16 & Pregnant: A Novel
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The bond between two best friends is put to the test when one of them gets pregnant in this contemporary teen novel inspired by MTV’s iconic reality show.
Erykah was looking forward to junior year at East Prep High. She has a cute boyfriend, gets good grades, and has the best bestie. Money is tight, though that’s nothing new in her world. But everything changes when she gets pregnant. Having a baby at sixteen was definitely not part of the plan.
Kelly’s plan was to dominate junior year—grade-wise and on the basketball court—and eventually get an athletic scholarship. It did not include helping her best friend through a pregnancy. But that’s what best friends do, right? Besides, Kelly has every intention of being a good auntie.
As the two girls navigate the pregnancy, they’ll learn some harsh realities about the world and be forced to make some huge decisions. They’ll also discover a deep reserve of strength and compassion…for each other and themselves.
16 & Pregnant: A Novel honestly and openly explores pregnancy through the eyes of two young Black teens in modern-day Nevada. Debut author LaLa Thomas combines personal insights, heartfelt dialogue, and authentic emotions in this powerful portrait of American teen life.
Release date: January 3, 2023
Publisher: MTV Books
Print pages: 319
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16 & Pregnant: A Novel
“Ma, can you please slow down?” I scrunch in my seat, clenching my stomach for dear life.
We ride over the bumpy road, bouncing up and down like her car has hydraulics. She rolls over a pothole and then comes to a stop, shaking her head at the creaky gate that is taking forever to open.
“This is supposed to protect folks from getting shot at in the jets, huh?” She arches her eyebrow at the sign.
I lean back with a shrug, cause I’m thinking the same thing. How’s a shabby gate supposed to provide safety for one of the worst project buildings in Lynwood Heights? I guess after Lil Mark died last year from that drive-by, the city came up with the idea to have a security gate installed to “protect the residents,” but I’m sure a few metal bars aint stopping nobody from bangin’. Momma pushes through, even though the gate is still rattling open, then mumbles something under her breath. Something about how we’re running late, but I just press my earbuds in and mellow out to Ari Lennox. The inside of this car feels like a freakin’ sauna. I probably shouldn’t have worn this hoodie, but when we left this morning, I had the chills. Momma said it’s probably my hormones or my anemia. Regardless, I just wish it wasn’t so damn hot already. It’s not even eight a.m. and my phone says that it’s 92 degrees outside. Unfortunately for me, Momma refuses to blow the air, talkin’ bout it eats up her gas, but damn, I thought that’s what gas was for.
I would think she’d have more consideration being that I’m already uncomfortable as hell, but her car, her rules. She pulls up next to a candy-red Oldsmobile that belongs to one of the OGs from around here. It’s hella fly, making Momma’s car, a 2009 Altima, look basic as hell. The sun is beating our ass from the sky, and even though her hair lays like a second skin over her warm brown cheeks, the most she does to beat the heat is lower the back windows, like that’s gone do something. I press my sweaty water bottle against my neck and think about how much more my life is about to change within the next few hours. I’m starting to feel like we should just turn around, so I can think about this some more, maybe even convince Momma that I don’t need to go through with this, but there aint no turning back. I mean, I do want to see my boyfriend Miguel and all, but I’d rather be getting dropped off so me and him can chill, not because my momma is taking us to an abortion clinic.
Momma keeps saying that me and Miguel are too young to raise a child and this and that, but that’s just because she doesn’t like him. I don’t think she likes any of my friends, except for Kelly. Lots of girls my age survive through teen pregnancy. My momma had me at nineteen, but she says it’s not the same as my situation because she had her diploma and her and my daddy were married. At first I thought having an abortion just might be the best thing, but as each day goes by, I can’t help but think of how I’m getting another chance at having a real family again.
“Erykah, call that boy and tell him to hurry up or I’m driving off without ’im.” Momma eyes me down while her fingers tap the leopard-cloth steering wheel. I told her the only way I’d go to this appointment was if Miguel could come. I pull out my phone just to make her happy.
Me: Can u plz hurry? Moms is trippin’.
Miguel: Be down in a min. Cleaning this oatmeal off Mitzi.
Me: Awww. Give her kisses 4 me.
Miguel’s daughter, Mitzi, is two years old and looks like a little chocolate baby doll with a head full of thick curls. She mostly lives with her mom, but Miguel watches her every now and then. Momma doesn’t know that Miguel has a little girl. She doesn’t need to know. She already calls him a thug because he sags and lives in the roughest part of Lynwood Heights (Miguel moved in with his sister, Lita, after he had a falling-out with his mom). She says I shouldn’t even be focusing on boys right now, but if I had a girlfriend, she’d probably say the same thing.
Me: Are we doing the right thing?
I stare at my phone as the three dots appear next to his name, but then they disappear, without a response. Maybe we should’ve just left his ass at home. I lay my phone facedown on my thigh and take a few sips of warm water, which I want to just spit out of the window. Finally, he responds.
Miguel: You gone be straight. Stop worryin Ma.
Easy for him to say, just like it is for everyone else. I keep asking myself if I’m really making the best choice or if I’m just doing what everyone else wants me to do. Six months ago, I was planning to do extra hours toward the business program that I’m studying at school. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to go to East Prep, so that I can learn the basics of what it’ll take to own a beauty salon, but lately all I do is obsess over YouTube, searching videos like, What does abortion feel like? and Can I have kids after abortion? When I told Miguel I was pregnant, he didn’t speak much on it, just said he was gone “be a man about his” and that he’s down for whatever I want to do. Part of me feels like he’s not ready for another child, but I keep telling myself that it’s just my hormones making me overthink everything.
As we sit in front of Miguel’s building, Momma looks at me with beads of sweat rolling down her forehead. I prop my seat up a bit and shrug, before sending Miguel another message about how he needs to hurry up.
“See? This is the stuff I’m talking about. This boy is not responsible, and you thought you wanted to have a baby with him? How much you wanna bet he’s gone cause you to miss your appointment?” She glances at the time, then looks at me with her deep, hazel-brown eyes.
“He said he’s coming, dang.”
“Watch your mouth, Erykah. I’m not the one who got you pregnant.” She waves her finger. “Of all the things I would rather be doing, this was not on my monthly agenda.”
Umm, it wasn’t on mine, either.
I suck through my teeth and clench the water bottle tightly to avoid saying some shit that will probably make Momma wanna just leave my ass stranded.
Let me be clear.
I didn’t get pregnant on purpose.
This wasn’t supposed to happen.
But it did.
A really heated night turned into a moment of irresponsibility. It wasn’t our first time not using a condom. Matter of fact, we did use one that night… but not the following morning. Miguel took me to get the Plan B pill, but we had to wait almost a week to buy one, since he hadn’t gotten paid yet. The box said it’s best to take it within seventy-two hours. I knew something was up when I started gagging at the smell of Takis two weeks later, and I love Takis (chili dynamite flavor, to be exact). So glad that’s no longer a thing, because now I crave them like crazy.
I took three pregnancy tests at my bestie Kelly’s house instead of turnin’ up for my sixteenth b-day like we had planned to do and got a triple reminder that my ass had slipped up, but TBH, I was just in denial. I swear the pink lines on the last test were glowing, rubbing it in my face even more that my ass was not experiencing stomach bug symptoms like I had told my momma the night before. It took a heart-to-heart talk with Kelly’s mom to make me realize that even though having a baby might not be easy, it’s not the end of the world. But my momma’s reaction was a whole ’nother story. She basically gave me two options: get an abortion or get out. Momma even threatened to send me to stay with my dad, but he’s living his best life with his new family on the other side of town, and I doubt he’d be all open arms taking in his pregnant and estranged sixteen-year-old daughter. Last I heard from him was Christmas, when he sent me and my little brother, Jayden, a sorry-ass card with two twenty-dollar bills in it.
Momma said that she can’t afford to feed one more mouth and that me having a baby at sixteen would be a huge mistake. Sometimes I just wish me and Kelly could swap moms. I mean, Mrs. Lancaster is super into church and stuff, but not the kind who blasts Kirk Franklin on Sundays or who has pictures of Black Jesus all over the house. She’s the one who told me that no matter what I did, God would still love me, and that I should let my heart help me decide if I wanted to go through with my pregnancy. She really is like a second mom to me. I aint gone front. I feel like she gets me more than my own momma sometimes.
“His sister is still bringing you home after your procedure, right? I wish I could bring yall back, but I’ll be late for my shift.” Momma looks at the time on her phone.
“Yeah, she’s supposed to.”
I stare down at my phone, waiting for Miguel to send me an OMW text.
Momma’s eyes are posted on a group of teenagers who are huddled on the sidewalk, sharing a blunt. I low-key inhale the musky scent, which would normally make me gag, but for some reason, it’s making me feel less nauseous. I wish she would try to be a little bit more compassionate. It’s like she can barely even look at me when she talks, and even though I know she’s hurting, she has to understand that I’m hurting too.
Things had been really good between Momma and me ever since I transferred to East Prep Career and Technical Academy last year. Kelly’s mom, who’s one of the principals there, helped me to get accepted. It’s literally the best school in our district, so Momma was all for me transferring, especially because she knew that would separate me from Miguel. I can’t front, it’d be cool to be with Miguel at the same high school for his senior year, but he probably won’t even be there that much since working and taking care of his family are his priorities. Before I got pregnant, Momma had been bragging to everybody about how I’m on the honor roll and how I was going on an all-expense-paid Black College tour for rising juniors this summer. Me and Kelly were hella excited about it too, but after I told Momma that I was pregnant, she said there would be no way in hell that she was letting me go on that trip. I’m supposed to be there right now.
“Foolin’ round with yall, I’m a be late for work,” Momma mumbles while rolling her finger up her phone screen. “I need to call Manny just in case, because I know he’s looking for a reason to write my ass up,” she continues, talking to herself.
Momma’s been cleaning rooms at the Palm Desert Casino for the past five years. It don’t pay much, but it gets us by. Even though we could use the extra help, she would rather work a double shift than apply for food stamps, not to mention the long-ass drive to the Vegas Strip and back. She always says that being a Black woman makes you realize how strong you are, but I think you get extra points when you’re a good-ass Black single mother. It’s not like I want to be in that category, cause as much as Miguel acts stupid, he aint going nowhere. But if my momma can kill this parenting thing, I’m for sure that I can.
A loud ding blazes from my phone.
Bestie: Mornin’ even though it’s almost noon here.
Me: GM BF :/
Me: How’s DC?
Bestie: Ughh I kinda don’t wanna come back to NV LOL
Kelly sends me a few pictures of DC and one of her and Ray, all hugged up in front of what looks like Howard University. She said they’re visiting Virginia State, which isn’t too far away, next. She’s out there living her best life. Meanwhile, I feel like I’m getting a contact high from the thick skunk-like smell that’s creeping through the car’s vents while waiting on my turtle-ass boyfriend and praying I don’t throw up my breakfast quesadilla.
Me: Yall got to visit Howard?
Ever since Kelly and me watched the classic movie Drumline, we’ve wanted to go to an HBCU. That’s another reason why I was so hyped about going on the summer college tour, because I know being there in person is like a whole different experience.
Bestie: Yeah! The campus is huge. I wish you were here
Bestie: Are you there yet?
Me: Waiting on Miguel. But we’ll be there soon. And yeah, wish I was there too
Bestie: Is Ms. Monica still trippin’ or she good? Sucks that she can’t be there the whole time.
Me: Miguel’s gonna be with me
Bestie: Yeah but he’s
Bestie: NVRmind, E. Just want U to be Ok :).
When I had my online consult with one of the counselors at the abortion clinic, she told me to make my decision based on my heart too, even if that meant going against Momma and Miguel’s wants. Sometimes I feel like I know what he wants and sometimes I’m hella confused. Part of me wonders if me and Miguel will ever have this chance again. I know legal abortions are safe and that it won’t make me like sterile or anything and I’m not against abortions, but my heart doesn’t sit right when I think about missing out on the chance to not only love a piece of myself, but for that piece to love me and Miguel back. The week I found out I was pregnant, me and Miguel had the “what are we gonna do” conversation in the back of his homeboy Dre’s truck. We had just come back from chilling at a little pool hall spot, something that his homies threw together. Now that Miguel’s eighteen, he can basically do whatever he wants, unlike me, who has two more years to go. I still remember how warm and breezy the night was. We talked about keeping the baby and abortion, as well as adoption, but I just couldn’t imagine living without our child. And that night, it seemed like Miguel felt that way too. I mean, he didn’t say much, but I could tell by the way he held me that night, the way his hands were trembling when he gripped mine, that he wanted a family with me too.
If someone were to ask me what I’m feeling right now, I’d say torn. Torn because I don’t know if I’ll be able to live with a bunch of regrets. I mean, I’m actually about to step foot into an abortion clinic and will come out no longer pregnant. Like what if this baby is here to piece my family back together or maybe even make this world a better place? My baby might be the next Angela Davis or John Lewis. And if it’s a girl, she just might be the first Black female president of America. This isn’t like me deciding whether I want to wear box braids or faux locs. Nah, this is way more serious, and even though I’m pretty good at making decisions, I still feel like whatever choice I make, I’ll still be unsure of my fate.
“Erykah, I’m not gone wait too much longer.” Momma starts the ignition.
I nod, while sending both Kelly and Miguel texts.
Me: Listen, I’m a be okay. I just wish my momma would stop being so, grrr!!
Me: Miguel, my momma’s about to dip
Bestie: LOL! Don’t do Ms. Monica! Ur mom really loves U.
Bestie: Hey, bus is loading. Going to the National Mall today! Txt me as soon as U get there. 143.
When we were in sixth grade, me and Kelly did this project on nineties pop culture and learned that 143 was a code people used to send to each other’s pagers to say, I love you. Corny, right? But we both thought that was pretty dope, so it became our bestie code.
Momma grips the steering wheel with both hands, then turns toward me. Her face softens a little. Damn, she’s looking like she’s about to cry.
“Erykah, I don’t want you to think I’m making you do something you don’t want to do. This is serious, I know, but I just can’t watch you mess up your life and ruin all your dreams for some clown. I know I had you at a young age.…” She balls her calloused hands to her lips.
I wish she didn’t have to work so hard. I remember when I was little, Momma stayed with her nails slayed, but that was when she worked for that fancy lawyer’s office and before Daddy dipped.
“But taking care of a baby is not easy. It’s more work than you think, and at your age, it’s the last thing you should have to deal with. I can’t support another child, and neither can you.”
“Okay, but I’m only like three years younger than what you were. And I got Miguel, Ma.”
Momma squeezes her eyes shut and lets out a breath like she’s tryin’ not to go off on me, then reaches over to pull open her glove compartment. She fingers through stacks of envelopes, some falling to the floor.
“This is just one of the many bills that’s kicking my ass every month.” She waves the thick envelope in my face. “I’m fighting to keep my hours steady so we all can have insurance, and I done borrowed so much money from Ms. Benita, it don’t make no sense. Now, do Miguel have insurance for you and this baby? He got money saved up for all the co-payments? Is he gone take you to every damn appointment and back? This boy probably don’t even know left from right. Hell, he couldn’t even wear a condom like he was sposed to.”
Actually, he did, but whatever.
She acts like Miguel is the most incompetent person on earth. And I’m pretty sure it doesn’t cost that much to go the doctor’s. The lady at the clinic said there’s government programs that help single parents who don’t have a lot of money to pay for stuff like that. I really wish she would just chill out.
“I’m not like most of these mommas.”
Damn right, she aint. Most mommas wouldn’t be so damn preachy.
“I want you to have the things in life that I aint have, and repeating the cycle is not gone get you them things. I know it seems hard right now, but once you realize the mistake you almost made, you’ll see that your momma was right.”
Ouch. A mistake? The only mistake I’m making right now is listening to this bullshit. She has some nerve to think that me having a baby would be a mistake. She had me at a young age and I turned out to be okay, so why does she think that I can’t raise this baby and do the same? The only mistake I’ve made so far is telling her that I’m pregnant.
I fold my arms across my chest and look out the passenger window. Weeds and dead grass replace what was once, I imagine, a beautiful lawn with sweet-smelling flowers. Right now, I feel like one of those weeds in Momma’s eyes. It seems like nothing I do is ever right, especially since she had my little brother Jayden seven years ago. She praises him and treats him like he’s the golden child. She says it’s because he’s the baby, but I think she just loves him more. The only thing I ever get credit for is when I’m babysitting or if I pick him up from school on time.
I watch Miguel make his way down the stairs, galloping like he’s glad to be outta that apartment. I want to curse him out so bad for making me and Momma wait, but I’m afraid of what Momma will do to me if she hears me. He pauses midway as he chugs a can of Arizona tea. His shiny do-rag is stuck to his head. He pulls his baggy jean shorts up before sliding a black tee over his wifebeater, then heads toward us. Right now, he’s looking so good, he’s making me want to get pregnant all over again.
“Please, after this, let that boy go,” Momma says. “You still got plenty of time to fall in love. He looks like he can’t even raise his voice if he tried, let alone a child.”
She makes a sour face in Miguel’s direction. He’s slapping hands with a guy who has jet-black skin and is rockin’ some dingy white Forces. The dude slides Miguel a twenty-dollar bill, then shuffles to the group of old dudes who are hanging out on some steps. Yeah, Miguel has his little hustle on the side, but weed aint even illegal no more and working at a drive-thru window don’t pay him much, so I don’t see no harm.
Miguel leans through my window with a wide grin on his face, smiling at me like he’s just meeting me for the first time. His blinged-out bottom grill shines like it’s still in one of them display cases at the swap meet. Even though the diamonds aint real, it still gives him mad swag. He reaches for two frozen water bottles that are stuffed in his back pocket. He’s been teasing me about how I went from wanting room temp to ice-cold water overnight, but I feel like I have to drink hella bottles a day. I stay thirsty and peeing.
“Sup, Ms. Smith.” He sucks his teeth before handing me the frozen bottles.
Momma gives him a sharp stare. “Hey,” she says dryly, then continues searching for a playlist to listen to from her phone.
Once we’re on the road, we hit every pothole and bump again, feeling like we’re at an amusement park. Damn, is she doing this on purpose? I roll the window all the way down to let in some air so I don’t pass out from heatstroke. After thirty minutes of cruising down the I-15, a sign assures us that Las Vegas is ten miles away. The hot breeze whips my face as I scroll through my Instagram feed. Most of my friends are posting memes about what people be like when they have to return to school or the last moments of their summer breaks at places like Splash Mania Water Park or the Circus Circus Amusement Park. I wonder how many likes I would get if I posted a pic of my positive pregnancy test?
I look onto the deserted highway as we pass the mass of sandy mountains and dried shrubbery. I let my brain roam free and my heart explore new destinations as the city becomes closer. Momma drags out riffs while singing to Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor.” I can see Miguel through the side mirror, bobbing his head with his AirPods hanging from his ears.
Everybody seems to be a vibe, except for me.
There’s a queasy feeling deep in the pit of my stomach. I’m not sure if it’s from the pregnancy or the realization that I need to keep it real. I lean back and take deep breaths.
It’s gonna be okay.
You’re making the right choice.
But am I? What if Momma is right? What if Miguel leaves me? What if my life changes for the worse? I weave my fingers together, taking another deep breath. I gotta remember to quit listening to anything but my heart.
“You okay, baby?” Momma winces at me.
“Yeah, just thirsty.”
I hold up my water bottle and let the chilled water soothe my dry throat. Momma reaches over and gently grasps my hand. The warmth of her grip is so soothing, but not enough to soothe these emotions away. I can feel my eyes starting to water, but I quickly rub the tears away with my sleeve.
I should probably just tell Momma and Miguel now.
Tell them how I really feel.
But we’re literally almost there.
The GPS dings, directing Momma to exit. I take a few more sips of water and clench my stomach, while mentally preparing how to tell them I’m not getting an abortion.
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