Strength in a Heartbeat

Clicking furiously, squinting forcibly, the admitting nurse scours her records. Her wrinkled face beneath tightly curled ringlets reveals minimal empathy, little compassion. We are impromptu patients at this late hour. With every click of her keyboard, a secret hope swells in my soul.

Maybe this is all a mistake.

Each passing minute affords my hands time to fiddle with my coat zipper, my stomach to flip itself into knots, and my eyes to tepidly wander. The entryway to the labor and delivery unit boasts slender windows, barely providing a peek of the family waiting room. The silhouette of a man and a woman dance upon the dimly lit wall, merely shadows by the fireplace: laughing, sharing, beaming. He lovingly puts his arm around the slight woman. A take-out pizza lies before them as they ravishingly nosh. My wistful gaze follows the tiled floor back to the nurse, forcibly departing the Norman Rockwell painting and returning to the appropriately bleak, never-ending M.C. Escher masterpiece.

“Here it is.” The nurse’s stern voice is startling. “Dr. Gladwell called about 15 minutes ago. We’ll get you all set up.”

This is no mistake.

In the cramped triage room, the walls close in on us. Cluttered with technological rubbish, Jason is forced to squeeze his thin frame between furniture, counters, and computers. Banished to the back corner, he sits on a small wooden chair tucked snugly within the cabinets. Merely a desolate island in the middle, no bridge could span the impassable, moated gap stretching around me. Strange code blinks mockingly on computer screens. Sitting under the sterile, flickering beams of a small fluorescent light, despair clogs the remaining space.

A foreboding gloom settles securely within me. Nothing good comes out of this room.

With a perky bustling, Nurse Joleen joins our chock-full surroundings. Her long brown ponytail excitedly swings as she bounces around the room. Showing her perfectly white teeth through a broad smile, she exudes the enthusiasm which I cannot conjure. I try to embody her character, hoping to persuade my feelings into changing. Despite my doubt in her ability to move such mountains, my muscles loosen, my breath steadies, my clammy hands dry and warm. Joleen is a pro.

Engaged in a rousing game of Tetris, Joleen’s limber moves reassign positions for everything in the room until she can reach me, all whilst keeping one hand on the computer. Question after question, she fills in every detail of my medical history, and most importantly, my current symptoms. Combined with the lateness of the day, this renders me exhausted. Our pillow-topped bed, soft sheets, and warm down comforter, all await us at home.

“We are just going to monitor the heartbeat for a while, although usually we lose it once we find it, so I’m just going to be sure we get enough recorded before I step out. Since it is after hours, we paged the on-call ultrasound technician to come in, so it may take up to 45 minutes for her to get here.” The involvement of the after-hours staff is not taken lightly. My chest tightens, curtailing my air supply. Breathe, Laura.

The belted doppler snuggly fitted around my midsection, we wait for Joleen to find the heartbeat. A cool air descends in the room. The fleshy icicles of my fingertips tap the creased table paper. The overbearing silence creates heart flutters in my own chest. Many adjustments to the doppler prove useless, until Joleen made the right adjustment. There is a heartbeat! Setting my respirations to the newfound sounds, we listen.

Whoosh…Whoosh…Whoosh. Breathe in. Whoosh…Whoosh…Whoosh. Breathe out.

The angelic music of the soft, steady thumping fractures the quietude.

“This is great!” A pleased expression on Joleen’s face buoys my spirits; Her bright green eyes twinkle in delight. She stays for the next few minutes to be sure the doppler continues picking up the beat. Moments later, her pride is impossibly more prevalent. “We can never sustain the heartbeat this long. I may have broken a previous record!”

Whoosh…Whoosh…Whoosh. Breathe in. Whoosh…Whoosh…Whoosh. Breathe out.

Satisfied with her work, Joleen leaves us within this beating harmony. We sit: Jason, baby, and me. Finding a way to scoot his chair out of the corner, Jason’s hand covers mine, creating a warmth atop the cool, plastic table. We intently listen to the steady fortitude in our baby girl.

Whoosh…Whoosh…Whoosh. Breathe in. Whoosh…Whoosh…Whoosh. Breathe out.

Remaining static, I am petrified to lose the rhythmic tone. The beat is strong, beautiful; I don’t want to change a thing. Forty-five minutes later, forty-five lanky (yet peaceful) minutes, the ultrasound technician comes in with her rolling cart. Earlier tonight, I thought we’d be in and out after a quick check-up with the doctor. Staying here until nearly 11:00pm is unexpected, but workable. One quick picture for the doctor, and we’ll rejoin our undoubtedly confused pug snuggled up at home.

“I’m just going to get things set up here,” she distractedly says, fiddling with knobs, buttons, and cords. “And then we’ll get going. Dr. Gladwell requested a few pictures of things to see what’s going on inside, so this shouldn’t take too long.”

Blonde, chatty, and unquestionably caffeinated, she recounts her dinner out with her husband that night. Guilty thoughts infiltrate my already worry-filled thoughts. I’m the reason she had to leave her dinner to be here. Then I remember she gets paid to do this. This is about our little girl. She needs this. Guilt is banished.

With a sudden, uncharacteristic hush, she quickly takes the pictures she needs and starts to pack up. No further explanation is offered.

“How do things look?” Jason asks, breaking the nerve-wracking silence.

Share it with us! What did you see? I am gutless, and don’t utter a word. “I can’t say too much. I have to send the pictures over to Dr. Gladwell to get his opinion.” Her words stew in a timeless silence. What could be going on? Glancing apprehensively to Jason, the angst in his piercing blue eyes cuts through the darkness, making my heart sink to the floor.

When Joleen reappears, her smile is less wide, her green eyes less sparkling, her words more distressing. The once playful ponytail obscures itself down the back of her neck. “We are going to admit you overnight.”

My left eyebrow arches up; my intense gaze studies her facial expression. I give little credibility to her words. I manage to get out a “seriously?”, foolishly expecting her to respond with, “No, just a little hospital humor. You’re free to go.” Her eyes solemnly glisten in the glow of the computer screen, her facial expression obscured in the shadows. “Unfortunately,” she confirms, head slightly bowed, “Dr. Gladwell feels you need to stay overnight for observation.”

The pessimism that Joleen now exudes is contagious. With Jason newly stranded on my lonely island, we cling to each other. The surrounding moat widens as we watch Joleen, the exit doors, the pizza-eating couple by the fireplace, our pug, our home, all slowly slip away to the ever distancing, unreachable shoreline. Staggering on the enormity of this expanding abyss, we focus on the only stability we have left; we listen.

Whoosh…Whoosh…Whoosh. Breathe in. Whoosh…Whoosh…Whoosh. Breathe out.

Published by lkgaddis

I have been working on this memoir-style project for a while now, and I'm excited to share it with others. My hope is to get as wide an audience as possible, and to receive comments, suggestions, and ideas to improve and expand what I have. I also want to encourage others to become curious about the topic of babies, and the loss that can come with the adventures of trying to start a family. In the world of celebrating healthy babies, we who know otherwise need a voice too.

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