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Surprised by Conception

September 11, 2008

I love it when things happen that could only be attributed to God. My discovery of the startling book Conception is one of those things. I found it while visiting the library with my sons, and waiting for them to find what they were looking for. As someone who works to preserve the life of children, women, and families, I was naturally intrigued by the title. But I had no idea what awaited me inside the covers of this book.

Conception tells the story of a Black 15-year old girl living in Chicago who discovers she is pregnant. It’s odd that she’s surprised by this since she knows she is having sex, and she knows she is not using contraception. But her surprise realistically reflects the experiences of young girls and women who are not taking steps to avoid pregnancy-they’re not abstinent, and they’re not using contraception-but are shocked when they become pregnant. Shivana Montgomery though, is not only pregnant, she’s pregnant by a 40-something married man whose children she babysits. Her mother is abusive and unable to really bond with Shivana because of her own issues. Conception takes the reader through Shivana’s internal turmoil as she tries to decide what to do about her baby.

The author, Kalisha Buckhanon, uses several very powerful statements and imagery that speak to how young Black adults, and those becoming ‘adults’ too soon, feel about pregnancy, relationships, sex, education, and themselves. One very striking example is when Shivana goes to a Planned Parenthood-type clinic to get birth control pills before she finds out she’s pregnant. The clinic ‘counselor’, Rebecca, comes out to stave off a ruckus that’s erupted among the girls because they don’t want to get the Norplant implant for birth control:

 ‘Hold on everyone’, Rebecca said, with her arms spread out over us and her long, slender white hands sprawled wide to display the ice-blue rock on her wedding finger. ‘You can always go home and think about this. But keep in mind, there are risks with all contraceptives, even the pill.’

The mention of the counselor’s color, as well as the ring on her finger, eloquently speaks volumes about Shivana’s impression that maybe this woman doesn’t deserve to judge her, and isn’t qualified to really help her, because she’s white and about to be married. What could she possibly know about Shivana’s world of unattached sex, unreliable men, and abuse? It hurts to admit, but anyone who’s even halfway looking and seeing, realizes that our young Black people show similar mindsets. Case in point-I heard a woman talk about how she tried to talk to her youth Sunday school class about marriage, and one of the young men spoke up and said, “Marriage is for white people.” Oops, there it is. How have they come to believe this? Surely their personal experience has alot to do with it. But could it also be the message they receive from some who say they’re interested in their health and well-being? The Planned Parenthood worker who shoves birth control pills at them without one word about the possibility that they could be married someday, and will they want to have left part of themselves with every Tyrone, Jesse, and Romeo when they commit to their new husband? And what happens when Black Christians give the same message-just protect yourself now-with no mention of God’s plan for sex in marriage?

Shivana goes back and forth between having the baby and aborting it. Sometimes she sounds very much like the 15-year old that she is-selfish, irrational, and scared. And other times she sounds mature beyond her years. This book will give you a good sense of the stark reality too many of our young people face, and hopefully cause you to consider how we can begin to make things different. No, I’m not going to tell you how the book ends, but I bet if you know any young Black folk, you’ll feel like you’ve had a chance to peek inside their world.

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