"Heart's Content"

A trip to the doctor's office reminds me of the love inside my son's perfect heart.

Adoption stories are symbolized by a heart shaped balloon.

At my son Henry’s 15-month check-up, our pediatrician heard a murmur. “No big deal,” I thought. Until she said, “It’s probably nothing, but I’d like you to have it checked by a specialist.” I made an appointment and tucked the date away in my mind. I continued to think it couldn’t be a big deal. Murmurs are common, so she probably wanted us to check it, just in case.

When the date arrived, Henry and I went to see a pediatric cardiologist to have his heart looked at, except he didn’t know that. He thought we were there to wait in a room and play with an old radio tuned to some light music station, steal squeaky toys from other babies’ strollers, and relentlessly tug on the cord to a portable heater (which was, of course, not on).

After passing the time like this for a good hour, it was finally our turn. The specialist listened to my boy’s heart. It only took a moment: “Yep, he has a murmur,” he said. Then, a litany of questions. “Were there any other health problems?” “Anything he has trouble doing?” “Any behavior that troubled me?” “Any history of heart problems in the family?”

“No. No. No.” And, “I don’t know—he was adopted.”

“Well,” said the doctor, “let’s have a look.”

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That was when it finally occurred to me that something really could be wrong. I put my little boy on the table, distracted him with a singing-dancing Elmo, and watched as the doctor got his chest ready for an EKG and sonogram. I thought, “What if he sees something he’s not supposed to see? What then?”

On the sonogram machine, I saw an all-too-familiar image: insides lit up in a static-y white light. Pulsing, winking. The doctor kindly pointed out what we were looking at: arteries, atria, valves, ventricles, chambers, my son’s heart. It was beating fast and loud, like an amplified windshield wiper working overtime.

All those ultrasounds over the years, searching for a heartbeat, came rushing back to me. The heartbeat they show you when the fetus is just a few weeks old is a tiny blinking thing. An echo of a dot. It’s miraculous because it’s beating inside you, but it’s not much to look at.

But the heartbeat of a 15-month-old is amazing. The hugeness, the detail, the black-and-white beauty of it. The fact that it’s not going to slow down or vanish, or not progress further than that picture you put up on your refrigerator—the one you finally take down when you’ve accepted that it’s really gone. It was a great moment for me just to be able to look—shamelessly, and with all the gratitude in the world—at my son’s heart as it did its work.

The doctor deftly moved the wand over Henry’s chest, his eyes fixed on the screen as he searched for any weaknesses. And then he was done. In the end, there was nothing wrong—no abnormalities or defects. Henry has what’s called an innocent murmur and, chances are, it will disappear one day. It’s common in infants and children, and it won’t restrict him in any way. We’re all clear.

On the way home from the doctor’s office, I bought Henry a balloon, because he loves them. It was really the least I could do for him after he had shown me his perfect heart.

[Choosing Your Pediatrician]



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