Photo by Andreanna Moya Photography, Creative Commons
When my son was twenty weeks old, we first saw his heart on the ultrasound screen. It was Valentine’s Day, 2011. The sonographer showed us the walls of the four chambers, fluttering white on the black screen. She told us nothing to evaluate the shape of his heart, its strength, its rhythm. She just showed it to us. Here. This is what you have built. And we watched the miracle of its motion, the way it expanded and contracted like hope. We waited for the doctor, who told us how beautiful our child was, as though we did not know. That night, at home, I wrote to my child. I told him how the undulating contractions of his heart looked like a pale butterfly on the black screen. In the dark of our bedroom, I whispered to him of metamorphosis.
The next time I caught a glimpse of my son came just hours before he was born. Healing hands glided over my knotted muscles, slowly untwisting the tension of three days and nights of labor, unsticking the stubborn bone blocking my baby’s path. The hands hovered over my hips and their owner told me what she saw. A black butterfly. Blue and yellow on its wings. Here, in the clean white arc of your hips. Fluttering forward and back. Forward and back. Do you see it? I thought of his heart, undulating like wings, and I nodded. He came quickly then. Within hours, he emerged slick and wet and alive, as if from a color-stained chrysalis. His father and I held him as he cried and his pulse raced with life.
Less than a month later, my husband and I sat in a dimmed room with a man examining our child’s heart from every imaginable angle as it quivered blue and red on another screen. The ceiling was lit with hundreds of tiny lights like stars which did nothing to drive away the dark. He angled the wand against our son’s thin chest and froze frame after frame after frame of his ghostly heart, searching for some fragility to explain his thinness and the blue cast to his lips. I thought of my heart, of his father’s, which were both born faintly whispering secrets. I wondered what our son’s heart had to tell; I wondered if it were over-burdened by the murmuring of secret things. Finally, the man spoke. Here. I’m not the cardiologist. This is not official. But his heart is beautiful. We carried the mystery in our arms along with our son as we left the hospital, and I began to understand the uncertain footing I stood on as a mother. But after that, he grew. His beautiful butterfly heart grew. And I grew, too.
I have seen your heart from a hundred angles. I have seen it in black and white. I know its depth and width and height. I know its walls and hollows. I have seen how it beats against your ribs like a winged thing and throbs with color. And for all that I have seen, your heart is a coffer of secrets. This is what it means to be a parent: to know you from before your first breath yet spend a lifetime waiting for you to reveal who you are. Here I stand, watching you open your chest of secrets one shining sliver at a time.