Heartbeats

Lubbock Heart Hospital, Dec 16-17, 2005
Image by brykmantra via Flickr

The doctor was running late, and the tiny waiting room teemed with children: one mother with four, a couple who’d brought only the baby, and Christian and I, with our three. While the grownups chatted, Alex fidgeted with boredom, annoyed because we weren’t reading to him. Meanwhile, Julianna discovered the babies, and would not leave them alone.

When at last the nurse called me back, Christian decided to keep the little ones in the waiting room—bringing the whole crew into a 6 x 10 examining room seemed a recipe for disaster. But Alex came with me. I had promised him a heartbeat.

The doctor connected with him instantly, and Alex got giggly at the attention. Dr. Dixon pulled out the Doppler and the bottle of gel. “Pretend your mom is a French fry,” he told Alex, and with the loose, warbling laugh my boys get when they’re beyond self-control, Alex obeyed. “Wow!” Dr. Dixon said. “You like a lot of ketchup on your fries, don’t you?”

He placed the wand against my abdomen, and the familiar skritch and whoosh and khkhkhkhkhkh emanated from the small handheld speaker. Then we heard a slow and steady wshew, wshew, wshew, wshew. “That’s my heartbeat,” I told Alex. “You know how I know?”

He shook his head.

“Because it’s too slow, and because I can feel it at the same time that I can hear it.”

Dr. Dixon moved the wand, and I held my breath, listening for the sound we were all waiting for. What if…what if…I told myself I was being stupid. The baby had moved just the day before.

And then, faintly: shew-shew-shew-shew-shew-shew.

I glanced at Alex. “You hear that? It’s not very loud, is it?”

The smile bloomed on his face like a flower captured in time-lapse: slow, but visible. He nodded.

Shew-shew-shew-shew-Shew-Shew-Shew-Shew—” I smiled. “You hear that getting louder? What do you think is happening?”

“He moved it?” Alex suggested, pointing at the wand.

I shook my head. “No, he’s holding it still.”

His eyebrows shot up. “The baby’s moving?”

I nodded, and he giggled.

SHEW SHEW SHEW SHEW Shew Shew shew shew shew…

“The baby’s swimming laps,” I said, as the little one passed out of range. Alex warbled again.

I love sharing these moments with him. I glow in the warmth of knowing what my child thinks of the experience. Being able to see the transformation, watch it sink in and merge into his love of all that is beautiful in the world, his endless fascination with how things work. As I lay there, watching his face, I wondered what impact this moment might have on his future. Will he choose medicine, and point to this moment as the one that first steered him in that direction? Will he immortalize it in a sculpture or painting or song?

More than likely, none of the above will happen. More than likely, this moment will fade into his subconscious, remembered dimly if at all. And yet it will remain part of his experience, part of whomever and whatever he becomes.

And for once, in a parenthood dominated by toddlerhood, I got to participate fully in the moment with him.