We wait in rows along the walls until one of our names is called and we reshuffle. We wait seated in chair clusters. We wait huddled over one another to sleep for hours on end because we can’t help ourselves, though, we want to be awake when they call so we are not skipped over or forgotten. We bring with us photos of our boyfriends, husbands, parents, siblings, dogs. We have tattered books at our disposal, left behind by the ones who came before us, romance novels with covers of oil tanned men and fainting women. We read these when we get bored, skipping over the sex because the thought of it makes us cringe, knowing that some of us are here because it was consensual and some because it was not. Some of us are here twenty weeks in because medicine has improved enough for our doctors to detect birth abnormalities and brain defects, but our leaders no longer accept the finality of that diagnosis. We ask for more water, higher rations of food, but there is none.
One of us came here at eight weeks, but is carrying twins, her belly already showing. The older among us want to judge, but snap out of it as soon as someone says we can leave if we want, no one is holding us here.
We take turns sleeping on the only sofa, allowing mothers in their second trimester the longest sleeps. They are the ones losing the most. They are the ones who are here even though they wanted a child. They are the ones who tried for years to conceive, who sat in fluorescent rooms on beds too high off the ground, cold and naked but for a hospital gown and socks letting doctors examine endlessly, never quite getting used to it. They ate carrots and kale and yogurt for breakfast, skipping the coffee, even though a craving and a headache begged for it. They are the ones who went on daily walks, slept only on left sides, propped themselves up with pregnancy pillows. The ones who had to hear doctors say their babies would grow to term, but not survive outside the womb. They are the ones whose hands never leave their bellies, fingers hovering over every flutter.
The married ones are always questioned, though not much. My husband doesn’t want kids. He doesn’t know. We ask about their birth control methods, keeping score of the best way to prevent coming here again. Don’t use the pill. This is my third time here. We ask if they have other kids. Only one, and we are hardly getting by. We drop it and share our space.
The doctors tell us it’s quick, but painful. The nurses tell us to prepare to be in surgery longer than the doctors do. We don’t know who to believe. No one has yet to report back to us—once they call our name, we don’t come back. That scares us. Some say it’s because they are no longer hosting, others say it’s a bad omen. We sometimes hear sounds from behind the double doors. The walls are thinner than they should be. We hear metal wheels scraping tile floors. We hear prayers. We hear crying, both loud and soft. We hear the clinking of tools against stainless-steel sinks. We hear nothing.
They won’t tell us what they do with them after. At least every other one of us asks. They are afraid of what we’ll do if we know. Is there even an after? We imagine the places our babies go when we set them free. There is a tiny crematorium in the back. There is someone who swaddles them up and takes them from here. There is a drain that flushes with water and carries them into the river. They become tiny pieces of the soil in the botanical gardens in our cities. There is a room that holds each baby in a jar, lined up down endless aisles. There is a mausoleum, each chamber labeled with a name that we may one day visit, one day a long time from now.
Beth Fiset obtained her graduate degree in English from Missouri State University where she still teaches composition and creative writing. Her other work can be found in Bartleby Snopes and NEAT. She lives in Springfield, Missouri, with her husband and daughter. Find her all over the internet with the handle @bethfiset