How Motherhood Shifted Time and Woke Me Up


Good news, all! I delivered a healthy baby boy just over three weeks ago. Our family is acclimating to our new rhythm, so I've not yet written new content for this blog. Never fear though - I'll soon be back in the saddle! In the meantime, please enjoy this personal essay about motherhood, which was originally published on Medium.com.

The Motherline, collage by Krista Harrison
I’ve slipped into a time warp. As a mother of a three year-old (and another on the way), my experience of time is morphing. What once seemed so linear a journey feels more like a space opera.

I first noticed it while reflecting on the delivery of my son. Whereas the ten months leading up to his birth was a predictable journey through 39 weeks of checklists, OB appointments and fruits approximating the size of my growing baby, labor was like a rip in the fabric of space-time.

Contractions felt much longer than 15, 30 or 60 seconds. Moments seemed disjointed and without cohesion. I at once felt threadbare, stretched upon the rack of time and contracted within a handful of seconds. Upon looking back, what felt like an eternity seemed so short in comparison, as if in my altered state time had fallen through a hole in my back pocket.

During the early newborn and infant days, I existed in a cryogenic fugue. The hours stretched before me like a frozen tundra as my own childhood traumas defrosted under the heat of a smoldering, bewildering postpartum rage. I was a dated, red-faced caricature, ears piping with steam.

Inevitably a well intentioned person, almost always someone with years of parenting under their belt, would say, “These early years will be gone before you know it — enjoy them.” In my fugue state, this made no sense to me. This unrelenting marathon of feeding, diapering, holding, shushing and responding across a landscape of a sleep deprived, painstaking ego death seemed like the new normal.

This was it, and why the hell did I blow up my life?

Well, it turns out we were both right — me in my fugue state and the well-intentioned parent with the gift of hindsight. My time perception of the first two years of my son’s life traversed the spectrum of gone-before-you-know-it to eternity.

Mother's know that time is a shapeshifter. Yes, there are the concrete markers of time’s linear passage: holidays, birthdays, school graduations, sore knees, graying hair, aging parents. But there’s something ineffable to time’s nature that mothers sense.

The other day I sat with an elderly friend in her 80’s, a Japanese-American woman four decades my senior. As we looked through one of her photo albums, we found family pictures dating back to 1930–40’s Japan. Some of the aged, black-and-white photos were small, perhaps only an inch by an inch-and-half, while others were larger in format — all wearing worn edges and the romanticized blemishes of time.

She pointed out photos of herself. In one she looked to be about a year old. In another maybe two or three. A page flip or two later she was around six or seven, then nine. My heart — now a mother’s heart — sighed as I gathered up this little girl who grew up in the belly of WWII. This little girl whose innocence and as of yet unmitigated essence beamed through those old photos.

I could sense her now, still beaming somewhere within the agony and ecstasy of an 80-year epic. We jumped time together, and past became present. This is the ineffable face of time.

Once I encountered the purity of a child’s inherent essence, I was forever changed. My son, in all of his as of yet untempered glory, taught me this. I celebrate (and struggle with) his instinct to fill the room with his vital nature.

I also grieve for him. I know that no matter what my intentions and for all of my efforts, he will experience to some degree what it is to be tempered by the shadows of his parents, lineage, culture and society.

These days, I can’t help but imagine the innocent child within the adults I come across. The grown people we face today, the children they once were and the space where we perceive them simultaneously. This is the space-time rip that mothers, fathers, carers and guardians are privileged to peer into.

Even with the most repugnant figures — the predators, the con artists, the morally corrupt — I’m embroiled in a cacophony of anger, disgust and compassion for the innocent children these people once were.

For the person who we assert should never wade in the sweet waters of mercy, I still grieve for that vulnerable child hiding deep, deep within.

This is the gift of the rip in space-time that mothering reveals. It brings us face-to-face with dissonance. Turn our back on it and miss a golden opportunity.

Dissonance shines a light on our own self-recriminations and intra-psychic motivations. Dissonance is that uncomfortable place where the chasm of our shadow becomes accessible. To stay with this discomfort is to grow our capacity for discernment and presence.

Presence is the vehicle for compassion. Compassion is the poetry of the heart. And this increasingly polarized world needs more poetry, more heart.

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