In September 2000 I had just turned 23. With my senior year at Spelman College about to start, I was already stressed out after working at Whole Foods for less than $8 an hour. All that worry came to a stop for a second. I went to the bathroom in my apartment and called Shawn to come with me. We looked at the strip. I held my breath until the second pink line appeared, even though I knew the result.

I was carrying more than a baby when I entered the campus gates. I was saddled with a degrading narrative about what it meant to be young, pregnant, and Black. I was younger than most college-educated women who decide to become mothers at the time, and the rhetoric of "babies having babies" was heavy in the air. Spelman, an institution known as a bastion of Black middle-class respectability, had been trying for over a century to distance itself from the stereotype that I was lazy, promiscuous, and irresponsible.

I was looking through archives for a junior term paper when I came across a 1989 Time interview with Morrison in which she was asked if the crisis of teenage pregnancies was shutting down opportunity for young women. Morrison said, "Yes."

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 … I don’t think anybody cares about unwed mothers unless they’re Black—or poor. The question is not morality, the question is money. That’s what we’re upset about.

The Politics of Teenage Pregnancy was published almost a decade after the interview, and offers a powerful refutation of what politicians and pundits called the "epidemic of early childbearing." At 18 and 19 years of age, most were white and legal adults, contrary to the depictions of teenage mothers as black girls. The data showed that early childbearing was an indicator of poverty and social ills rather than a cause. Americans should demand that programs expand education and job opportunities for impoverished youth instead of stigmatizing them for having children before they are economically independent. In graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, I would learn to digest the data after living the story.

Black pregnancy is not a crisis of poverty or unpreparedness, it is death.

I didn't have the statistics I needed as a pregnant undergrad. I knew that those who are white, wealthy, and able-bodied are more likely to have children than those who are black, Hispanic, or Asian. There are two sides to the same coin when it comes to cultural concerns about excess fertility among nonwhite populations and the decline in the birth rate of white populations. The disdain directed toward those who didn't come from "superior stock" can't be hidden.

The first time I went to the student health clinic to inquire about my health insurance plan, a black woman behind the desk barely looked at me as she noted that it was covered. Black pregnant women needed medical intervention. At an institution created for Black women, I couldn't expect anything. The receptionist still rings in my ears, but what is more worrisome is that those in power pathologize Black reproduction.

Black pregnancy is not a crisis of poverty or unpreparedness, it is death. Black women in the US are four to five times more likely to die during labor and delivery than white women. Income and education do not affect this rate. White women who never graduate high school have a lower infant mortality rate than black college educated women. Black women are 2.5 times more likely to have a baby that is premature.

Black women have higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and other risk factors than other women. The focus should be on the treatment of Black women by hospital staff, according to a clinical professor of OB/Gyn. They are part of the team. Black women's concerns are often downplayed by medical professionals who view them as unsuitable mothers. When patients are sent home with symptoms that turn out to be serious, hospital staff callously examine their sexual histories. The experience for black people with disabilities can be more alienating. This is what medical anthropologist Dna-Ain Davis calls "obsttric racism."

Richard David, a neonatologist, said in the PBS documentary Unnatural Causes that growing up as a black female in the U.S. is not good for your reproductive health. I don't know what to say about it. The problem is not growing up black and female, but growing up in a sexist society. Racist behavior is the risk factor.