Science describes true silence as “noisy,” a paradox that science undoubtedly loves. Tinnitus is the term for the noise the human brain creates to fill those rare moments of pure, unblemished silence. This occurs in the deep synapses of the brain, and is, in short, the brain having a panic attack. When the auditory systems that are typically transmitting sound to the brain run out of sound to send, the synaptic balances in the neurons of the brain are thrust into chaos. Often, one will experience hums, zings, buzzes, or rings that emanate seemingly from the center of the brain.
Silence is loud, essentially, because it terrifies the human mind.
Today, I am supposed to be twelve weeks pregnant, and we are supposed to be hearing our baby’s heartbeat for the first time. The Doppler can’t pick it up. Silence.
The horror I feel is swift and surprising. I haven’t felt much of anything for this baby yet. I have stopped drinking wine, am taking my prenatals, and doing all the things expected of me, but the feeling: the excitement and the love, I haven’t found it, not really. Anything good I feel is muffled and deadened by the knowledge that it isn’t time.
When I had found out I was pregnant, it had been a week before our wedding. This baby had announced itself five weeks ago in the form of a pregnancy test that blared PREGNANT on the world’s tiniest and most accusatory billboard.
What I feel is not numbness, exactly. It is an overwhelming sense that it is too much, too fast, that we cannot do this, that we are not ready, that we cannot care for this baby. It is, I realize now, akin to how I had felt eight years prior, looking into the face of my firstborn as the doctor told me there was a hole in his heart.
He is fine, but my own heart, without holes, has been unable to forget the refrain that had tumbled into my head: maybe I can’t do this.
Today, it seems perhaps the universe feels the same way, but instead of relief, I feel cold. I feel guilty and regretful and wretched, and I want, more than anything, to pull back any doubts I had flung into the ether, any lamentations I had let flit across my consciousness when I was sure no one was listening.
The doctor tells us we need an ultrasound, that it is possible I am simply not as far along as we’d thought, and our baby is too small to hear. He tells us he has to enter the order as “possible miscarriage.”
Moments later, I lie back, dimly aware of the ultrasound technician spreading an almost unnervingly warm gel over my skin, sure that the image of my uterus will be vacant. Or worse, that there will be tiny, microscopic remains of what could have been our baby floating in the poisoned viscera of my womb, and I will have to face him, face the would-be-baby I hadn’t been sure I wanted.
Psychology tells us that humanity fears silence because within it, our imaginations run amok. Where there is no noise the mind fills itself with hypotheticals, using the senses it has left—sight, taste, smell, touch—to fill in the blanks left by sound, pulling conclusions from them that may be incomplete.
I hear him before I see him, and it occurs to me that perhaps whatever karmic force that tallies discretions and shame is throwing me some token of forgiveness. “It’s okay,” his heartbeat pulses, and my imagination quiets, my synapses calming, coalescing into a singular focus directed
at that echoing, rapid beating. He flicks into view half a moment later, his minute heart dancing in grainy black and white, tiny and clear and so undeniably real.
My brain, no longer distracted by internal fireworks or possible terrors, focuses on that tiny pulse, the staggering and exquisite evidence of us, all of us, his father and him and me, the three of us creating something brand new from the ancient atoms of the galaxy.
I imagine it is loud where he is. I imagine he can hear my body, and the trill of my voice. I imagine he can hear when his father brushes kisses across my skin and sings him lullabies in the dark.
I imagine that where he is, in the eternal night of my womb, it is loud, and he is not afraid.
Chelsea Sheneman is a forever-student of history and writing living in Grand Rapids, MI with her husband, Zach, also a writer, and their two sons. Chelsea writes fiction, non-fiction, and prose poetry. She has written online articles for XOJane and Yahoo, but this will be her first non-university journal publication that she is not immediately affiliated with.