They say summer is a bad time to schedule surgery. Doctors are out on vacation. The interns are in charge. The kids have the run of the house. And so it was when I went for my ultrasound this week. I was sitting on the examining table half naked under a sheet, texting a friend on my iPhone, when an intern whom I’d never seen before walked in with three other people. I quickly put my phone down and lay back on the table. She asked me if I minded having an audience there. I think I said it was fine. She then inserted the wand inside me and we all looked at the screen. There it was again, the brine shrimp in the little sac. She measured the fetus and said it was larger than the prior week.
“Everything looks exactly as it should,” she said.
It’s not often in life when you feel you’ve done something so right, without even trying.
She then proceeded to root around inside me with the wand like she was churning butter or driving a stick shift, searching first for my left ovary, and then my right, as the doctor in the room gave her instructions. I thought, do they realize there’s a person attached to this uterus?
“It’s not going to hurt the baby, is it?”
“No, no. It’s fine,” she said, rooting around some more.
I felt like saying, if you’d just tell me what you’re looking for, I’m sure I can help you find it.
“You see that?” she said. “That there. Can you see it on your screen?”
“I’m not sure,” I said, looking at the ultrasound monitor.
I looked near the top of the sac and saw a little fluttering. She then turned on the volume and at the bottom of the screen, there was a moving graph that went up and down every time the heart beat, like you might see on a heart monitor. But it didn’t go ba-damp, ba-dump, ba-dump, like I would have expected. It made a quick dah-duh dah-duh dah-duh dah-duh, like a humingbird’s wings. I thought it might beat right out of its sac.
I gave a little whimper and shed one tear, and then the feeling was gone. I felt empty. And the whole thing — the fetus, the heartbeat — felt remote. It was hard to relate to the idea that the thing out there on the screen was the thing inside me. I’m not sure what happened. It was as if I felt something and understood it, and then suddenly I didn’t.
I called my husband and told him about the heartbeat. And then I told some friends. And sure, it was nice. I felt I’d passed a milestone. It was at this point the last time I was pregnant, three years ago, that we went in to hear the heartbeat and found only an empty fetal sac with no sign of a fetus. It was like going to meet a friend, and they don’t show up, and all you find is their car. And yet this time, I heard our baby’s heartbeat, but instead of it being a moment of joy, it felt surreal. Hearing that sound should make the baby seem more real, more alive. Perhaps I’d rather not feel that just yet –at least not until I know he’s going to make it.