“I was living day to day in a Motel 6, hungry, and 8 months pregnant when I got into college.”

Nicole Lynn Lewis described her experience as a student parent at an April 22 Many Hands Zoom conversation. Author of the forthcoming book Pregnant Girl: A Story of Teen Motherhood, College and Creating a Better Future for Young Mothers, Lewis told Many Hands members of her struggle to overcome the barriers of stigma and shame imposed on her by those around her.

“I was an honor roll student and had acceptance letters from several schools, but it was incredibly hard not to give in to the doubts people had about me once I was pregnant,” she said. “You have a baby and it’s like a scarlet letter. People said, ‘Your life is over.’ My biggest champions were now my biggest critics.”

Lewis is the founder and CEO of 2020 Partner Grantee Generation Hope, whose mission is to help young student parents overcome the obstacles she once faced herself. She described the success of Generation Hope’s two generation approach, which supports parents in school while preparing their children for kindergarten. The 100 student parents they serve each year graduate at a rate that exceeds the national average and is eight times the average for single mothers.

Lewis left Many Hands members with the hope that her book would make us think differently about how we view pregnant teens. Instead of shaming and turning away from student parents she said, do the opposite: “Help them to dream big.”

Watch the full event below.

–Reporting by Kathy Slobogin