September 2000, Atlanta. I had just celebrated my 23rd birthday. After a summer spent cashiering at Whole Foods for $8.25 an hour, and with my senior year at Spelman College about to start, I was already stress-planning my schedule. For a moment, though, all that worry came to a pause. I stood in my cramped apartment bathroom, heart racing, and called Shawn in to join me. Together we stared at the pregnancy test strip. Though deep down I already knew the result—my cycle ran like clockwork—I still held my breath until the second pink line appeared.

When I entered the campus gates that fall semester, I carried more than a baby. Hitched to me was also the burden of a degrading narrative about what it meant to be young, pregnant, and Black. At the time, the inflamed rhetoric of “babies having babies” was heavy in the air, and though I wasn’t a teenager, I was much younger than most college-educated women who decide to become mothers. According to the stereotypes, I was lazy, promiscuous, and irresponsible—an image that Spelman, an institution known as a bastion of Black middle-class respectability, had been trying for over a century to distance itself from.

The previous year, while digging through archives for a junior term paper, I had come across a 1989 Time interview with Toni Morrison in which she was asked whether the “crisis” of teenage pregnancy was shutting down opportunity for young women: “You don’t feel these girls will never know whether they could have been teachers?” Morrison replied:

They can be teachers. They can be brain surgeons. We have to help them become brain surgeons. That’s my job. I want to take them all in my arms and say, Your baby is beautiful and so are you and, honey, you can do it. And when you do, call me—I will take care of your baby. That’s the attitude you have to have about human life ?
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