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Heartbeats and Birthdays


Heartbeats and Birthdays


There is a small non-medical grade device sold to expectant, anxious mothers, akin to a doppler. It truly is a mini doppler machine. Yet ob/gyns and respectable publications all shake their heads in unison each time one of these $60 devices is purchased. I was warned it could only cause more anxiety, as the “little pumpkin” was too small to be found in that comparatively cavernous belly. Take my money, I said as I clicked “Buy now”. 


Despite their warnings and predictions, I was always able to find her heartbeat almost immediately. Each time I heard that rapid thud-thud-thud-thud my breath stopped. Until halfway through the pregnancy, unless you’re losing your lunch daily, there is no tangible marker that there really is a small human brewing inside you. At forty years old, it felt even further from the truth. Buying this little machine, greasing up my belly with the included jelly, and popping the tiny white microphone on my stomach was my favorite thing to do. She was really there. My little girl was doing her thing, pumping away.


The first time we got to see her heartbeat was just that. We only saw it – tall, packed blips on a machine. 


“We aren’t supposed to show you this,” the tech said as she turned the screen toward us, “but there is the heartbeat.” 


We were in the ER, I was hooked up to an IV. We’d just passed all the pregnancy tests back at home in Maryland, but had yet to see a heartbeat to truly confirm. It was too soon. 


“Congratulations,” she whispered. 


I was discharged an hour later. Dehydration. A few hours earlier I went to my sister’s room to lie down as I wasn’t feeling well. My blood pressure was 60/47. The nurse on the phone said to call an ambulance, but we didn’t want more of a fuss about the situation. Thankfully it was just that, and I was feeling miles better. 


We got home that afternoon, rather, to my parents’ home in California, and I was able to return to my father’s bedside. 


“They have a heartbeat Papa. You’re going to be a grandfather.” 


For the next two days my husband and I sat there, holding his hand. I was still holding his hand as his heart slowed, and then finally decided to stop.


I can still clearly remember the machine’s thud-thud-thud-thud and the delightful balm it provided, the first time I used it a few weeks later. She’s now almost eight months old, and I sometimes hold my ear to her chest to hear that comforting, promising sound. Papa would have loved that it was a girl. 

He would have gotten the same amount of joy that I did from that small, pink, plastic doppler, too, warnings be damned. And he would have had a good one-liner about it as well. 



Happy almost 90th birthday Papa, Grandpa. I will make sure that your fierce, joyful little granddaughter will grow up knowing the gracious, enormous heart that you so freely, so warmly shared with all of us. 

And as easily as I can remember that intoxicating mechanical pulse, I remember your smooth, kind hand. Always a little cool to the touch. Always a refreshing balm in itself.

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