First, they washed her hair.
After lifting her from the tiny cot on which she slept—quietly, so the others wouldn’t wake—and leading her down a narrow hallway usually lit with long, blinking flourescent bulbs, but tonight haunted with the pale, golden hum of small candles, they placed her in a dark, square room that opened at the end of the path, and left her there. The room shook and the air pushed in on the space around her. She felt a pressure on her body she’d never felt before, and laid an arm over her belly as if to protect the thing inside her from the same disorientation.
The space opened, and hands pulled her from the room and stripped her of the grey nightshirt worn by all the women. They slowly lowered her into a tub sunken into the floor, cupping her belly and holding her arms as they carefully placed her in the water. Something oily swirled on the surface, but it was comfortably warm and felt nice on her skin. Warmth passed over her hair and they ran their fingers through it, untangling it gentling. They dried her with heat and hot air, but the first moments out of the tub were bitterly cold. They seemed not to notice.
A soft sweater was pulled over her head, and she was left in a brightly lit room. Something was ticking; everything was beautiful. She didn’t have words for any of it. She sat, waiting.