To paraphrase Sir Paul McCartney, another older dad who’s also played some rock and roll in his day, it’s been a long and winding road to Lydia’s ultrasound.
I’m sitting in a room in MacDonald Women’s Hospital, not far from our hometown of Chagrin Falls, near Cleveland, Ohio. I’m here with my fiancé, Lydia, twenty years younger, but far wiser than I. We’re about to see our twenty-week old baby-to-be. Saying I’m excited is like saying Cavaliers’ fans were disappointed when LeBron James told ESPN, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.”
Though I’m an avid sports fan, the last thing on my mind is Lebron, or whether the Cleveland Browns will finally show up on the field this year. All I care about right now is Lydia and the new baby. It’s amazing how the importance of sports vanish when that ultrasound screen begins showing a little bundle of hopes and dreams.
Today, we’ll find out today if the baby has any markers for Down Syndrome, Spina bifida, and a host of other things that modern ultrasounds, with their science fiction-like 3-D and 4-D imagery, can tell us. We also want to know the sex. As for the gender surprise some parents prefer, I’ve had enough surprises in my 58 years to last five lives. I want to know now. (So does Lydia, thankfully.)
At Lydia’s first ultrasound, when the baby was around twelve weeks, we saw the shadowy early image of our child. Today we’re seeing a face – one that Lydia is convinced looks like me when I’m sleeping – as well as ten fingers, ten toes, and a heart that beats strongly through the gossamer ribcage of the ultrasound image.
The nurse says, “bottom down, normal,” and, then, rapid-fire: “left hand, right hand, nose, lips…it’s eleven ounces…the lumbar, cervical… your placenta previa is gone and out of the way. Okay now, get on your side,” she continues. There’s a pause and she says in the same matter-of-fact voice: “Gender is a boy.”
Not “male.” But, “A boy.” Tears shoot out of my eyes and I start making victory motions at Lydia, as if the Browns have won the Super Bowl, but times a trillion and then some. Yet I know I’d make the same crazed gestures if the baby were a girl. What did I expect the nurse to say: “It’s a salmon?” “It’s a snare drum?”
But she didn’t; she said it’s a boy, our son, and now I’m now scarcely in control emotionally. Lydia just smiles calmly and nods.
“You knew all along,” I stage whisper to Lydia, because she’s believed from the beginning it was a boy.
The nurse says, “The doctor will come in and take a look and answer any questions that you have.” She leaves the dimly lit room. Lydia keeps smiling and I keep tearing up. While we’re waiting, we admire the photos that are up on the screen. “Look at that profile,” Lydia says. “Did you see his hands? He has big hands like you.”
I’ve wanted a child for thirty-five years, since I was twenty-three, when my first nephew was born. As an uncle, I basked in a reflected child-light, which was fine, though it was a light I’d since given up on thinking would ever be direct – until recently. I’d had false starts with relationships best relegated to lessons learned, and those lessons didn’t produce a child. And that was okay; I never blamed anyone, myself included. It was just the way things happened.
Yet there was a space in my heart that I kept unoccupied on the rare chance that I would meet my true soul mate, and the even rarer possibility that she and I would have a child together. Did I think, as I passed from my mid-forties to late fifties, that it would happen? Not really. Did I hope it would? Sure, because as flinty and cynical as I’d become before meeting Lydia a few years ago, I’d kept the space open; perhaps partly by habit, perhaps partly by faith.
Now it’s the doctor’s turn. Like the nurse, he gets right down to business. I sense immediately that he’s a kind man who cares about his patient and her baby, whom he refers to as “the kid.” Somehow, this comforts me: “The kid.” Still, I want the kid to be all right.
The doctor talks even faster than the nurse about the fetus’s development. He repeats some of the nurse’s findings, and then gets into more detail. We begin hearing a word that becomes, for me, the Pulitzer-winning word of prenatal doctor visits: “normal.”
Heart is “normal,” he says. Fluid “normal.” Brain “normal.” Cerebellum “normal.” Stomach “normal,” and so on, and I never get tired of hearing that extraordinary word, “normal.” He moves the ultrasound device around until he gets a full view of the spine, which he’s been trying to get to. “Normal,” he says. There’s a pause. I hold my breath.
“There are three big markers for Down Syndrome,” he says. “None are present.” Before I fully exhale, the doctor says, “I’m very happy with the news we have.”
“Thank you for your expertise, doctor,” I say, shaking his hand. “You must love what you do.” He looks pleased. He smiles and replies, “We’re not gods. But we try to set a standard.” And then he leaves.
Lydia dries off the gel and gets dressed. In the course of an hour, my life has changed in that room, in ways I’m still grasping. The road I’ve taken over all these decades to get to that ultrasound room has been as long and winding as any that Sir Paul sang about. As Lydia and I drive home, the twists and turns and bumps in the road of my past recede in the rear view mirror. A new road’s journey, one that a little boy will travel with us, winds out before me, farther than my eye can see, guided by my heart.