She is also the youngest child in a large family. Very large. Gaby has seven siblings - and more than thirty nieces and nephews, some of which are older than she is, some closer in age. Her family history was filled with teenage pregnancy: Her mother had been a teen mother. Her older sisters were teen moms. Many of her older brothers were teen fathers. So, sadly, there were those who looked down on Gaby, despite her achievements - and then she announced that she was pregnant, thereby "living down to their expectations."
But she wasn't. Not at all. Because she wasn't really pregnant.
Gaby's pregnancy was a project. It was an idea she came up with herself and shared with very few others: her mother, her boyfriend, one close friend, a few administrators who had to give her project their approval, and only one of her siblings. Everyone else - including the rest of her family and her boyfriend's parents - thought that Gaby and her boyfriend, Jorge, were about to become teen parents.
Gaby's pregnancy was also a test. A test for Gaby, to see if people would actually believe that she was pregnant. If her friends and loved ones would stand by her when she needed them. If the fake belly she wore under her clothes, created by her mom, looked real. If she could keep the project a secret. If she could pull it off, emotionally and physically.
Six long months later, Gaby revealed everything in an all-school assembly. She started her presentation off with facts and figures, with statistics and stories about teenage pregnancies and stereotypes. Then she announced that she was not pregnant. People audibly gasped as she took off the fake belly and continued talking, telling them what this project meant to her.
Gaby's presentation was captured on camera, leading the story to be picked up not only by local papers but also the Associated Press, which in turn led to national and international news broadcasts. Watch this ABC interview with Gaby.
It also led to a book deal and a movie deal. The book and the movie have the same title: The Pregnancy Project. The original Lifetime movie premieres tonight, January 28th, at 8 PM PST/EST/7 PM Central. Starring Alexa Vega (Spy Kids, Odd Girl Out) as Gaby, Walter Perez (Friday Night Lights) as Jorge, and Judy Reyes (Switched at Birth, Scrubs, Oz) as Juana, Gaby's mother, the movie was written by Teena Booth (Drew Peterson: Untouchable, The Pregnancy Pact), and directed by Norman Buckley (Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl, Chuck). Watch clips from the movie and an interview with Alexa Vega on YouTube.
Gaby's memoir, co-written with Jenna Glatzer, offers insight into Gaby's home life. She's not afraid to get personal, describing her home life and siblings in detail. She discloses details about her mother's abusive first marriage. Gaby is clearly close to her mother and treats her with honor and respect. Gaby never sounds ashamed of her mother, or her upbringing. She is frank about her school and her hometown:
The population here is more than 75 percent Latino or Hispanic. Within my school district, nearly 98 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, a third of the students are still learning English, and a large percentage are from migrant families. About one of every five high school students here drop out of school and never come back to graduate, with pregnancy as one of the leading reasons.
Most teens get jobs (or at least try to) at places like McDonald's, Taco Bell, Dairy Queen, and Safeway. Some of them do it to have extra spending money for themselves, but a lot of them do it to kick in on the family bills. After all, our parents are also working at these same places, or on farms, or in the warehouses. Just about all of my friends have parents who work migrant jobs, and that means that none of us are living much over the poverty line.
When I began realizing that my family was really the norm around this city rather than the exception, it made me sad. We struggled too much, all of us, and it shouldn't be this way. - Page 39
Gaby could have stopped her project at any time, but she didn't. She went through with it. She stuck it out. She did want she planned to do. That took a lot of strength. That took a lot of guts.
I was in the top 5 percent of my glass, with a 3.8 grade point average. With everything they knew about me, why would they be so quick to write me off as just another statistic?
Gaby's memoir doesn't glamorize teen pregnancy. Not in the least. She mentions shows like Teen Mom She discusses the hurdles she encountered and stats that she learned during her study as well as the problems her mom and siblings went through when they had kids. She talks about her mom's struggles to make ends meet. She shares the dreams she has for herself, her desire to "make a real difference in people's lives."
I am just one eighteen-year-old Latina girl from an economically disadvantaged town, raised by a single mom....By society's standards, people don't expect much of me. But I'm going to prove society wrong, and I hope you'll join me. - Page 216
Throughout the book, she encourages readers to rise above other people's expectations, especially if they are low, and realize their full potential. Hearing what people said to her face and behind her back (what her older sister, mother, and friends would report back to Gaby) was often hurtful and frustrating, but she persevered.
The last year and a half have been a whirlwind for Gaby Rodriguez. She's been chased by the media and seen her name in headlines, but more importantly, she graduated from high school with honors. Now, while she's been hitting the books for college, her own book is hitting stores. With the memoir out and the movie about to air, Gaby's been back in the spotlight. (Keep your eyes peeled - I will be posting an interview with Gaby soon!) It's clear that the attention she receives won't be going to her head. Hopefully, her project makes the difference she wants it to make:
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. - Page 142
We don't win this battle by finger-pointing and gossiping. We win it by educating, talking, and lifting each other up. We win it by being decent to one another. - Page 127
So we're all role models; the only variation is what kind of role models we choose to be: good or bad. I'm going to try to be a good one. - Page 205
Read my interview with Gaby Rodriguez.