Even though it was a fake pregnancy, part of a provocative high school project, Gaby Rodriguez wasn’t expecting the awful reactions she and boyfriend Jorge received after she debuted her “bump” to her fellow students. From The Pregnancy Project: A Memoir, with Jenna Glatzer.
I felt like a zoo animal.
All eyes went straight to my belly before people looked at my face. The whispers and judgmental looks amplified. It was like this protrusion around my midsection was a scarlet letter, a badge of shame that showed I was marked for a life of failure and misery because I had sinned. I’d had sex. As if none of them had. It occurred to me that I’d never really know how many of my classmates had been pregnant, because 15 to 20 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriages, and 45 percent of teens who get pregnant have abortions. Then there are the ones who just drop out of school without telling anyone why, or move to a different school. So it’s not as if the ones walking the halls with baby bumps are the only ones who’ve shown bad judgment, but we’re the easiest targets.
Sitting down at my desk in each classroom was a new challenge, trying to navigate how to slide into my chair with my belly. But once I was seated, at least I didn’t have to feel the same level of anxiety that I did when I walked through the halls between classes, or into the lunchroom. I had no idea I was going to attract this much attention, and it made me feel miserable.
I’d see a group of girls purposely not making eye contact with me, just shaking their heads in judgment and gossiping with each other as I came near, and my urge was to go up to them and say, “What’s so interesting? If you have something to say, say it to my face.”
I never did say anything like that, partly because I knew I couldn’t risk blowing up my project by getting into a fight in school. So I mostly just kept my head down and kept walking whenever I saw people talking about me. Did they think that getting pregnant had also affected my eyesight? Did they think I couldn’t see them huddling together and putting their hands over their mouths to cover whatever insults they were sharing about me? I wanted to hide. It was exhausting feeling like people were judging me all day. I went home and cried and wished I’d never started this project.
Several of my friends and peers made the comment, “It was bound to happen.” “I’m not surprised,” one said. Really? Why were they not surprised? What had I ever done to indicate that I was irresponsible or didn’t have my priorities straight? Another friend who had said encouraging things to my face was saying very different things behind my back. He said things like, “Let’s see what kind of mom she really is after Jorge leaves her. She’s going to be a single mom with nothing and then we’ll see what she thinks about having a kid.”
I felt backstabbed. These people knew me, knew how hard I worked to have a real future. I hated hearing that they were talking as if they knew all along that I was going to end up a statistic.
“Going through the halls and walking in the classrooms, having to hear everything everyone is whispering about me, becomes harder and harder each day,” I wrote in my journal. “I want to tell everyone to leave me alone.” When I came home, depending on who was around, I might or might not be able to take off the bump. My mom and I were the only people who lived there, so I was free to take it off when it was just us, but if any of my older nieces and nephews were there, I couldn’t.
“Mr. Greene was right. This is too hard,” I said.
“It’s going to be worth it,” Jorge reminded me. We had to keep each other going, because the truth was that day after day, it didn’t feel worth it to either of us. Jorge was feeling isolated from his friends because they wouldn’t stop ragging on him about the pregnancy.
I thought about people who had risen above what was expected of them, and how they changed the world by beating the odds. Helen Keller, whose own parents never expected her to do much of anything because of her disabilities—but she had that one person to push her and believe in her. Rosa Parks, who refused to believe that she was a second-class citizen because of the color of her skin. Stevie Wonder, Andrea Bocelli, and Ray Charles, who all found their place in the music world despite being blind. Babe Ruth, orphaned at age 7 because his father handed him over to Catholic missionaries.
I didn’t expect my life to be as grand as any of theirs, but you just never know who walks among you. The kid sitting next to you in class could be the one who finds the cure for cancer, or solves our environmental crisis… as long as he doesn’t get discouraged along the way and quit. That’s what I started thinking about in terms of my project. I wondered if I could present my work in such a way that it would inspire people to believe in themselves and achieve more.
It’s worth it if one person thinks twice and takes responsibility for her body and doesn’t wind up pregnant because of it. It’s worth it if one person realizes he doesn’t have to believe the stereotypes that other people have about him, and that he can exceed everyone’s expectations.