For 6 months, the student body of Toppenish High School in Washington watched as the pregnant belly of 17 year old high school senior Gaby Rodriguez grew. And during that time, Gaby, a straight “A” student, heard it all. Rumors circulated that she was irresponsible, there was no way she’d go to college, that it was bound to happen, and musings about whether she knew she had just ruined her life.
And one of many quotes that were read off of 3×5 notecards in a school assembly on April 20, 2011: “Her attitude is changing, and it might be because of the baby or she was always this annoying and I never realized it.”
Gaby stood before the whole school in a presentation titled “Stereotypes, rumors and statistics”. “Many things were said about me. Many things traveled all the way back to me,” she told the school. She admitted that she had been made to feel alienated and alone, and had several students and teachers read what others had said to her and about her to everyone there. The gym grew silent as many of the hurtful things said were revealed. And when they were done, Gaby faced the crowd and divulged a secret.
“I’m fighting against those stereotypes and rumors because the reality is I’m not pregnant.” And then she lifted her shirt to pull out a pregnancy pad that had given her the appearance of being pregnant for the past several months.
Could you imagine the reaction? A girl who had been walking the school in baggy clothes, and then sporting a pregnant belly for the past 6 months just divulged the entire thing had been a lie. Only a handful of people knew the truth from the beginning – her mother, her boyfriend, her principal, and a few select others. The rest of her family had no idea, including her own sisters and brothers. Neither did her boyfriend’s parents. Even her friends didn’t know that she wasn’t pregnant, and she lost some of them during her “pregnancy” as a result. When Gaby took the pregnancy pad off on stage in front of the whole school, the reaction was varied. Some nervously giggled, many gasped, some even burst into tears.
So why did she do it?
The idea came to her in her sophomore year in high school, creating a social experiment to gauge people’s reactions to a teenage pregnancy. She talked with her mother, and then her boyfriend, about the plan she wanted to carry out. At first, both felt uncomfortable with the whole idea.
“I thought I was going to end up getting into problems with her brothers. I didn’t really want to get into problems with anybody,” admitted her boyfriend, Jorge Orozco
“I thought she was crazy,” says 52-year-old Juana Rodriguez, Gaby’s mother.
While Gaby’s mother confessed that it didn’t feel good to lie to family members, she ultimately decided to support her daughter – even enlisting a couple mentors from the local hospital’s childbirth education program to assist with the project. And Gaby’s boyfriend agreed to it as well, even though it meant lying to his own parents. “My parents thought it was going to be a boy.”
When Gaby brought the idea to her principal, he fully supported her, though felt it necessary to enlist the permission of the superintendent. But the principal also admitted awe that Gaby’s mother was going along with this. “I have a daughter that will be here next year, and I would not let her do it.”
In essence, Gaby gave up her entire senior year to fulfill this social experiment. While she is now free to attend her Senior Prom in a form fitting teal gown, she spent the prior part of the year in baggy clothes and a large belly. But the research was done for a specific reason. She plans on writing a report on her findings and presenting it in May to community leaders to help other young women fight stereotypes and find courage when faced with teenage pregnancy. The report will include video and photos from the revealing assembly.
As for when Gaby plans on really being pregnant? She stresses it will be after college. “I’m not planning to have a child until after I graduate.”
What do you think? Was this social experiment crazy or brilliant? Would you allow your own daughter to conduct an experiment like this?