Early pregnancy is a tough time for me. With a history of miscarriage, I find myself over-analyzing every symptom, obsessively checking for spotting, and wishing the days would pass quickly so I can make it to the more predictable second trimester. I'm currently pregnant with my third baby and this around, I couldn't wait to hear its heartbeat or to see the little flicker on the ultrasound screen. Even though most care providers would advise against it, I bought an at-home doppler so I could hear my baby's heartbeat as soon as I was able.
A hand-held doppler is a device that uses ultrasound waves to detect movement, which bounces the waves back to the probe. These sounds are then amplified with a tiny speaker. You can hear anything that moves: gas bubbles, blood moving through the placenta or arteries, the baby's heart, or fetal movements. One of the reasons many doctors advise against using one at home is that these sounds can be hard to distinguish. I personally felt very confident that I could tell the difference between the galloping little heart of fetus and the slower whooshing sounds of my own heartbeat. But that's because I've already had two babies, and as someone fairly obsessed with pregnancy and childbirth, I've seen lots of videos where I learned to distinguish the sounds.
In my opinion, there is really no better sound that this. It's helped make my whole pregnancy feel so much more real. Even though I was experiencing a lot of early pregnancy symptoms, I didn't quite believe I was going to have a baby until I heard my baby's heart chugging along. I was able to hear the heartbeat at home at eight weeks pregnant, after I had some spotting, and it was a huge comfort to me. But when I couldn't find the heartbeat a few days after that, I didn't panic exactly, but it did begin the familiar chain of worries, fears, and anxieties. I knew the baby was so tiny that its heartbeat was hard to find, but even though I didn't immediately jump to the worst conclusion, I spent a lot of time during those few days trying to find it. It was all I could think about.
When the package arrived on my doorstep, I almost gave it to my mother with strict instructions not to give it to me until the second trimester. I didn't want to become obsessed, but for those few days, despite my best intentions, I did.
This, unfortunately, is one of the reasons many caregivers don't recommend expecting mothers-to-be get a home doppler. It doesn't help for a woman to be panicking, obsessed with checking for a heartbeat. I knew this when I bought it. When the package arrived on my doorstep, I almost gave it to my mother with strict instructions not to give it to me until the second trimester. I didn't want to become obsessed, but for those few days, despite my best intentions, I did.
After that, I've had a lot more self control. I check it a couple of times a week, maybe. It's just as much exciting as it is reassuring. My daughter loves moving the probe over my belly and I love that we can bond with the baby this way, even before its born. I can't wait for the days when I'll be able to see a hand or a foot bulging out of my belly, but until then, this is what I've got to remind me of the life I'm growing. This makes it real in a way other signs and symptoms do not.
I view the doppler as a tool to help me bond with my baby and to enjoy. I'm not trying to use it diagnose anything. The closest I came was when I wanted to make sure my spotting wasn't a miscarriage — and that made me nuts. FDA guidelines state that ultrasound waves, while not explicitly harmful, should be minimized. There's also evidence that cells do react to the ultrasound waves. The FDA warns against unnecessary ultrasounds (specifically from those recreational or vanity ultrasound places), and this includes dopplers. Although the doppler I bought is FDA approved, it doesn't mean I should use it constantly.
Having a doppler at home, in our house, benefits of all us. My husband is part of the process. My children are, too. And in those moments where I feel panicky and anxious or just need to hear the sound of the baby inside of me, I can use it.
I didn't have a doppler in my first two pregnancies, and part of me wishes I had because of how much I love hearing my baby's heartbeat and how close it makes me feel to the life I'm growing inside of me. And now that baby is moving around a lot, I can hear the swishes that mean its moving, long before I can feel them. But not having one at home meant that the experience of hearing it in the midwife's office was something I treasured. I looked forward to my appointments so much. I still love my prenatal visits, but they aren't as highly anticipated. But having a partner who works full-time means that he isn't present at most of my appointments, so it's been great to have him be able to hear the heartbeat as well. Having a doppler at home, in our house, benefits of all us. My husband is part of the process. My children are, too. And in those moments where I feel panicky and anxious or just need to hear the sound of the baby inside of me, I can use it.
And that's not even getting into how much my kids love it. We've used the doppler to listen to their heartbeats, so they understand there's a baby in my womb who also has a beating heart. It's opened up a lot of discussions about their sibling-to-be. We've talked a lot about how the baby is growing, and how my womb is growing along with it. My 2-year-old daughter in particular is fascinated with the process. She will happily watch birth videos with me and will page through my pregnancy books, pointing out the babies in the anatomical illustrations. The doppler has helped bring us all together.
Once I can truly feel this baby move, I'll probably pack the doppler away. I don't want to start worrying about my baby's heart rate when fetal movement is probably a better indicator of the baby's well-being. I look forward to the day when my children will be able to feel the baby move through my belly. But by then, I'll probably have a really large belly and the whole pregnancy will feel more real to all of us. I think that's at the crux of my wanting an at-home doppler. I wanted to know it was real. Because despite the morning sickness and fatigue, I often lost sight of why I was feeling so lousy. Hearing the heartbeat was an amazing reminder of why I'm going through all of this. It's gotten me excited about meeting this little person. Still, when I think about having two hearts beating inside my body, it blows my mind. It doesn't matter how many times I hear it, or see an ultrasound video, or have multiple children, it never gets less exciting. And in a way, I have the doppler to thank for that.