Time is a curious sensation

A young Otis Kidwell Burger creating art in New York

Born in 1923 in Staten Island, Otis Kidwell Burger was a talented woman with many strings to her bow: she was a poet, a novelist, a painter, and a sculptor, and in 1948, upon learning that she was pregnant with her first child, she also became a diarist. Beginning in August of that year, each day until the birth of her daughter—and a little way beyond—Otis kept a written record of this life-changing experience, and this entry came in February of 1949, two months before the big day.

The Diary Entry

February 3, Thursday

Time is a curious sensation conditioned by many things. If we faint we may lose all conception of time and awaken not knowing how many years or hours have passed. Why this is not always true of sleep, I don’t know. Perhaps sleep is not ordinarily so deep. But surely everyone, at one time or another, has awakened thinking himself in some other place or in some earlier time. The conception of time depends, then, I suppose, upon the perception of continuity, and for this reason a woman’s sense of time must be quite different from a man’s. Her sense of continuity is internal and natural, not the external and easily interrupted continuity of clocks and calendars. She connects directly to the source of time, and the moon that pulls the tides around the world also pulls the hormone tide within her; her months are marked off without need of calendar. She carries her months, her years, her spring and winter within herself.

How much this internal sense of time is heightened in pregnancy! Were I to lose consciousness for a month, I could still tell that an appreciable amount of time had passed by the increased size of the fetus within me. There is a constant sense of growth, of progress, of time which, while it may be wasted for you personally, is still being used, so that even if you were to do nothing at all during those nine months, something would nevertheless be accomplished and a climax reached. Death has never seemed so far away, because growth, which is life, is so obviously occurring. The sun that rises tomorrow cannot be the sun that rose yesterday, because the fetus is a millimeter and a half larger; and though you may be engaged in repetitive tasks that dull your own sense of time, the fetus is not repeating. It stretches and turns; its movements gain in power and direction. Whatever may be your own doubts about where mankind is heading and what maturity is, the fetus seems to feel no doubt at all as to what it wants; and in all that curious, segregated, seemingly static chunk of a year, you become aware of a new kind of time; the fetus’s time, the slow pushing time of growth.

Further Reading

Otis Kidwell Burger’s diary, titled An Interesting Condition: The Diary of a Pregnant Woman and authored under a pseudonym, Abigail Lewis, is now out of print, but second-hand copies do seem to pop up every now and then in the usual places. Also, in 1993, some of her diary entries were included in the anthology, A Day at a Time: The Diary Literature of American Women Writers from 1764 to the Present. Copies of that book are easier to find.

If you’d like learn more about Otis, she was profiled in the New York Times in 2017, and in 2016 she was interviewed as part of the Village Preservation project. Finally, there’s the lovely eulogy written by her daughter, Katherine, after Otis’ death in 2021: scroll approximately half-way down this page to read it.

This excerpt from Otis Kidwell Burger’s (nom de plume Abigail Lewis) 1950 book An Interesting Condition: The Diary of a Pregnant Woman is reprinted by kind permission of her daughter, Katherine Burger.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *