April 22, 2011 — -- Gaby Rodriguez, 17, shocked her friends, teachers and family when she said she was pregnant. She surprised them even more when she revealed this week that for six months, she had faked the pregnancy.
"Everybody was just shocked, like speechless," Rodriguez said.
Gaby decided to make her senior year project at Toppenish High School in Washington a social experiment where she pretended to be pregnant.
The straight-A student got the approval of her principal, her mother, her boyfriend and best friend. They were the handful of people in on the secret. Six of Gaby's seven siblings didn't know and neither did her boyfriend's parents.
"I had to lie to my sons and my daughters. When we told them she was pregnant, they were like, 'What?'" said Juana Rodriguez, Gaby's mom.
Gaby began the elaborate hoax following Homecoming last October. She convinced school principal Trevor Greene to let her pursue the project, which she's titled "Stereotypes, Rumors and Statistics."
"I admire her so much. Her courage, her creativity, her strength. She's gone through so much...alienating some of her friends along the way or being alienated from her friends," Greene said.
Gaby started with baggy clothes and eventually fashioned a fake belly out of wire mesh and cotton quilt batting. The aspiring social worker started taking notes on everything that was said about her.
"A lot of rumors were just that I was irresponsible. No college...it was bound to happen. I knew she would get pregnant. Doesn't she know she just ruined her life," she said.
The struggles of being a teenager with a baby are well documented and they have gotten a lot of attention lately because of the controversial MTV shows "Teen Mom" and "16 and Pregnant."
Gaby had her own dramatic moment more powerful than any TV drama when she revealed the truth to the entire school at an assembly Wednesday.
Gaby told the students, "Many things were said about me. Many things traveled all the way back to me."
She passed out notecards with the things that had been said about her and had students read them.
Gaby began by revealing that for months some students had left her feeling alone and ashamed. Then, she pulled out the stuffing from under her shirt and left an entire gymnasium stunned.
"I was just astonished, but I was really proud of her. I felt like it was such a courageous thing to do," one student said.
Family therapist Terry Real called Gaby courageous and said that she put her own life on the line to conduct such a bold experiment.
"A social experiment with people you know and love is a high-risk move, but I think she learned an awful lot about what it means to be a teen mom and I think that all of the people around her when they had that moment of great revelation really had to stop and do some thinking about how they'd been treating her," Real said.
Some of the girl's family and close friends might have mixed feelings about the experiment, Real said.
"Some are probably relieved that it isn't happening. I think they may have some feelings about the hoax and being lied to but in the end I think everybody is in her corner," Real said.
Gaby plans to present her findings to community leaders to help other young women fight stereotypes and find the same quality she discovered along the way -- courage.