TOPPENISH, Wash. — Gaby Rodriguez would worry whenever anyone asked to touch her baby bump.
It wasn’t because she felt shy or embarrassed. It was because the bulge — fashioned from wire mesh and cotton quilt batting — didn’t actually contain a baby.
For the past 61/2 months — the bulk of her senior year at Toppenish High School — the 17-year-old A-student faked her own pregnancy.
Only a handful of people — her mother, boyfriend and principal among them — knew Gaby was pretending to be pregnant for her senior project, a culminating assignment required for graduation.
Her teachers and fellow students, except for her best friend, didn’t realize they were part of a social experiment.
Neither did six of her seven siblings — including four older brothers — her boyfriend’s parents, and his five younger brothers and sisters.
"At times, I just wanted to take it off and be done," she says. "I didn’t want to go through this anymore."
But Gaby didn’t give up the charade until Wednesday morning, when she revealed her secret during an emotional, all-school assembly.
The topic of her presentation: “Stereotypes, rumors and statistics.”
"Teenagers tend to live in the shadows of these elements," she says.
Before taking off her fake baby belly in front of the entire student body, Gaby told her audience, “Many things were said about me. Many things traveled all the way back to me.”
Then, she asked several students and teachers to read statements from 3x5 cards, quotes people actually said about her during the course of her experiment.
Her best friend, Saida Cortes, a 17-year-old senior who was sitting in the front row, read card No. 3: “Her attitude is changing, and it might be because of the baby or she was always this annoying and I never realized it.”
It grew quiet in the gym as more and more quotes were read aloud. Then Gaby dropped her bomb: “I’m fighting against those stereotypes and rumors because the reality is I’m not pregnant.”