GUEST BLOG POST: A Double Life, Discovering Motherhood by Lisa Catherine Harper

I was 36 when I had my first child, and my book about the experience: A Double Life, Discovering Motherhood, is deeply informed by my deliberate decision to have a child in my mid-thirties. A Double Life, Discovering Motherhood tells my personal story set against the backdrop of science, focusing on how motherhood’s physical changes give rise to its profound emotional and psychological transformations.

In the book’s second chapter I write about the anxiety of not being able to conceive that’s familiar to later mothers. But one night, after I had become pregnant, my husband turned to me and said, “I don’t want to be too excited to enjoy everything happening right now.” I realized then that “expecting meant not expecting.” In the book, I write:

There would be time for plans. So for the first time in my life I found myself rooted in the present, fully mindful of the life I was living. I knew I could look ahead and try to imagine what I could not even begin to comprehend. But I also knew that all my imaginings of pregnancy, childbirth, and the long years of motherhood would most certainly be wrong. The worries I had now were sure to be misplaced, and the ones that I ought to have had could not possibly have occurred to me then. Who would benefit if I worried my mind smooth like so many beads?

Slowly, the anticipation and anxiety that had ruled my life for as long as I could remember began to dissipate. There were not so many days left for us to be alone together. I was happy being pregnant and happy with my husband. I thought I ought to enjoy these things before they vanished, mark them both while I had the time and the mind to attend to them. There was a great change taking hold of my body and somehow it had taken hold of my mind, too, and it cautioned me: Slow down!

Motherhood meant change. That was its bedrock. That was the difficulty to be embraced. If I could understand this change, if I could make my peace with it, then maybe someday I would measure up and become a mother. In the beginning, I had no idea how this would transpire.

This epiphany informs much of my book: I investigate how pregnancy alters nearly every system of a mother’s body; how pain transforms her mind; how hormones transform her emotions; how newborns “hatch” into consciousness. The physical space of your home changes, your marriage changes, your politics and spirituality may change too. Near the end of my story I wonder, given the enormity of the undertaking of motherhood, why would you want your life to stay the same? Because I came to motherhood later, I was ready to embrace these changes. I was ready to settle down and pay attention to someone (my husband, then my daughter) other than myself. I was ready to live in the present tense. Finally, it felt like I had arrived at the center of life. Although part of it was probably the hormones, the effect was long lasting and life changing.

Mothering can be exhausting and chaotic. It produces its own daily anxieties. And the conversations we have about parenting can be confusing and contradictory, contributing to the natural stress of the job. We worry about whether our children are overscheduled or under-scheduled; we worry about the food we feed them; the schools we send them to; the media they consume; the friends they make or don’t; the illnesses they are exposed to. I try, day in and day out, to listen to the sage advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson: Trust thyself, he wrote. For me, this means tuning out the noise, slowing down—for at least part of every day–and paying attention to what is unfolding in our present lives. This means choosing carefully when and how to participate in some of the seemingly urgent conversations we have about motherhood–from “bad” mommies, to Tiger Moms, to the mommy wars.

From the moment the zygote begins to grow, our lives never stop changing. We honor this change best when we understand that the source of our greatest sorrow (our babies grow up!) is also the source of our greatest joy. Our job is not to worry about getting it right. Our job is to live in the present, for ourselves as much as for our children.

Lisa Catherine Harper is the author of A Double Life, Discovering Motherhood, which won the 2010 River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize and has been called “universal, moving, and relevant” by Publishers Weekly. Her writing has appeared online and in print in places including Poetry Foundation, Huffington Post, Babble, Literary Mama, Offsprung, and Mama, PhD. She teaches in the MFA program at the University of San Francisco and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, and their two children. Visit

  1. 2 Responses to “GUEST BLOG POST: A Double Life, Discovering Motherhood by Lisa Catherine Harper”

  2. I loved reading this! I think I went through a similar thought/action process during my adoption journey and in the way I went about "discovering motherhood." Thanks for sharing this!

    By Andrea on Mar 5, 2011

  3. "Mothering can be exhausting and chaotic. It produces its own daily anxieties." – so true, but we all know that our children can also be a source of pure joy=)

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    By phyllisjanes on Jan 19, 2012