Lifetime's The Pregnancy Project Hits Home. My Battle with Pregnancy Stereotypes
I was not a teen mom. But I was an unwed mother during my first pregnancy. And even at age 28, I looked much younger than my age. That was 12 years ago. But I still remember it like it was yesterday, riding the bus with my big belly and enduring the disapproving looks of older women. I felt like they looked at me, then my belly and then my empty ring finger, and made a judgment. I remember one woman on the bus giving me the "shame on you" head shake and turning away in disgust. Sometimes the stigma of being pregnant and unmarried felt too much to bear. Even from my own family.
So I was really interested in the new Lifetime Original Movie, The Pregnancy Project, based on the real story of Gaby Rodriguez, the 18-year-old Washington state high school student who pretended to be pregnant for her senior class project in an effort to explore conventional stereotypes and the treatment of pregnant teens. The movie premieres on January 28th at 8:00pm ET/PT.
In the movie, Gaby learns that , as expected, students can be cruel. But what she didn't expect was that teachers and family can be even worse. The movie reminded me how powerful stereotypes can be. How we can easily typecast who ends up as a teenage mother--poor, minority, from the "wrong side" of the tracks. We can have low expectations of people based on things that have nothing to do with the actual person, their character, their will to succeed and their intellect. Sadly, sometimes we don't see the human being, only their circumstances. And sadly, sometimes these stereotypes, these low expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies.
On the other hand, it also shows how quickly we fall back on stereotypes even when we viewed someone as beyond them. For example, Gaby is an A-student, seen as having so much potential and a great life ahead of her, even though she was from a single parent home and the "other side of the tracks" neighborhood. Before she became "pregnant", teachers and students only saw that Gaby. But the minute she was pregnant they reverted right back to judging her by those circumstances, quickly forgetting the smart, capable young woman they all knew her to be. It was a, "I knew it" kind of moment where falling back on stereotypes is much easier than seeing how her true character could be applied to her current situation. Which only made me wonder, which Gaby did they really think she was all the time?
Most importantly, the well-done movie made me think about myself as a parent and the dreams, hopes and expectations I have for my own children. When I became pregnant at 28, I was a graduate student at Columbia University, having received my undergraduate degree years earlier from NYU. I had a great career in journalism that took me all over the world, even working for a while in London. I had my own apartment and had lived on my own for years. Even at that age, I had accomplished much and had enviable career success. But when I told my parents, my father cried. I had never seen my Dad cry before. You would have thought that I was a teenage mother, with no education or career prospects. But my father had such high expectations for me and had placed me on such a pedestal, that this was devastating news. Even at my age. Even in my life circumstances. When people expect much of you, any fall is that much harder, I suppose.
How will I react if my children end up in a circumstances that seem to dash all of my dreams and expectations for their life? How would I prepare them to deal with the stereotypes and judgment of others?
I don't know if I have all the answers. But The Pregnancy Project certainly made me start asking the questions.