Desiree Cooper is a former attorney, Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist and Detroit community activist. Her collection of flash fiction, Know the Mother (Wayne State University Press, 2016), dives unflinchingly into the intersection of racism and sexism through intimate storytelling. A 2015 Kresge Artist Fellow, Cooper’s fiction and poetry have appeared in Callaloo, Detroit Noir, Best African American Fiction 2010 and Tidal Basin Review, among other online and print publications. Cooper was a founding board member of Cave Canem, a national residency for emerging black poets. She is currently a Kimbilio Fellow, a national residency for African American fiction writers.
The moment we read the stick, some of us buckled on the bathroom floor. Having only bled once, we thought it was impossible. Having bled forever, we shook our graying heads and thought, “This is no miracle.” Susan, who at fourteen still slept with her favorite doll, bit back the tears and started packing her bags. We knew our mothers would not believe us. Abby bought a ticket to New York to secretly take care of it.
We locked ourselves in the bathroom sobbing while the kids banged on the door: “Mommy, please come out…” For some of us, three healthy children were enough. For others, a special needs child was one too many. One day, we would have many children. One day, decades later, we would still be child free.
The ultrasound technician drew in a deep breath and did not let it out. We feared a perfect baby. Undecided, we waited too long. Decisive, we were instantly clear about what to do. We were happy about it until we weren’t.
We borrowed cash from our friends so that it wouldn't show on the insurance bill. We had no insurance. We had insurance, but the D & C was covered only for miscarriages. Brittany’s college roommates threw her a “baby shower” with vodka served in sippee cups. Our aunts said, “You’re lucky you won’t be butchered in someone’s basement like I was.”
Lynne was dropped off by her stepfather, along with her suitcase and her cat. We called in sick at the firm even though it was tax season. Mary’s boyfriend slapped her and pushed her out of the car. “You better have dinner ready tonight. And your fat ass better not still be pregnant.”
The bus. A cab. The heat. A bike. The snow. The traffic. We were late, but we made it. We were two hours early because we couldn’t sit at home alone.
In the waiting room, we would not return a gaze. Our men held us tightly. Jan nervously fiddled with a ring from her make-believe fiancé. We were by ourselves and puffy-faced. Diane was already showing—every time, she seemed to show a few weeks earlier. One couple argued with the receptionist. They had driven from another state, but didn’t know about the 24-hour waiting period. Some of us let the tears river while others slumped in pink chairs and listened to our iPods. We were horrified to be with these people. Full of shame, we fingered a rosary. Full of anger, we cursed God.
“Relax,” the kind nurse held our hands as the doctor readied. “You’re going to be fine.”
We wondered if anything would be fine again. Annie quaked; the doctor took off his mask and said, “I’m not doing this. You're not ready.” We listened to the vacuum. We didn’t know what hit us. When the room went silent, we rose up in wonder; it had been so easy. The nausea was over at last. For Kita, the nausea from the chemo would go on. We wondered if we would ever forgive ourselves. We didn’t need anybody’s forgiveness.
Every recliner in the recovery room was full. It was over; we looked up. Many smiled compassionately. Some felt theirs was the only good reason. Liz, who still had three AP exams, didn’t know who she was anymore. We wanted to hold hands. We wanted to get the hell away from these losers. We wanted to cocoon in our beds. We longed for our mothers.
Some lovers promised: “We’ll try again when I get a job.” Cindy wouldn’t have to cancel her Paris vacation. Carrie forgot to ask if she could hustle that night. We realized how much our husbands loved us. Jenna had to wait until child protective services came to pick her up. We were relieved that our grandchildren wouldn’t see our swelling stomachs.
Joyce didn't have sex until she was married eight years later. Trish went back to work like nothing ever happened. We made a donation every anniversary. We were pregnant with memory for the rest of our lives. We never thought about it again.