By Meredith Barnett, editorial director of The Inside Source The first time I walked into a baby superstore, I was immediately assaulted by a wall of 241 strollers. I walked outside and promptly threw up. (Maybe it was the morning sickness. Or maybe it was the stroller blindness.) The second time, with my mother in tow, it was the breast pumps that did me in. That photo on the outside of the box picturing the woman talking on the phone, shirt unbuttoned, while a contraption milks her like a cow — not to mention all the things that go with the pump, from breast milk pads to nipple shields to pumping bras? Well, I did a 180 and went to the diner next door to eat a waffle. The third time, I checked out the bedding. "I can understand bedding," I thought to myself. I left having purchased a humidifier in the shape of a frog — for my own bedroom. Walking into a baby store for the first time as an expectant mother is what I imagine it would feel like for someone who has lived in some remote place her whole life (the desert? the jungle?) to walk into a drugstore having never seen one before. There are things there you know you could use. But, much like I felt among the breast pumps, how to know which items in the oral care aisle, for example (toothpaste, toothbrush, floss, denture cream, mouthwash, teeth whiteners, cold sore relief) you actually need — not to mention how to decide which brands to choose from? Shopping for baby gear felt as alien to me as the alien growing in my belly. And I am the editor of a shopping site. No matter how much you read and how much solid advice or support you get, the entire experience of impending parenthood is beyond daunting. The worries range from the silly (will my belly button ever go back in?) to the serious (how will I balance work and family?) to the strategic (how will we fit all that stuff in our apartment?). For me, preparing the baby's nursery has been a critical part of the nesting experience. There are few things in this process I can control (that darn belly button!). But shopping for, researching and assembling the "stuff" is one of them. My wonderful husband, who has done more for this baby-in-utero than many men do in their child's first year of life — from interviewing potential pediatricians to dealing with the insurance company to scheduling (and attending!) breastfeeding class — would just as soon wait until the last minute to get the room in order. Part of his reasoning is superstitious, and part is practical. (Do we really need all those diapers three months before the due date?) But activities like comparison-shopping for cribs make me feel like I think a mother should — well-researched, prepared and concerned for the safety and well-being of her child. And once I make a purchasing decision and the goods have arrived safely at home, I feel like I can check another item off my to do list. I have felt so overwhelmed by this shopping-for-baby process because I find it so filled with meaning. So after these first few unsuccessful visits to the baby store, I decided I needed to get my act together. Here's what I did: I went to a boutique baby shop and had a lovely sales person guide me through every category — from diaper pails to bouncers — and make recommendations. I knew I wouldn't buy everything there, especially given the higher prices, but it was helpful (and way less overwhelming) to go somewhere with great customer service that had already edited the options down to the best of the best. I then went back to the baby superstore — this time with a friend, the mother of a three month-old, someone who had gone through this process recently, but also had the experience to know which products you actually needed. Notebook in hand, I wrote down every single item she recommended. Then I went home and created an online baby registry, adding the items to the list and reading about them in the process. Of course, I didn't expect my friends and family to give me the gift of diaper cream or bottle brushes, but it felt good to have a shopping list that I could pull the trigger on when I was ready. I then had another new-mom friend review the list and suggest additions and changes. Finally, beyond the all-important basics, it was important to me to create a room that a baby could grow into. Cartoon characters and pastels don't really match my personal aesthetic. And I truly don't want to have to undergo the expense of having to complete transform his room in a few years once my little boy decides that bunnies and duckies aren't his style, either. After doing a bit of research, I came up with lots of ideas for a stylish nursery that can transition as your child grows older. Among them:
- Rock out with a rocking chair: Instead of the traditional (hulking!) glider that only looks right in the nursery and takes up a ton of space, try a chic, modern rocking chair that you can transition out of the nursery and into the living room or den once your child stops breastfeeding and wants more space to play in his room.
- Use walls as a creative canvas: Vinyl wall decals are inexpensive (I've found them priced anywhere from $5 to $50), super easy to put up, and since they come in countless designs, can be changed up as your child grows up and his interests develop. Much cheaper than re-painting or buying expensive artwork!
- Storage can be chic: Instead of plastic-y storage units made for kids, search eBay, antique markets or fair trade markets for more unusual storage solutions that will grow with your child and match your style.
These ideas will help you save money and stay chic, even with a little one in your midst. I also called on a panel of shopping experts, my colleagues at The Inside Source, eBay's digital style magazine, to suggest themes for the nursery. Their suggestions ranged from an all-orange room (the new baby neutral), to one inspired by midcentury modern art to one with a French country theme — and really got my creative juices flowing. Now 32 weeks pregnant and counting, I'm in the process of assembling a room that includes all the necessities (yes, a diaper pail is in my midst), full of fun (I'm sure the little guy will love that penguin mobile I found on eBay as much as I do) and can grow up seamlessly along with my child. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go answer the doorbell — the UPS man is here. Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economyFor more great shopping tips, visit The Inside Source.