Origin Story: First contact is a solid heartbeat

By Ryan Pfeil

Mail Tribune

Dear Bethany:

I want to tell you about the first time I heard your heart beat, how it made me think of submarines and how I didn't believe it was real.

It was February. Your mom and I sat in an examination room. I could feel her nervousness, despite her calm. She's able to smear this layer of jam-like Zen over her panic. It mimics actual peace pretty well.

My mind drifted, caught in a lazy tide of ways this meeting could go wrong. I can't remember when anxiety and pessimism didn't cloud my vision or flare up to Vesuvius intensity when it came to worrying about people I love.

Like you.

Not that you were tuned in to our worry and curiosity. You were a hybrid at that point, a blend of fact and theory. There but not. Three months of growth to your name. There's a Captain America story arc called "Reborn" in which he's basically lost in the space-time continuum, straddling reality and conjecture while he tries to become whole. That's been you in a way, slowly waking from the dream of nonexistence as you try to find your way home.

But you were about to send a signal, a sign that you were still on course. Our doctor brought in a fetal doppler — it's intended to pick up tiny heartbeats like yours — and pressed the microphone against your mom's stomach, began drifting it back and forth, slowly. It wasn't just a search for a heartbeat. This felt more like hailing a spaceship.

Do you copy, Fetus One? Come in.

You did. The sound was subdued at first; static in a tunnel. Then the sound of your tiny heart expanding and contracting came in clear.

Wub wub wub.

It made me think of sonar pings and deep water. You had rhythm, kid. I could set a metronome to your tiny ticker.

"You hear it?" the doc asked.

I leaned in to listen, skeptical. Nothing could sound that perfect, that sculpted. Wub wub wub wub.

"And that's definitely it?" I asked.

"Yes," doc said.

There was a hint of verbal eyeroll in her voice. Sort of an "I-know-what-I'm-doing" tone. And I was OK with that. When it comes to you, I want to be sure. Doctor was positive.

Wub wub wub. First contact. A "Wish You Were Here" postcard for the ears.

But there was still a link missing, even with a heartbeat. We still didn't know what you were. You were still "Chip," the gender-neutral identity we assigned to you when you were the size of a chocolate chip, just getting started with your Lego-like self-assembly of cells.

For that, I need to tell you one more quick story: about the day you stopped being the ambiguous, genderless "Chip" and started being my daughter.

I've known you were for some time. You could say I had a hunch, one family and friends tried to squelch beneath their boots. Girl, I said. It has to be a girl.

No, 98 percent of the general populace responded. Boy. But I stood my ground. You'll soon learn I'm right about everything, even when I'm wrong.

You made finding out the answer difficult when we went for an appointment this past Wednesday. The ultrasound pressed against your mom's stomach and showed a defined, human-looking you. You squirmed and thrashed, legs cycling in roadrunner whirls. Images of you slashing through finish-line ribbons while a cheering crowd of track-meet watchers jumped to their feet flashed in my eyes.

We got the gender confirmation after about 20 minutes of searching.

"I'm pretty sure that's a girl," the nice health professional said.

Doc confirmed it. Yes, Ryan; it's going to be two against one very soon. You're toast, bub, doomed to say yes to every request, so long as she bats her beautiful Bethany eyes and makes her bottom lip pop out.

"Please, Daddy?"

Sigh.

But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, I suppose. Until then, I still have that heartbeat to look forward to. That wub wub wub that reminds me how strong and beautiful you are and how hopeless you're going to make me.

I'm already thinking about the next time I'll get to hear it, Bethany. I swear ... it sounds like you're saying hi.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ryanpfeil


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