To Move or Not to Move?
August 24, 2011
When I got pregnant, Ramon and I were living in a studio apartment that we loved but which had been much too small for us from the day I moved in with him several years ago. We had put our toe into the real estate waters a couple of times but San Francisco is a very expensive place to buy a home and we just weren’t motivated enough to to man up. When it came to decision time, we always loved our bright little nook in San Francisco’s sunniest neighborhood more than any of the bigger, darker places we’d seen on our tours. Plus, I secretly hoped that without a mortgage we might finally move back to New York, like, next weekend, so my heart wasn’t 100% in the game.
One of my aunts used to say, “It’s time, and you’re the one,” and, with a baby on the way, it was, at long last and definitely, time and we were the ones.
I debated. We could either
a.) Find a new place while we were pregnant, trekking around the city every Sunday and Tuesday until we landed in a foreign, expensive home I wasn’t used to
b.) Nest happily in our studio until the baby went mobile at, best guess, six months old.
Guess which one we did.
I really thought I was being sane and smarter than everyone else by choosing not to move while we were pregnant. I had heard horror stories of couples buying a place pre-baby and being left in escrow until 45 minutes before they delivered, or deciding to renovate so they could add a nursery and ending up sleeping in a tent in their yard eight months along because the contractors weren’t done on time.
I also wasn’t 100% certain I would be making the most objective decisions about our long-term needs while I was feeling emotionally vulnerable and having difficulty walking around the block.
That all sounds very reasonable, but, in retrospect, we totally should have moved while I was pregnant.
Yes, the transition would have been difficult while we were adjusting to the prospect of our new addition, but it was exceptionally difficult with the new addition crawling around in the packing paper. I see now that the choice was not to avoid the trouble of a move by nesting through my pregnancy, but to delay it.
Just finding our new home was so much more complicated with a baby. We’d get to an open house, I’d breastfeed Astrid while Ramon took a first look and, if it was reasonable, he’d come and get me and we’d all have a look while carrying Astrid in her car seat. Or we’d buckle and unbuckle her in and out of it at each stop. Tedious for everyone.
Once we found our new home, the move was, as you can imagine, so much more challenging with a baby. And that’s saying something: moves are no walk in the park without a baby. We were optimistic that once we got beyond the prep for the move and got through the move itself, it would be smooth sailing in our new space. We were wrong again: the most difficult part turned out to be after we’d completed the move.
For starters, if, like we were, you’re going from renting to owning, you’re facing the welcome but jarring transition to being a homeowner, with all the attendant responsibilities for water heaters, lawn upkeep, and complicated taxes. Then settling in takes a long time, even when you move within the same city and, in our case, the same neighborhood. Commutes and resources are all in different places. You have to find a new local coffee shop, remember the new parking schedule and garbage pick-up, figure out your new laundry set-up. And that’s not even including the actual unpacking inside the house, which is overwhelming when you can’t seem to get through more than one box before your little one needs you again.
I like to look on a move as an opportunity and an adventure, but it’s difficult to sustain that approach in the face of very, very slow progress and a long-term lack of sleep. (We moved when Astrid was eight months old and she still wasn’t sleeping through the night. Partly, I’m sure, that was because our apartment was too small and noisy, sleep training is a waste of energy when you’re about to move so we’d delayed it, and, after the move, she was in a brand new unfamiliar place.)
Looking back, I would not wish those first few months in the new place on any new parent. There are so many new variables in your life when you have a baby, so many new normals to adjust to, that what you want from your environment is comfort and predictability. It would be ideal if everything around you were as simple as possible. And that’s hard to get to when you’ve just moved.
All that being said, we are thrilled with our new house and, as we approach the anniversary of finding it, we’re very happy with our choice and finally relatively settled.
There was one bonus of moving post-baby: the long-delayed real estate decision went a lot more quickly. Gone were the days of prevarication and, “Well, I do wish that bathroom were closer to the main bedroom…” We had to move and we had to move into a place we could live in right now, period. Also, a relief: the pressure to find a perfect place that we would love forever and fit every current and future need was gone. Our theoretical future had already arrived in the form of our adorable, non-sleeping baby. We were no longer looking for Mr. Right, we were looking for Mr. Right Now. And it turns our Mr. Right Now is still pretty good-looking and has a nice yard.
If you’re trying to make this decision yourself, think of it like this: being pregnant is already not your norm, so embrace the additional transition and do your nesting in your new home! It’s like what they say about moving in with your partner: find a new place for all of you rather than trying to make it work on your existing turf. Getting as many of the physical transitions associated with growing a family out of the way before the baby actually arrives will be a gift to your future new-parent self.
If you do decide to go the other way, moving after the baby is born, let me suggest that you treat the just-after-the-move period the way many people treat the just-after-the-birth window. Invite supportive people – your organized cousin, your helpful aunt, your best friend – to come and visit for a week at a time. (Having guests for only a weekend will likely just be a disruption). It will make your new house feel more like a home and provide you with emotional and practical support while you get settled.