A Pair of Heartbeats
Updated: Jan 12
By Kristy Gustafson
The static currents continued with her search, hollow and empty scratches, the volume cranked so we wouldn’t miss it. The nurse’s scrubs, a bright turquoise, reminded me of the ocean and distracted me with something better, something far away from this uncertain place. I wondered what my face looked like in that moment, a staring contest with the pale ceiling. My hands pressed against my chest, all hope draining from my face and into the exam chair beneath me as each empty moment passed.
This is normal, she reassured me. The baby is still so small. She’s hard to find.
She. We had learned the gender just moments before and it hadn’t truly hit me until now. We’re having a girl. Holy shit, we’re having a girl. Somehow it felt realer to me than it had before. Realer than when those two lines had first appeared through the tiny window on the blue and white stick some 13 weeks ago. Realer than when we shared the news with our friends, our family, that this pregnancy was the one to stick. Maybe even realer than the first time we had heard the heartbeat, back when it was merely an it, when my eyes filled to the corner with tears at the sound of this tiny life somewhere deep inside me. But I know that realness would slip just as easily through my fingertips if there was no longer a heartbeat to be found.
You’ve got a stubborn one in there, the nurse tried to make light. This is very normal at this stage, she said again. Very normal.
I nodded, silent. Trying my best to breathe, to let her words put my own heart at ease. Though it was anything but.
There’s your heartbeat, she said, as the apparatus pressed deep into my lower abdomen.
Your baby’s will be a lot faster. You’ll know when you hear it.
I looked over at my husband, leaned over in the chair by the wall, typing away on his phone or perhaps pretending to. Was he nervous like I was? Was he already calculating what to say if the nurse were to change her reassuring tone. Or was he calm like he always was? The only worry on his mind about which route he would take on his 11-hour drive for his work trip out west.
I let my eyes return to the white ceiling, a water stain turned brown in the corner.
Please be in there, I heard a whisper inside. Please be in there.
Am I hurting you? The nurse asked.
Yes, I thought. Though no was the answer that came.
I heard my heartbeat again, too slow to be the baby’s, but I imagined quicker than usual. My nerves getting the best of me. I tried to avoid eye contact with the clock, even the nurse herself. Then, with a slight movement and even more pressure into my gut came the sound of a quicker one, seemingly out of nowhere.
Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump.
There, she said, as if it had been there all along. There she is. 147. Normal. Strong.
I breathed a sigh of relief and watched as my husband’s shoulders relaxed.
There she is.
The doctor came in moments later, scrubs pink like Pepto Bismol, a reminder of all the morning sickness it takes most women to get to this moment. Though thankfully I proved one of the lucky ones.
The tests came back good, she said. Low risk in all areas. Do you have any questions for me?
We fired off a handful, but found at this stage we didn’t have much. Mainly just relief. All I could think about was the confirmation of this living, breathing thing, moving and growing inside me, already playing tricks on the nurses, wanting to be left in peace. Something I could most certainly relate to. Like mother, like daughter. My daughter. The size of a lime today, a hacky-sack. And, according to one site, the amber topper of the old man’s cane in Jurassic Park. Doesn’t he get eaten in the end? Chewed up and spit out in this dog-eat-dog world? No, not spit out. Swallowed whole.
I think of our own dog-eat-dog world, the one my baby will soon enter in a just few short months. A world filled with things equally breathtaking and terrifying. Though thankfully, rogue, resurrected dinosaurs are not one. Still, monsters of their own breed lurk in the shadows, out in the open, within people I, and now she, pass in the street. Along with a question. How do I begin to protect her from all of this? How do I hold her close, keep her safe and out of harm’s treacherous reach?
Then comes an answer. I suppose I can’t. I suppose I can only prepare her. Teach her to trust this strong, beating thing within her own chest. To stay open when life only seems to test it. To guide her away from danger, towards the things she’s meant to pursue.
But how will I know if that’s enough? If it will ever be enough? For this tiny, racing heart to handle. For my own.