Innocent Murmur

It sounds like poetry, like the whisperings of a stream dappled with shade or the soft, unformed words that spill out of the mouth of a half-asleep child. An innocent murmur. I am caught up in the lyrical flow of the words as I mouth them to myself over and over.

Lincoln sits in my lap and chatters, an excited flow of sounds that are not yet language mixed with fragments of recognizable words. Maw, he calls me, like a barefoot Southern boy on a back porch somewhere. "Maw," he says, "Maw, I nee bootanabo. Maw, abo. Abo." Slowly the babbling is being replaced with real words, his vocabulary is building steadily, but today he is excited and I can only make out my name in the torrent of sounds. He smiles and gestures at me, nodding happily, willing me to understand his request.

"Maw," he repeats. He lifts his shirt and points to his chest as he tells me again the urgent message I cannot understand. But, I smile back and nod, too, and I place my hand on the smooth, unmarred skin across his chest.

The man in a white coat told us that poetry, delivered the line with effortless beauty: an innocent murmur. 

When Lincoln was born five years ago and another man in a white coat said the words Down syndrome, we said numb prayers that his heart would be healthy. We would figure the rest out, if only they didn't have to slice open his chest and fiddle with his heart. He was so tiny, his heart the size of a plum thumping desperately beneath his pencil thin ribs. We watched the machines in the NICU count his heartbeats and prayed not his heart, please not his heart.

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We met our son's cardiologist on his first day of life, a fact that seemed ominous at best. We began our own vocabulary lesson then: echocardiogram and patent ductus arterioles, or echo and PDA for those of us who knew the shorthand. How did we become the ones who knew the shorthand?

But we were standing over Lincoln’s hospital bed, trying to arrange the wires coming off his body so that we could change his diaper, when the doctor returned to give a tentative reprieve from worry. No surgery yet. Get another echo in six months.

How many times did we hold our hands over his heart and pray? How many echocardiograms that all gave us a reprieve, but all cautiously? Four perhaps, maybe five. For a few years, we rested in the tentative assurance that our son would not need heart surgery, until this fall as a new doctor pressed his stethoscope to Lincoln’s chest, sighed, and said he heard a murmur. One more test.

I once heard that the phrase "cellar door" was considered the most beautiful phrase in the English language, but perhaps that only applies to folks who have never heard a doctor describe their son’s healthy heart with that lovely phrase: it’s only an innocent murmur.

And now the poetry of that phrase gets mixed up with the chattering of my son, who sits in my lap and points to his heart. I place my hand over his smooth chest, relaxing into the news that he will have no heart surgery, no procedure to manipulate a shunt up the veins in his leg to clog an unclosed duct in his heart.

“It’s only an innocent murmur,” I tell him, loving the sound of those words on my lips, the most beautiful phrase in the world to me at that long awaited moment. My son’s heart is healthy, and though it keeps its own nuanced rhythm, its strong, reassuring beat patters against my palm. Just another beautiful sound, a life with an unexpected cadence.

{This post was written several months back, but I held off posting it until now because it was being considered for submission elsewhere.  Though it did not work for the other venue, I couldn't miss sharing it here.}


  1. Oh, God bless. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to read this post and celebrate Lincoln's five-year-old life and innocent murmur. What a beautiful mama you are!

  2. Ohhhhhhh...was there ever anything cuter in this world than newborn baby Lincoln! So sweet.

    Hooray for healthy hearts. ♥



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