‘It’s really hard’ an interview with Michelle

By Solange Rubio, 17, Leuzinger HS (Lawndale)
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When Michelle (center) got pregnant, it brought Solange and her closer together.

Photos by Anisa Berry, 17, View Park Prep HS

Every year at my school, Leuzinger High, I’d see a few pregnant girls. They all seemed to fit a stereotype—only the girls who didn’t take school seriously got pregnant. But in January of sophomore year I got a shock. Rumors began to spread that Michelle, one of the girls in the college-bound track like me, was pregnant.

We all noticed that this very thin girl had suddenly grown a small belly. Michelle would tell people that she just had stomach surgery and it had become swollen. I believed her. Why would she go through the trouble of making that up? That excuse stopped working a month later when her stomach got even bigger. I suspected that she felt ashamed and that’s why she couldn’t admit it to anyone. If I were pregnant, it would be hard walking into class with everyone’s eyes on my belly and thinking every conversation was about me.

I felt compassion toward Michelle, who I had some classes with but wasn’t someone I considered a close friend. But I have to admit that I was one of those who stared and whispered. I didn’t intend to judge or be mean; I was just curious. This was the first time one of the pregnant girls was in my classes.

A few weeks later the rumors were dying off. I think everyone just assumed she was pregnant. But I had to know. One day I was sitting next to Michelle in class and we were talking about how school was stressing us out. I saw an opportunity to finally find out for sure. I knew I couldn’t say the word “pregnant” in class because everyone would turn toward us. Instead, I told her that some people might be going through something hard but they might be trying to put on a good face and not show that anything is wrong. 

As soon as the tears started streaming down her cheeks I knew the rumors were true.

“I’m pregnant,” Michelle finally said. As soon as she said those words I saw the heads of nearby girls turn. I knew they were just in it for the scandal. Until that moment, when she revealed her secret to me, that’s how I had felt when others talked about her pregnancy. But the other girls’ reactions made me angry and forced me to reflect on my motives. Michelle needed compassion. I wanted to say something comforting but I didn’t know how to react. I wanted to ask how, when, why? But we were in class and our teacher had resumed her lesson. So I just told her, “I’m here for you if you ever need help with anything.”

I couldn’t imagine being in her shoes

After class, I was still thinking about Michelle’s pregnancy. Her tears showed me that these were hard times. I never would have guessed this could have happened to Michelle. We were taking the same challenging classes. That same day as I walked home from school, my boyfriend reached to hold my hand. Even though we were just holding hands, the part of me that would have freaked out if I got pregnant started thinking, “Oh my gosh, I’m never gonna kiss my boyfriend again!”

If it were any other pregnant girl, I wouldn’t have been able to see how hard it was. All those other pregnant girls smiled and had friends encourage them through their pregnancies, but Michelle was in a different crowd. Her getting pregnant was looked at as an unfortunate event that would be her roadblock to college.

I wanted to show Michelle I was there for her. That’s what I would have wanted had this been happening to me.

As Michelle’s belly got bigger, the way people talked about her pregnancy got worse. When she brought a bigger bag to school all the girls would say she brought it to hide her belly. Then everyone started to point out that she no longer fit into the desk and had to sit sideways.

No matter how bad the gossiping was, the worst part to me was how teachers reacted. In AVID, a class promoting college, I got the sense that our teacher felt uncomfortable. Our AVID teacher is young and enthusiastic about her job. She frequently tells us about obstacles she had to overcome before making it to college. Once Michelle’s pregnancy was visible I could sense my teacher’s disappointment. It seemed as if our teacher struggled to look at Michelle’s face rather than her stomach. She also made comments about not needing any more pregnant girls in her class.

It wasn’t until her eighth month that I began talking to Michelle about being pregnant. I asked her how it felt. She had a smile on her face, which was far from the tears I had seen when she confirmed to me that she was pregnant. She told me that her back and feet ached but that things were better than the first few months. She was already thinking about a name for her baby girl. I asked if I could feel her belly. She told me her baby kicked, but I didn’t feel a kick; instead it felt like a big, hard water balloon. I no longer felt bad, instead I was beginning to feel excited about Michelle’s pregnancy. I knew Michelle’s sweetness and patience would make her an amazing mother.

I decided to throw her a baby shower

As we talked more often during the next few weeks I felt a stronger bond of friendship between Michelle and me. I had been wanting to do something nice for her and it finally hit me what it should be—a surprise baby shower. Every time we talked after that I tried to sneak in questions like what type of cake she liked best. Apparently I’m not the best detective because I never got a clear answer. But I decided that an ice cream cake would be perfect because it was early summer.

My friend Julie and I took three weeks to plan the baby shower. We collected enough money from our AVID class to buy a cake and decorations. We decided to keep it simple—gifts and food, but no games. It felt awkward buying baby gifts at stores. I didn’t want to look at the clerks’ faces in case they thought I had a baby and gave me disapproving looks. I couldn’t believe that Michelle was going to have to do this regularly to buy what her baby needs.

My mom saw me coming in with bags full of decorations and baby stuff. I didn’t want her to freak out thinking I was pregnant, so I told her about Michelle. My mother, who’s pretty conservative, said she felt bad for Michelle. My mom took this as an opportunity to have the uncomfortable sex talk. My mom’s questions and comments were painfully embarrassing, like asking what I would do if a guy wanted to be alone with me and explaining how things worked. However, my mom seemed to like how I answered her questions and saw me as more mature. Deep down I’m glad we talked. I feel I have someone to talk to about sex—someone who isn’t an immature friend.

To surprise Michelle, we convinced one of Michelle’s friends to tell her that our AVID teacher, whose classroom we used for the baby shower, had to talk to her. As soon as she walked into the pink-decorated room she started to cry. Twelve of us greeted her with sparkly eyes from the tears we were holding back. The baby shower was only 20 minutes, but it didn’t have to last long for her to know that she had people supporting her, even people who weren’t in her usual crowd of friends. My friend Julie and I gave our presents to her first. We got her a beautifully adorned journal and a pink baby onesie that said on the front, “worth the wait.” The rest of the gifts were very practical; bottles, diapers, clothes. At the end we took pictures and everyone hugged her good-bye.

About three weeks after the shower, Michelle gave birth to a baby girl she named Kaithlyn. She had texted a few friends and word got out while we were in second period that she had just given birth. I was happy she was well enough to text friends. This showed me that giving birth wasn’t so agonizing that afterwards you couldn’t even move. I didn’t see her at school for the next two weeks. She had missed the AP world history final, but she had talked to that teacher long before to tell her she might miss it. It was weird when teachers mentioned that Michelle was on maternity leave. I had only heard of that for people with jobs.

When she came back, all the girls crowded around her to ask questions. “Did it hurt?” was the first question we bombarded her with. She told us that the contractions hurt and so did giving birth. But what I couldn’t believe was that she had decided not to take the epidural (a shot that would have numbed the pain). She told us that after giving birth and holding the baby, she and her grandmother and even the doctor cried. I thought she was the luckiest girl, not just because of her healthy baby, but because she came back as skinny as she was before she was pregnant. I was glad she was back in school shortly after giving birth. This showed me that she was serious about graduating high school and going to college.

She has to balance her responsibilities

Solange knew that with her sweetness and patience, Michelle would make an amazing mother.

When junior year started Michelle was the mother of a 3-month-old baby, and I saw how things were catching up to her. She was absent a lot from pre-calculus—which was hard enough even if you were there—because she had to take care of Kaithlyn or sometimes just needed a day off. She also had broken up with her boyfriend, which meant Michelle and her mom were raising Kaithlyn.

Junior year was also the year that we finally learned about birth control. As part of anatomy class we studied the reproductive system. While our teacher was reviewing the chapter summary, I looked over at Michelle and thought, “We’re just learning about this and she’s already gone through it.” That put things in perspective for me and I finally noticed that she was really young and shouldn’t have had to go through it. This was the only time I had been taught about sex except for fifth grade when they taught us that girls have periods and seventh grade when they popped in a video about abstinence.

Before our teacher ended the lesson on reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases, he demonstrated how to use a condom and said that it was very effective if used correctly. His stance on teens and sex was abstinence; however, he knew not everyone would do that and to those teens he recommended waiting six months so at least you know your partner. I thought that was more realistic than teaching abstinence only. Some teens are going to have sex and they talk about it like it’s no big deal. They’re not going to be like “I’m abstinent because a video in seventh grade told me so.”

Now that it’s senior year I know that Michelle is going to need my support and my friendship the most. With all the college deadlines and senior activities (homecoming, prom, grad night, etc.) I want to be there for her and encourage her if she ever feels like giving up. If she ever needs a baby sitter during school I know my grandmother would be open to help. Even I would be open to staying with her baby if she ever feels like going out. So far her mom has changed her work schedule to baby-sit while Michelle is at school.

Michelle’s experience has helped me mature. I used to have a bad impression of the girls who went to the special pregnancy school next to campus and sometimes I’d check to see if anyone I knew had enrolled. Now I understand that these are just girls who didn’t think about the consequences of their actions. As a teen, it’s easy to forget about your future. The farthest I’ve looked ahead is planning my weekends. Teens talk about sex—who’s doing what and with who—like it’s not a big deal. But no one seems to talk about pregnancy. Now I know there are greater consequences to the decisions we make in our lives. However, a mistake shouldn’t define what person you are, rather it should be the decisions you make after. To me, Michelle is more than just a teen mother; she is a strong girl who has persevered. As she prepares for college, she reminds me every day that there is no reason to give up your dreams.

MORE THAN 400,000 teens have babies every year in the United States, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. After 15 years of decline—attributed both to less sexual activity and increased use of contraceptives—the teen birth rate increased 3 percent between 2005 and 2006, and a further increase is expected when the 2007 figures come out soon.

Health information for teens.

Sexual health information by teens, for teens.

List of clinics in California, birth control and STD information.

Planned Parenthood
Has 16 health centers in Los Angeles County that provide confidential reproductive health care, many offering abortion services. Go to www.plannedparenthood.org/los-angeles or www.plannedparenthood.org/pasadena for locations.

National Life Center (pro‑life)
(800) 848-LOVE (5683)
24-hour hotline provides counseling and refers callers to local agencies for pregnancy counseling, pregnancy tests, prenatal care and adoption services.