It says something about the elasticity of time that the birth of our child can feel simultaneously near and far away. It seems like only yesterday that I found out I was pregnant, and yet here I am coming up on my third trimester.
Sometimes, pregnancy can make time appear less linear: Perhaps it’s my body being choreographed by a biology I don’t fully understand — the rampant assembly of moods, the disorder of sleep.
Or maybe, when you have two heartbeats instead of one, time is a more personal construct. The physical mechanisms that help you organize your time — clocks, calendars, cell phones — genuflect to this fragile, interior one.
After all, a baby is nothing if not an instrument to measure time: Over nine months, 400s and weights are calculated, fingers and toes counted, organs — heart, liver, stomach — catalogued.
The mother-to-be also submits to measurements: Everything is enumerated, from weight to the week of pregnancy. I’ve learned to build time around blood work and baby kicks, heartbeats and heartburn.
The term “expectant mother” makes me feel like a lady-in-waiting, more passive than I actually am. But there is no doubt that pregnancy is a waiting game. And that waiting has made me more capricious about time: I fret about the abundance of time I have for some things and the lack of it for others.
My anticipation for the baby is tempered by anxiety. What can I prepare in advance? Is it really possible to prepare? And how many lists should one person make?
In short, I inhabit time differently, because the baby is inhabiting me for nine months.
Time operates differently here — it’s a fluid creature with no regard for punctuality.
Perhaps that’s why waiting has become a national pastime in Abidjan: You queue to pay bills in interminable lines, police checkpoints make driving ponderous, and appointments always run late or are broken with alarming regularity.
Our house is another example: It has languished in a state of disrepair since July. Despite a litany of must-fix items and repeated phone calls, it’s been impossible to schedule a time that sticks. The workers have shown up announced three times and only produced two lasting repairs: the cementing of a hole in the wall and the mending of a rooftop gutter — twice.
How can I exert any order if I’m routinely pitted against the rugged landscape of the unpredictable?
When I was in Toronto, nature gave me a methodology for measuring time. I could visualize its chronology — the rationing of light in fall, the incremental release of sun in summer. And the pageantry of the seasons — the smattering of asters in spring, snow-tipped sumac in winter — kept me grounded.
But I’m not familiar with how nature works here. I seek patterns, but they have not begun to reveal themselves yet.
Indeed, seasons seem to coalesce into varying ratios of heat and moisture. Here, nothing can dodge the sun’s talons — not the lizards paralyzed beneath the vines, nor the insects with honeyed wings; in our driveway, the yolk of fallen flowers stains the asphalt. And rain only serves to thicken the air.
All of this erupts in a radiant frenzy of movement.
But surely some botanical coherence must reign — even if I don’t comprehend it yet. And there’s something to be said for having the patience to watch something grow. In its myriad forms, nature is a metaphor for waiting, with patterns of endurance stitched through.
People have invented numerous devices to keep time, everything from sundials to hourglasses, watches to water clocks.
But there’s a subjective component to timekeeping, especially when you’re pregnant, in which the baby becomes a sort of inner timepiece. Although the baby’s physical growth reminds you of time’s unassailable advance, it also reveals the grace in waiting for that life to unfold.
So how we wait becomes almost as important as what — or who — comes afterward.
In the roundness of time, the baby will arrive; in the meantime, the very person you wait for evolves into something beyond measure.