The Palpable, Yet ‘Incomprehensible Expanse of Time’: A Wilderness of Waiting

I am used to pausing beside train trestles, tilting my head to watch passing planes, perpetually looking forward to: to the evening, to the weekend, to the next year in a new place. But for the first time I find myself unable to fix my gaze on the horizon; I find my relationship to time and place and days transformed. I do not strike out in discovery but rather roam the same terrain over and over: woods of oaks and maples and beeches; grassy sloping pastures punctuated with dogwood; beds of red clay and teal slate in a creek animated by intermittent waterfalls; rocky, fern-covered hills that rise to open Midwestern sky.

Before gestation, I dominated time in the way I dominated my body. Long runs whittled the latter into sculpted hardness, and the discipline of schedules and fixed points – Saturday, summer, graduation – brought the former into focus as a series of arrows pointing always one towards the next. Time as trajectory, body as tool of the mind. And then this baby began growing and my body expanded into a force to which the “me” of my mind was subjugated, bobbing about unsteady and insignificant as a paper boat in surges of blood and hormones. Time yawned open, a vast canyon I fell into, with the erstwhile tidy arrows echoing off the walls.

But pregnancy is characterized by a total physical and psychological immersion in the present and the body. There is no room for nostalgia, regret, the lingering glance back, because the web of gestation is spun so tight that the past becomes inaccessible, so remote as to belong to another person’s life. The future is equally impossible to conjure: how can one imagine the brand new human built from scratch, the meteoric impact of her arrival? The boundaries of the world shrink to the parenthesis of the belly. There is no hiding the slow stubborn implacability of time and our rootedness in it beneath the decorations of tasks and substances, of retrospect and projection.

At Vela, Sarah Menkedick reflects on presence and the “incomprehensible expanse of time” in this incisive meditation on pregnancy and motherhood.

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