Most mothers would say that they have pretty good insight into their child's heart. I go one better: I get a regular look inside my child's actual heart.
Today Bumblebee and I made our biennial visit to the paediatric cardiologist, to get his heart checked out. After the usual manual checks on pulses (Bumblebee can easily name six places to find a pulse in the body) and blood pressure, the echocardiography machine is fired up and the ultrasound commences.
It's the same as a pelvic ultrasound: cold jelly, lying still, looking at the ceiling. Bumblebee manages the still thing as well as can be expected when everyone else in the room is cooing over how beautiful the images are.
Two years ago, and every year before that (he used to have annual checkups), I would look at the ultrasound images and marvel at the intricate nature of the human body. I would listen to the gritty swishing sound that my son's heartbeat was making and think how well the black and white imagery would translate into a woodcut print.
This year, however, my mind kept being drawn to the contrast between the ultrasounds I've had in past years and this one. To the sound of his heartbeat and those awkward and painful moments of finding no heartbeat at all. The sight of all that pumping and wriggling and flashing colours amongst the grainy black and white next to the memory of that cold unmoving black space surrounded by my own warm flesh.
Best Beloved and I had The Conversation last week. It was the one we needed to have, the one he'd been avoiding and I'd been rehearsing for months, finally going to a counsellor to help me find the words. And when it happened, I didn't feel a sense of relief. In fact, I'm still trying to find a way to make my mind accept it, even though it's my decision.
I drew the line. I don't want to get pregnant again. I just can't try again. I don't think I could cope with [a] the fear [b] the hope and [c] the resentment (my own, at yet another few months of being forced to do NOTHING, and have an outcome of nothing). It would be more destructive than creative, I'm certain of that.
My GP is utterly supportive. Every other specialist and advisor tells me there's a chance, if we use IVF, if we have millions of tests every step of the way, if we hope. My female GP, who has been with me every step of the way so far, offered to write me the equivalent of a note excusing me from class. 'You're now 40, you've got your own physical factors increasing risk, and you've got a history of problems, including a child with congenital defects. I think you can safely say you've done your best.' Bless her.
I don't know if I have done my best, but I've tried. But I can't keep trying. Now I just have to make peace with myself. Best Beloved was amazing. He's utterly supportive, albeit sad, and resigned to a life full of cats. And Bumblebee. At least we've got this marvellous boy, who gives us daily joy and challenges, whom all my doctors have said is a miracle. Who could want more than one miracle in a lifetime?
I was brought back to earth today (luckily before I burst into tears) by the cardiologist saying 'oh, he's got a heartstring in his left ventricle'. A what? A heartstring! I watched it wibble back and forth as his blood ebbed and flowed. I had no idea they were anything but poetic creations. I've just done a quick bit of web investigation and apparently they help to strengthen the walls of the ventricle, although some surgeons think they are unnecessary and removable matter.
My drawmo is a hand-drawn diagram of a heart and its valves (from a picture I saw on the web), and I've drawn in what I think I saw onscreen in the ultrasound, although probably not to scale (and I may have even got the wrong bit of the heart!). The background 'noise' is a piece of paper I ran through the rollers of the press before I cleaned them... I do that regularly, and keep the paper because I'm a sucker for textures.
I love the fact that I've seen my boy's heartstring. I love the fact that I'm lucky enough to have a child. A lot of women go through a lot more than I've done and come away with a lot less. So I'm grateful. And sad. And weary. But now we can just get on with life, and I think we'll be a lot stronger for it.
* I haven't discussed this with my parents or wider family yet. Consider this an icebreaker, my loved ones. It's hard to say these things out loud, especially when you are the vehicle for everyone else's dreams. (I wish sometimes that men could have wombs. But then my feminist streak slaps me in the face and says NO YOU DON'T! And she's right. I really don't. But sometimes it would even things out a bit...)
PS: If you want a soundtrack to this post, try Lisa Miller's 'Words for Sadness' from her Car Tape CD. It works very well indeed.