Drowning From The Inside Out: The Stigma Surrounding Early Pregnancy


Written by Amy Lopez

There is an unspoken rule in Hispanic households: if you’re feeling something, hold it in. Don’t let yourself be seen as weak. It is not going to make anything better if all you are doing is pouting.

That’s how I used to feel.

How I still feel sometimes.

I was valedictorian of my high school in Southern California. I also won the Gates Millennium Scholarship my senior year—the only person in my class to receive it.

I was entering my freshmen year at University of Southern California with an academic scholarship that would leave me debt-free by the time I graduated.

I had everything figured out. Or so I thought. The second semester of my sophomore year at USC, I found out I was pregnant. I was 19 years old.

It was not the great shock for me that society and media make it out to be. I had missed my period for about two months, something that was out of the norm for me. There was no, “How could this have happened?” moment for me. Sure, there was a chance that when I went to the clinic, the test would come out negative, but when it read positive, there was not much surprise.

Nor was I shocked by the reactions I got from people.

I was not a stranger to teenage or unplanned pregnancies.

Coming from a low-income community, unplanned pregnancies were talked about at my high school and occurred occasionally. Plus, being the daughter of one who gave birth to my oldest brother at the age of 17 and then to me at the age of 20, I was not foreign to the topic. But I had mixed feelings about it.

It was always the same story when it came to the unplanned pregnancies at my high school.

The girls stopped coming to school. They always said they were coming back but most never did. Perhaps they lacked the support from school staff. Maybe they were unsure of how to balance their new role with the ever-present demands of school. Often, their boyfriends started working and the girls would spend their time at home, becoming accustomed to maternal life and all it entailed.

It’s what my mother had done. She’d given up her peak years to take care of my three brothers and me. It was not until we were significantly older that she finally decided to go back to school to become a teacher, a goal she continues to pursue to this day. Still, it was her hiatus that always bothered me. Why couldn’t she have still gone to school and taken care of us? Why did she wait so long? When I got pregnant and heard the reactions, I realized why: It was easier.

No longer was I the wunderkind valedictorian who was going to take over the world.

People heard I was pregnant and it was almost as if they were giving out eulogies rather than congratulations or morale boosters. “She’s so young,” they’d say. “She had such a bright future. She worked so hard in high school. It’s a shame.”

Fueled in part by doubt and adversity, I was inspired and motivated to finish school. I was determined to continue. I could not let people be right. I was not doomed to fail.

Every day I went to school, and my anxiety increased as my belly grew. I began to realize that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was exhausted. I would drive to school, park, and walk to class in a sleep-deprived state. I was not in the best state health wise. I was tired and scared that I would not have the strength to carry this load. Not just going to school and graduating on time, but parenthood itself.

This is where it began. What it really feels like to be a young parent. In addition to the typical worries of students my age, I began to wonder if was going to be a good parent. The feeling would eat at me. I had so much homework as it was, how was I going to balance a child as well? What was I getting myself into?

In most communities, venting brings one response: “Well… you should’ve used protection,” or “You had a choice.” And this is true.

As young parents, we do have a choice to make. A difficult choice to make that has been debated at federal levels for decades. For some, abortion is a simple procedure. For other, an anguishing option. But there are many of us that immediately feel a connection to what is already growing inside of us.

Here’s the kicker: while one decision is politically debated about whether or not it’s a personal choice, the other is a life-long commitment that is forever viewed as the wrong personal choice. The choice to parent young.

Because as young parents we could have “been smarter about contraception” or made an alternative choice instead of creating struggles. This is what the media tells us. This is what society tells us. It creates a feeling of drowning from the inside out.

It is making a sound choice about our parenting and our plans, only to have someone tell us “you’re so young. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

It is sharing my pregnancy news with family and former close friends and hearing, “When are you quitting school?”

It is going to school, raising my son and being asked by family members why I’m so focused on my homework. Why is my son crying while I’m on my laptop trying to finish a news package for my journalism class? Why did I even choose to go into journalism? What kind of earning can you make in that field?

It is being told by numerous people that you’ll have help at a moment’s notice, but always being denied help when you need it most.

It’s taking finals while trying to put your child to sleep.

You try to come up for air and realize that the baby years will pass. School will end soon. All the while, you’re still treading water. The drowning feeling never goes away. But you learn to adapt.

School finishes and work begins. Instead of having class hours to work around, you now need a full 9-hour babysitter for your children, and daycare isn’t cheap.

Even when you have reached “adulthood,’’ you have already been a parent for years. It sets you apart from the parents who had their children at a socially appropriate age. You never really fit in anywhere.

You fall into a specific category, constantly trying to make sure you don’t drown from the steady influx of stigma. It is difficult to parent under the scrutiny of everyone around you, when you are doing the best you can.

The suffocating stigma must end. We have a right to parent with dignity.





How Running Changed the Way I Live



I spent the early part of my life running away. From school, from home, & from my issues in general. During my 20s as I began to re-center myself, I struggled with balancing the responsibilities of mothering three young children, working part-time & staying on top of my college course work. I knew it was important to incorporate exercise into my daily routine, but it was difficult to make time. I purchased several used treadmills during the decade that it took to complete my Bachelor’s degree and finish a graduate program, because late night running was the only way I could fit cardio into my schedule. The constant hum of the machine, along with the rhythmic thumping of my feet seemed to soothe even the crankiest of my infants, so often I would out their baby carriers in the back room with me while I worked out. The other upside to this arrangement was that I could perch my course materials on the treadmill console and attempt to read while I ran. Dangerous, I know. I’m genuinely surprised that I never seriously injured myself, though there were a few close calls.

I had become the master multi-tasker and had learned to maximize every minute of the day. I became dependent on the treadmill to track my miles and speed, and the times I attempted to run outdoors, I found I didn’t enjoy it as much because I felt I couldn’t measure my progress. And if it couldn’t be measured, did it even count?

Fast forward several years to 30-year-old me, suffocating under the weight of maintaining superwoman status. I now had four children, a full-time career, & a desire to put forth the image of a polished, put-together life. Until it became to much. The cracks in my facade seems fixable at first, that is until I stepped back and looked at the bigger picture which revealed a version of me that was fragmented in so many places, I wasn’t even sure what it felt like to be whole.

Enter: Paradigm shift. It came abruptly, though I argue it had been in the works for a solid few years or so. I suddenly found myself the single-mother of four, and my self-perceived elevated identity was abruptly leveled. I needed to rebuild. During this time, I ran for survival. It was the only sure way to clear my mind and obtain a beautiful, clear-headed high. I’m not sure when I began venturing outdoors for my runs, but I know it was done in an effort to remove myself from a house full of never ending tasks and chores. The glowing display of the treadmill number count that I once relied on so heavily, now seemed constricting and rigid.

On the trail, I was free. On most days I was accustomed to my children’s noises wafting throughout the house, however the only sounds that followed me on my runs were those of my shoes hitting pavement, and of my own breath. I took solace in watching the gradual changes of nature that we often take for granted in our daily grind: sunrise & sunset, the subtle change of a season, the constant flow of the river. It dawned on me, after some time, that running is actually a very active form of mediation. It helped me build focus, and I even learned to incorporate affirmations into each mile that I completed. Which explains why I found daily runs so necessary in terms of creating a sense of balance in my life.

This past year, I began running races. I completed my first half marathon in October & found myself with eyes full of tears by the time I reached the finish line. Not out of pain, but out of pride. On a personal level, the timing of the race was symbolic for me, as I had been experiencing one of the more difficult trials of my life one year prior to completing the race. To me, those 13.1 miles were a show a strength. I needed to prove to myself that I could push my limits as a short distance runner, and come out ahead. I wanted to prove to myself that I’m moving forward. This coming October, I plan on running a full marathon.

Lately, I’ve settled into a very comfortable place in my life, and I believe that my running habit has something to do with that. I feel less driven to compete in ways that make me appear outwardly successful, and more compelled to nurture my spirit & family through means that are not measurable to the outside eye. The tone of my everyday existence is a gentle one, marked with introspection, love, and the well-worn tread of my favorite running shoes.

I race myself, and no other.

Originally published on Medium: 






Sacramento Voices

Sac Voices class of 2015-16

Excited to announce that I was selected to participate in Sacramento Voices class of 2015-16, as a community correspondent.

Sacramento Voices is a 9-month program, sponsored by The Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. It was created to put the power of storytelling in the hands of South Sacramento residents South Sacramento interested in reporting, writing, and taking photos for its community storytelling program.

This creative initiative will train residents to become community correspondents and serve as the new voices in coverage of Sacramento.

The program will enable community members to report on what they think is most important.

Correspondents report on a wide range of issues highlighting the triumphs and challenges of real life in the South Sacramento neighborhoods of Lemon Hill, Oak Park and Valley Hi. Topics will include community heroes and heroines, and health and wealth disparities.

You can read more about the program here: http://sacramentovoices.us/

New stories will be posted on a monthly basis.

Random questions… (On religion, spirituality, and the likes).

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” ― Paramahansa Yogananda

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely    and earnestly.”
― Paramahansa Yogananda

I sat on the examination table, swinging my legs slightly in impatience. What was supposed to be a simple procedure was suddenly eating up a good portion of my morning. “Lemme try this again honey,” the nurse said apologetically. I felt the tight squeeze of the blood pressure monitor, and took a deep breath. The nurse read the needle and gave me a quizzical look. “Hold on a second, I’m going to have someone else give it a try.” The thin paper on the exam table crinkled beneath me as I shifted uncomfortably.

“Is there something wrong?” I asked. “Well, It’s just I’ve never seen a blood pressure this low on a live person before. It’s barely readable.” I laughed. “Oh, is that all? Yeah, this happens to my mom all the time. it’s either genetics of meditation.”

As a kid, I was questioned all the time. I remember one particular sleepover that quickly dissolved into a session of Eastern Religion 101. My friend and I ended up in my parent’s room, most likely on the hunt for sheets and other fort building materials. No sooner than we’d entered the room, my friend lost site of our original goal, and was diverted by my mom’s alter, along with the foreign items on it. She picked up the kriya beads, sniffed them, and tossed them back down.  “Those smell.”

“Well”, I began explaining, “that’s just cuz…” But her attention was turned to the picture in the center of the alter? “Who’s that lady?” she asked, “Is that your grandma?”         “No, that’s actually a man, he’s our guru.” And for the next half hour, I watched as my friend curiously prodded my mom’s harmonium, twirled the incense sticks, and tried to ring the chakra beards as if they were some sort of musical instrument.

This routine played out over and over again throughout my childhood, each time I invited someone new to the home. Honestly, sometimes I lied and said, “Yes, that’s my grandma,” just so I could bypass the explanation.

Unlike many of the kids I knew, I didn’t spend many Sundays in a pew reciting verses from the bible. I did attend catechism classes, but more often than not my sisters and I were learning chants, affirmations, meditation techniques, and perfecting the lotus pose. This was long before yoga studios started popping up on every corner, and chakra readings were co-opted by the hipsters. So whereas many aspects of the religion I grew up with seem rather mainstream nowadays, back then it was considered weird. At least in my little suburban corner of the world.

My mother chose to raise my sisters & I with the teachings of Self-Realization Fellowship, a blend of Hinduism & Christianity that has been practiced in the U.S. & India since roughly 1920. That was the year the religion’s founder, Paramahansa Yogananda, traveled to the U.S. from India in hopes of bringing his “science” of enlightenment to Westerners. The church was established in Los Angeles in 1935 in Los Angeles still has its headquarters there today.

Just as Islam recognizes Christianity as a valid religion & Jesus as a prophet, Self-Realization pays great respect to the Christian religion. Yogananda took the teachings of the Bible and drew similarities between the passages of new testament and those of the Bhagavad-Gita. My earliest exposure to interfaith teachings and parallels between religions were through the teachings of SRF.

Meditation is central to SRF teachings. Through meditation, followers are encouraged to still their minds to hear the voice of God; their true, inner selves.
Another key SRF teaching is the necessity of controlling one’s thinking and habits. SRF teaches that thoughts are powerful and have the potential to either harm or heal both the thinker and those around her.

Yogananda himself passed away in 1952, but his church lives on with headquarters in California and meditation centers located throughout the world. There are currently more than 500 meditation centers in 54 countries that are directly tied to the Self-Realization Fellowship headquarters.

Although I no longer regularly attend the church, The SRF teachings are a significant part of mine & my children’s lives. There are many valuable aspects of the lessons that have positively impacted our world view, including interconnectedness and mindfulness.

I wish I could report that I am always as calm and collected as I was the day my blood pressure was non-readable. But I’m human.

Luckily, when times are trying, and my reactions less than desirable, I’m able to pull from the SRF teachings to remind myself to breathe, center, and focus on ways to deal with the world in ways that are both healthy for me, and for those around me. I haven’t perfected it yet, but that doesn’t stop me from trying.

If you are interested in learning more about the teachings of Paramahansa Yoganada, or his life story, check out Autobiography of a Yogi (Which, by the way, was Steve Jobs parting gift to everyone in attendance at his funeral.)

You can also visit their website: https://www.yogananda-srf.org/



Dear Universe,

I surrender. 

But this does not mean I’m giving up. 

Giving up indicates a lack of strength & resolve. Giving up means you quit. I’m not a quitter. Never have been, and likely never will be.

Surrendering implies a deeper understanding…a realization that one is powerless over the current situation & an acknowledgement of both release & detachment. Not from an absence of resolve, but from sheer humility. Because sometimes, surrendering takes a courage & strength that are not present in the act of giving up. 

Sometimes, surrendering is the only way to move forward…

People of Sacramento commenting on the news: Christina Martinez

Sacramento Journalism Review

Christina Martinez, early childhood education teacher Christina Martinez, early childhood education teacher

(This is the fifth installment in a weekly series with people who don’t work in journalism commenting on the news. Photography by Kevin Fiscus.)

Meet Christina Martinez.

She’s 35, a Sacramento State graduate, a Pocket-Greenhaven resident, cofounder of an advocacy group called #NoTeenShame and an early childhood education teacher.

I started following Christina on Twitter a couple months ago and have enjoyed the way in which she provides a window into her work, her parenting and her passion for social issues. Her tweets are as likely to make you laugh as they are to make you think.

We met in person for the first time in June at Federalist Public House to talk about media consumption, the city of Sacramento and her thoughts on the news.

The mother-of-four was eager to participate, mentioning how she’s noticed how much her habits differ from those of her teens.

Christina has long kept a journal…

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