It's a story that will make you feel bad about yourself. But it's an important one all the same. A teenage girl told her entire school, her siblings, even her boyfriend's parents that she was pregnant. Then, six months later Gaby Rodriguez pulled off the fake belly she'd been wearing around her high school.
The 17-year-old Washington high school student made the whole thing up, a pregnancy hoax she'd cleared with her mom, her boyfriend, and school administrators as a social experiment. To find out whether pregnant teenagers really are treated differently than their peers. The worst thing the straight-A student heard? That people had "expected" her to end up knocked up as a teenager anyway. Despite all evidence to the contrary, once Rodriguez sported a padded tummy, she was labeled a "bad" girl.
And so it goes. Snap judgments are made, and teenagers suffer the consequences of rumor and innuendo rather than fact. As Rodriguez's story makes the rounds of major media, it's called to mind another pregnant teenager, this one very real and very pregnant. I'll call her Ella. She was a lot like Gaby Rodriguez. Smart. Talented. Young.
And she got pregnant her senior year in high school, thereby changing everything I'd known about pregnant teenagers. She wasn't "that girl" at all. She was a friend, a girl from a good family, with a good head on her shoulders. She had no "reputation" to speak of, or if she did, it was as a smart girl, a talented actress. When she got pregnant, I'll admit it, it blew my mind. Because it reminded me, a teenager myself at the time, that it could happen to anyone. It's a story that I've been forced to call to mind many times over as an adult mother looking into the faces of pregnant teenagers.
MTV has done a stellar job of showing the realities of teenage pregnancy with its 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom shows, but if there's one failure, it's how easily the kids with messed up lives have overshadowed those who are doing it "right." Jenelle Evans getting hauled off to jail on drug charges, Amber Portwood beating up on her boyfriend, they're real, and they make for great TV.
But alongside these train wrecks are the teenagers who did everything right ... and still got pregnant. They were smart. They had good parents, involved parents. They had ambition, and often they used some form of birth control that failed. Don't believe that happens? Ask your adult friends how many of their kids were "planned." Chances are you'll be surprised by how many admit their second or third child was an "accident" (albeit a happy one). Because it happens. Condoms break. The pill is counteracted by antibiotics. Life gets in the way.
What kids like Gaby Rodriguez and Ella teach us is that there is no way to classify pregnant teenagers. Sure, there may be statistics that point to more girls in low income areas ending up pregnant. But the very nature of humanity is that we all have a libido, we all want to have sex at some point. And birth control is not 100 percent effective.
It's easy to write off a pregnant teenager as dumb, promiscuous, irresponsible. It's harder to face the truth: that we're all human, and nothing in life ever goes quite as we planned. Even when we do everything right.
Does this story make you gulp and think about the snap judgments you've made about young moms?
Image via Polina Sergeeva/Flickr