By Lillian Mongeau
The sensation of change is an odd one. It’s slow, yet fast; uncomfortable, yet clarifying. I’m not to clarifying yet.
As children, change is such a constant that we barely notice it. Two-year-olds go from walking in an ungainly toddle to being able to jump and run in just 24 months. They learn that they can know things other people don’t know. They begin to use grammar.
Even teenagers change remarkably fast. High school feels so long in retrospect because the 14-year-old who walks in those big front doors has been almost entirely erased by the 18-year-old tossing a tasseled cap at graduation.
But as adults, change slows down, becomes glacial. It’s comfortable to change more slowly. There’s time to learn your limits and to improve on the hand you’ve been dealt. We can establish healthy eating habits; become a more loving partner; train for a marathon. And whether we choose to use it or not, there is time to prune back that tendency to say unkind things, act selfishly or drink the extra beer.
When the outlines of who we are begin to solidify, it is that much easier to control our own growth. Like a bonsai gardener, we can trim here, urge on there, and watch as new whorls and sprouts unfold in slow motion.
Pregnancy is not like that. While nine months sounds like a long time to a teenager, an eternity to a toddler, to an adult it is virtually instantaneous. Within weeks of fertilization, the pregnant body has nearly doubled its own blood supply. By the end of the third month, it has created a new organ, the placenta. By the end of the sixth month, it has grown an entirely new human being, complete with miniature ears, fingernails and eyelashes.
If you happen to be the owner of a pregnant body, you find yourself gaining a pound a week, running out of room for your lungs and being told the half dozen brand new aches and pains you’ve sprung are “to be expected.” Embarrassing things happen to your ability to control your own urinary tract, you grow out of your clothes at a rate rivaled only by your soon-to-be infant and you need more sleep than modern life and work are prepared to accommodate.
But all of that pales in comparison to the larger changes that are happening, the ones you can only be barely conscious of, occupied as you are by the more immediate concerns of your newly uncooperative body.
It’s as you’ve burst out of the bright outlines of your adult personality and the shards have been thrown high into the night sky, twisting and turning, moving forever upwards, away from you, far from your ability to control their contours. All you can do is look up and watch your yen for exercise spin in one direction, your love of reading in another, and hope the bits you hold most dear settle in nicely to whatever new outline forms when things come back down to earth.
As you watch, it dawns that there is no way the old pieces will fall back together as neatly as you hope. There will be gaps, overlaps, and jagged edges. You will have to grow new sections in some places, sand down broken bits in others. There will be work to be done that you can’t imagine or prepare for beyond knowing it’s coming. You know, because you are an adult, that this work will be worth it; that change is clarifying; that the bonsai of your soul will be that much more cleverly wrought when the work is done. But that time hasn’t come yet. For now, you are simply in the middle of the upheaval, watching. Waiting.
Photograph: George Rede
Lillian Mongeau is a journalist at The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit education news publication. Back in 2007, George was the first person to pay her to write a thing and to plant the idea that she could make a living at this. Lillian and her husband are expecting a whole lotta change to come crashing down around them some time in late November.
Editor’s note: In a decade of knowing Lilly, I’ve seen her evolve professionally and personally. She’s gone from promising but unpolished amateur to professionally trained, ethically responsible journalist — one I’ve already invited to speak twice to my college classes. She’s also gone from single lady to married to expectant parent — and with her own mother as a role model, I expect she will be a great mom herself.
Tomorrow: Al Rodriguez, Swimming with sharks