Published on November 15th, 2021 | by Katherine Arnoldi0
“The Lack of Support Never Ends”: Notes on Nicole Lynn Lewis’s PREGNANT GIRL: A STORY OF TEEN MOTHERHOOD, COLLEGE, AND CREATING A BETTER FUTURE FOR YOUNG FAMILIES (Beacon, 2021)
First, let me be clear: I love this book. I want you to read it right now and then I want to talk about it with you!
The book opens with pregnant Lewis riding around with crack addict Stacey and wondering how things had turned out so bad. One minute she was a college bound honors student and the next she was living in a parked car with her drug selling boyfriend and so busy tackling emergencies that she couldn’t even remember if she ever had any hopes and dreams for herself.
Nicole Lynn Lewis’s Pregnant Girl: A Story of Teen Motherhood, College, and Creating a Better Future for Young Families is not only a memoir about becoming a teenage mother, being homeless and struggling to find a life for herself and her child, but also includes research that lets us know, without a doubt, the significance of her story and the other 174,674 new teen moms in the United States every year (CDC, 2019).
On September 20, 2021, I was thrilled to speak with Lewis and ask her about a phrase in the book that stunned me with its insight: that her pregnancy was not the first bead that fell from the necklace. That is the story behind the story in 99% of the cases, she said. It is the story of a history of countless traumas such as the death of a parent or growing up in foster care. She should know since she works with teen mothers every day at the organization she founded in Washington, D.C., Generation Hope, dedicated to helping teen moms go to college. Society looks at the teen pregnancy as something that has to be “fixed,” stigmatizing the teenage mother, she says, when the help and support that was needed was lacking long before the pregnancy.
She deftly weaves research into the memoir, noting, for example, the inequities in the medical system for people of color when discussing her own struggle to obtain prenatal care. She notes that only two percent of teen moms will graduate from college by age 30. She also notes that the grandchildren of teenage mothers are less likely to be school ready or to graduate on time, noting the intergenerational effects of teen pregnancy. The impact and lack of support never ends and goes on forever, she says.
When I became a teenage parent abortion was not legal. It was when Lewis became pregnant, and I wondered how she feels about reproductive rights. While she chose to have her child, she says, “Everyone should have the right to choose what’s best for their bodies and everyone should have access to medical care.”
I ask her about the internalization of the stigmatization and Lewis notes that she went from being a “rock star” college bound student to being looked at as the scourge of society. The second she saw those lines on the pregnancy test, she suddenly felt the burden of all the negative, confining stereotypes. Every day became more and more difficult until she couldn’t see any future for herself at all. She admits that she had advantages compared to many teen moms. Both of her parents were college graduates, and her older sister was in college. Inspired by them, every day she tried to do something toward getting back to being what she was before she became pregnant. Even when she was finally admitted to William and Mary College, she felt out of place, noting the college was not welcoming to her or set up to support a young teenage mother, but she persevered, motivated by her love for her daughter to receive her B.A. and then M.A. from George Mason University.
Now she is the mother of five and the CEO of the nonprofit Generation Hope (https://www.generationhope.org/), with an operating budget over a million and a half, a staff of seventeen and support from thousands of donors. It has helped hundreds of teen moms finish college and also advocates for the four million parenting students in U.S. colleges. She has received the Black Voices for Black Justice Award and the Roslyn S. Jaffe Award, was named a CNN Hero and received an honorary doctorate from Trinity Washington University.
And she wrote a terrific book. Read it right now and let’s talk about it!