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Lisette Orellana

Lisette Orellana

I remember that night ten years ago: the harsh lights on the ceiling and my craving for a Big Mac despite the pain. I put on a brave face — like this was no big deal. But I was terrified. Nurses came in and out of the room. One said: "Well, this sure is perfect timing. It's Mother's Day!" That fact hadn't even crossed my mind. All I knew was that a year before then I was decorating the gym for a 9th grade dance. A male nurse drew blood and asked: "So how old are you?" "Fifteen." I can still hear him gasp. "Oh dear God! I've got a daughter who's 14. I better find out who she's hanging out with." My boyfriend stared at the floor. I felt completely alone. And I was in a lot of pain. As the hours went by it hit me: Life had betrayed me. My future was over. I was a nobody.

Twelve hours later my baby daughter was born. She had black hair and eyes and weighed 7 pounds, 2 ounces. Later that afternoon I named her Gina.

From first grade on, I was a bookworm and a straight A student. I wanted to make my mom proud. She was a housekeeper at a nursing home and worked 12 hours a day. At night when she got home she'd collapse on the sofa. Every day my mom gave me lunch money. I'd save most of it and secretly put it back in her purse.

My older sister got pregnant when I was 10. Mom cried for days. My sister was such a pillar for my mom, but she had let her down. Mom never smiled anymore and over time she began to change. Soon, no matter how many A's I brought home, it was never enough. But I studied harder. I even took an extra French class during my lunch hour. I rehearsed French conversations in my head as I helped prepare dinner. I wanted a different life than my sister. I wanted my mom to see that I was going to be somebody.

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Lisette Orellana is 25 years old. She grew up in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Ten years ago, Lisette's resolve and courage kept her going to classes — despite her school's lack of support. At the time she was not aware that there was a law — Title IX — that helps pregnant and parenting students stay in school. Now, Lisette spreads the word about this law to pregnant teens and educators — in her role as Director of External Relations at the Crittenton Services of Greater Washington.