Shortly after my visit to the doctor to confirm my pregnancy, Steven and I scheduled our first ultrasound. We didn’t know what to expect. This was our first child, and it was still so early in the pregnancy. All the books I’d been reading said the baby was barely the size of a blueberry at this point, so I had a hard time imagining just what we might be in for. But we didn’t let that stifle our excitement. Like little children anxiously awaiting the promise of substantial loot on Christmas morning, we counted the days and tried to keep ourselves from bursting with anticipation.
Because of the ultrasound technician’s schedule, we had to set the appointment for a Wednesday afternoon in Casa Grande. Steve was able to flex his schedule to meet me at the doctor’s office over his lunch hour. We sat in the waiting room, making small talk and studying the anatomy and childbirth posters that decorated the walls around us.
The nurse called my name, and then led us to a small, dark room in the back of the clinic. There were several machines with green blinking lights sitting next to a half-chair half-table that was reclined and covered in the sterile doctor’s office tissue paper. A small, black flat-screen TV monitor was perched on the wall near the ceiling.
“How far along are you?” the technician asked.
“Six weeks,” I replied.
She smiled at us. “Your first?”
“Yeah,” both Steven and I replied.
“Well, congratulations! Just go ahead and lie back and pull your pants down below your hipbones, and we’ll see what we can see.”
I unbuckled my belt and slid my jeans down.
“This will be a little cold,” the technician said, squirting a small mound of cool, clear gel onto my skin. As she placed the small wand to my abdomen, the screen in front of us began to swirl with blurry images in black and gray. I held my breath and tried not to squirm.
After two or three minutes of searching, the technician put the wand down and wiped the gel away with a Kleenex.
“The baby is too small for us to see this way,” she explained. “Why don’t you go empty your bladder, and then when you get back, we’ll take a look at your baby with the vaginal probe.”
The tech turned and busied herself with the equipment, and I stole a glance at Steven.
It took a moment for it to register. When the words finally reached the language center of Steven’s brain where they were interpreted and understood, his eyes widened and bulged, and his face darkened until it was roughly the shade of a Red Delicious apple.
I handed him my cell phone, wallet, and sunglasses so I could to head to the restroom. He leaned forward and whispered, “Um…do I need to leave the room for this?”
I smiled and squeezed his shoulder.
“No. Stay put,” I whispered. “I’ll be right back.”
In my mind, on my way to the bathroom, I imagined what might be going on in that dark little room in my absence. I could picture Steven, sitting there silently, cheeks still rosy, trying to act busy looking at his phone and nervously playing with the keys. I wondered what the technician was thinking, and I giggled out loud at the thought of her actually trying to have a conversation with my tightly-wound husband.
When I returned to the examination room, both Steven and the tech were in roughly the same positions as I had left them, though Steven had, in fact, opened up the internet on my phone and focused all of his attention on it. Even in the darkness, I could see the flushed red patches of his cheeks. I stifled a giggle.
The tech handed me a large, white paper apron. “Go ahead and undress from the waist down,” she instructed. “Then have a seat and drape this over you. I’ll be back in a few minutes, and we’ll have a look at your baby.”
“Okay,” I said, nodding.
She left, and closed the door softly behind her.
Steven sat, staring blankly at me. I could tell that he was thinking, trying to piece together the impending scenario in his mind. He opened his mouth, as if to say something. Then snapped it closed again, his forehead furrowing. When I unbuttoned my jeans and slid them off, he began to fidget, like a hormonal adolescent suddenly faced with the very real proposition of getting laid for the first time.
“Are you sure I don’t need to leave for this?” he asked again, as I folded my clothes onto the empty chair beside him and wrapped the paper apron around my waist.
“Don’t you dare leave me alone in here!” I whispered back. “You don’t want to miss seeing the baby the first time, do you?”
“Well, no…but,” Steven stammered, weighing the possibilities. “But I’m just not…There’s not going to be anything gross, is there?”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “What do you think you’re gonna see here?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Steven replied, shaking his head. “That lady says she’s gonna probe your…your woman parts so we can see the baby. I don’t know what else we’re gonna see! We guys aren’t usually around for this probing business!”
I laughed even harder, tears beginning to form in the corners of my eyes.
“I’m not getting a full gynecological exam here, babe,” I said, wiping away the tears with a corner of the apron. “Don’t worry, you’re not going to see anything that’s going to scar you for life. It’s just going to be a regular ultrasound picture on the screen.”
“Oh, okay. Just checking,” he said.
I could tell that he was trying to sound calm, but he was still fidgeting. Steven is a compulsive tapper—always tapping his feet and drumming has hands along to whatever song happens to be in his head at the time. There are very few moments throughout the day when he is actually still. Driving with him in the car can either be terrifying or humorous, depending on whether one of his favorite songs happens to come on the radio while he’s actually driving down the highway (in which case I can only pray that we don’t blow a tire at the exact moment when both of his hands are off the wheel pounding out a Foo Fighters solo) or sitting at stoplight, where he manages to draw the attention and laughter of all the people in the cars around us as the steering wheel transforms into the snare drum, the dash into the toms, and my head into a crash cymbal. His nervous tapping though, somehow takes on a whole new level of energetic intent. To the untrained eye of someone who doesn’t know him as I do, it may appear that he is having a mild seizure.
The door opened, and the ultrasound tech reappeared, smiling at the two of us, before taking a seat in front of the machine next to me.
“Okay, now just go ahead and lie back,” she said, adjusting the stirrups for my feet. “You’ll feel just a little bit of pressure from the probe, but nothing painful. We should be able to get a good look at your baby this way.”
Black and gray blobs swam on the screen in front of us, looking more like television static than anything resembling a baby. The seconds ticked by. I squinted at the screen, but couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing. The room was silent.
I began to wonder if something might be wrong. We were still so early in the pregnancy, and I knew that many miscarriages happened before most women even knew they were pregnant. I wondered if something had happened to that little blueberry-sized embryo, and if we were suddenly going to be faced with the heartbreak of losing our first child before we even really got a chance to know him or her. I could feel my heart beginning to speed up and pound against my sternum.
Suddenly, there was a flash on the screen, a flutter of movement. Beside me, I heard Steven gasp. I reached out and took hold of his hand, which had fallen motionless on his lap. The ultrasound tech twisted the probe to get a better look, and the screen erupted with life.
“There,” she said. “There’s your baby. That movement you’re seeing right there is the heartbeat.”
The fluttering on the screen was fast and steady.
“Heart rate is about 160 beats per minute, which is absolutely perfect,” said the tech. Then she began moving the pointer on the screen to continue her explanation. “This shape here is your baby. Right now the arm and leg buds are just starting to develop, so you can’t really recognize any of that yet. This circle next to your baby is the yolk sac.”
“Oh man, I thought that was the head,” Steven said laughing. “I have no idea what I’m looking at here!”
“Me too!” I said.
The tech laughed. “Most people make that mistake when they look for the first time because the yolk sac is round,” she explained. “The yolk sac will shrink and disappear within a couple of weeks after the umbilical cord has developed and the yolk sac is no longer needed.”
I stole a glance over at Steven, but his eyes were glued to the screen and he was smiling widely.
“So far, everything looks perfect,” the tech said. “Your baby is developing and has a good, strong heartbeat. Let me get you your picture, and then you can get dressed.”
She removed the probe, and handed me a small, black and white photograph of the image we had seen on the screen.
“Okay, you guys are all finished. You can go ahead and get dressed and check out up front. Congratulations!”
“Thanks!” we both replied as the tech let herself out and closed the door behind her.
“Wow,” I said, handing the photograph to Steven. “That was the craziest thing I have ever seen! Did you see that heartbeat going a mile a minute?”
“Yeah, that was awesome!” Steven agreed. He squinted at the photograph in his hand while I dressed. “I gotta tell you though, babe. Our baby looks like Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo.”
My laughter burst out, breaking the silence in the room. Steven raised his eyebrows and tried to remain solemn, but he couldn’t keep the corners of his mouth from curling into a smile. He held up the photograph.
“Seriously, babe,” he said, pointing to the image. “Tell me that little blob there doesn’t look like Mr. Hanky. You tell me that, and I’ll call you a liar!”
“What a terrible thing to say about your child!” I chastised playfully, taking back my cell phone and wallet and sunglasses. “I’m gonna tell our baby you said that.”
“I’m gonna tell our baby I said that! And then we’ll go to the photographic proof!” Steven waved the photograph in front of my face and laughed. “It’s right here in black and white.”
We burst into the early afternoon sunlight and strolled across the parking lot, neither of us able to take our eyes off the blurry, black and white image for more than a few seconds at a time. When we reached our cars, we stood for a moment, and then Steven handed the photograph to me.
“I gotta get back to work, but why don’t you go home and scan this. Then you can email it to me so I can show everyone, and we can start sending it out to our families and friends. You know everyone is waiting.”
“Good idea,” I said, tucking the photograph carefully into my wallet. “I sure do love you, babe.”
Steven smiled and hugged me tightly. “I love you, too,” he said.
He kissed me quickly, and then we parted. I unlocked the van and climbed into the driver’s seat. Steven walked around to his car and unlocked the door, pausing for a moment before he opened it. He looked at me.
“So, I guess this is it, huh?” he asked, smiling. “We’re having a baby?”
I smiled back at my handsome husband and caught, for a moment, a glimpse of the proud father he would become. “Yep,” I said. “This is it.”