a Mother’s Day gift from her husband. “Mother’s Day has always been hard for me,” she says, “so Todd was so happy to be able to buy it.”

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And what about her combo craft room-library?

“As much as I’ve wanted kids, I did have a moment when I was clearing out my craft stuff and thought, ‘I won’t have this room!’ ” Nancy says. “But that lasted for about 10 seconds and then I thought, ‘Who cares?’ ”

--

home@latimes.com

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