In this installment of ‘Love, Recorded,’ news of the baby’s high heart rate sends the whole house into unrest.
This is what I left out of the last column: the ER doctor says our baby’s heart rate is too fast. Or was it the ultrasound operator. The ultrasound operator says our baby’s heart rate is 196 beats per minute. In our baby book, the one the nurse derecommended, it says our baby is supposed to have a heart rate between 120 and 180. Online, it says over 140 is usually a girl, so there’s that.
To me, these are the numbers of hummingbirds.
I am not sure why I left out the heart rate. There is a short story I love: halfway through, the narrator starts to tell how she altered the truth in the first half. In the second half, of course, she must have altered the truth again. There are a few stories I always have in mind. That is one of them.
The doctor said that the fast heart rate could be a sign of fetal distress. Or it could just be the baby moving. We could have caught the baby at an awkward time.
There is nothing to do but wait.
For the next two weeks, Cathreen is mostly in bed. Her mother, her sisters, her Asian friends, the doctors on Korean blogs, all say to rest. In the meantime, what we do is fret.
My wife is addicted to the kind of worries and reassurance only the internet can provide. She spends hours online, every day—this is what she does with her time. She reads blog post after blog post on Korean pregnancy sites. She reads that worse morning sickness means higher IQ. She reads that fitful sleep means postpartum depression. She finds music designed to improve the baby: make it calmer, make it kinder, make it good at science. We listen to the track that is supposed to make the baby calmer. We don’t want it to have our tempers.
She is not the happiest pregnant woman. I know how much her changing taste buds, in particular, pain her. Eating is her favorite. For a while, she can eat only rice with kim (dried seaweed), eggs with ketchup, and tomatoes. Then only dried fish, cereal with milk, and tomatoes. I buy a lot of tomatoes.
I try to be there always, but I know that if I do not write, we will both be cranky. I try to make sure that at least I go to her when she calls me. Sometimes this means leaving a sentence unsatisfied. I think about all my future unsatisfied sentences. I think of her, and of the baby.
I think of the heart rate. We have an appointment for an ultrasound a week and a half and infinity later.
Now let me skip ahead. I will tell you what the cats are doing. We think they are aware. We think this not because of tenderness, or protectiveness, but jealousy. Boise is extra attention-starved. Bear terrorizes his cat toys. My mother and Cathreen’s mother say we should send the kitten to a shelter, that two cats and one baby are too much. Of course we cannot do this—the cats are our other babies.
The night before I write this, I try to give the cats baths. Boise’s smell bothers Cathreen’s pregnancy nose. Bear’s smell bothers my normal nose.
When we got Bear, I agreed to be the one to take care of these things. Cathreen was in charge of Boise—cutting his claws, brushing him, giving him baths—because I left them in Korea for graduate school. I am reminded of this often. I am the one in charge of Bear.
But Bear is changing. Cathreen took him to the vet the other day and he showed his claws. We think Boise is communicating how fearful the outside world is. Don’t go out there, he meows. When I carry Bear toward the water, he twists like a tortured ballerina, crazed, though somehow still elegant. I try to explain to him that he stinks. He doesn’t realize he has no choice.
With Boise, I have never given him a bath. His reaction is: kill. Once I am able to pull him out of my skin, there are two little holes like a vampire bite in my arm, blood oozing up in them slowly as if there is a long way to go from where his claws sank in until the surface.
I tweet about this. That is the outlet I take. Cathreen gives Boise a bath and he sits there patiently for her, not even crying.
My point in this digression is about babies. My point is that my life now is about babies, everything is reduced to its babiest state. Nobody can talk. We make sounds. We demand things. We cry when nothing goes our way. We try to communicate what is inside us but what is inside us is always much bigger than we are.
Why did I leave out the heart rate? Out of superstition. I was afraid. And afraid that Cathreen would be upset to read it. Now I know she is not.
When infinity is up, we go to the hospital again. Other things I left out: my brother’s visit, our resigning our lease, Christmas shopping and tree decorating. All these things happen in the background. The ultrasound operator shows us the baby on a little monitor. I am in love with dots. “How fast is the heart rate?” we ask, and explain our long restlessness. A hundred and eighty, she says. Normal. We stare at the shifting images. Not long after that, we will see another doctor and the heart rate will be down to 170. Each day, the baby gets stronger and everything takes on more importance—food, blogs, sleep. Later, there will be more and more to miss. Here’s what I do: I think about all the things our lives include.
—Photo Drunken Monkey/Flickr