Living with Hypochondria as a Christian

Readers,

This is something I don’t really talk about that often. It’s really painful for me because I still live in this, to a certain extent. Today I’m going to be honest and write about my hypochondria.

But, first, let’s take a look at how the dictionary defines “hypochondria”:

abnormal anxiety about one’s health, especially with an unwarranted fear that one has a serious disease.

Last July, I began experiencing hypochondria. I remember the exact day it all began. My father had woken me up at 4 AM and told me that he thought he was having a heart attack. I sprang into action and waited with him, calming him while the ambulance came. At the hospital, we learned that it was simply a panic attack. This event happened two or three days after my brother was rushed into surgery for a life-threatening bone infection. Later that day, after waking up from a long nap, I began having back pain and I felt this overwhelming fear. Something whispered to me, “You’re having a heart attack.” I tried to shake it off so I went back to sleep. Immediately I felt panic rush over me. I could hardly breathe or think straight. I called my mom and told her that I wanted to go to the hospital. 

En route to the hospital, the panic increased and I literally thought I was dying. I began hyperventilating and I repeated “Jesus, please don’t take me!” Mom prayed and she sped to the hospital. After getting checked out, I was told that it was just a panic attack. “Just” a panic attack. Clearly these doctors have never experienced a panic attack. It feels bigger than you. It feels all-consuming. It becomes your reality. Your mind and body begin freaking out and no one around you can tell that there’s something wrong with you.

For the next few months, I suffered constant fear that I was dying. Some days I feared a heart attack, then I feared that God would supernaturally stop my heart, then I feared I would have a blood clot like my Dad, then I feared a stroke, then I feared internal bleeding, then I feared a brain tumor, and the list goes on and on.

These days it takes all of me and help from my parents to convince me that I will never get a blood clot, that I’m a healthy 24-year old who cannot have a heart attack, and that all of the other things I fear are just irrational. But, when you’re so far gone in your fear, that fear becomes your reality. To my brain, it is completely logical that I would die of some disease that older people typically have. I could look around at people my age or older that are obese and obviously very unhealthy, yet I can make excuses for why it would happen to me and not them.

I think that the entirety of last year truly affected the way I view health and wellness. I know it’s not a promise from God and therefore I began to fear losing my health. It got to the point that I told God, “Okay, God, if I get sick, I get sick. But please give me a long illness. I don’t want to have a sudden death because I live alone and no one would know.” That is what my brain thought about all the time. It’s still hard for me to stop my brain from thinking these things.

After going to the hospital so many times with my Dad last year, I think some type of anxious spirit latched onto me and I let it feed on my soul. Going to the hospital was normal for me. Growing up, my mother had hypochondria as well and she used to go to the doctor all the time. I had once dealt with this issue before, but when I was 16-17. It had been YEARS since I gave a second thought to my health. When I did, it became all-consuming.

I would stay inside because I didn’t want to die on the street, alone and helpless. That’s how bad it got. I would constantly jiggle my legs to keep my blood flowing, so I wouldn’t get a blood clot. I still do this. I look at my legs all the time, making sure they’re not swollen and I’d lay in bed at night, obsessively checking my pulse to make sure it wasn’t too fast, both of which would indicate a clot. The Internet told me that people over 50 usually get them, but that hasn’t stopped me from freaking out about it. It feels bigger than me. I used to go to the hospital once every couple of months, convinced I was dying. My doctor saw me almost every week for a new “ailment.”

I’m not writing to you from a “I’ve made it through to the other side and now I’m all better” position. I still fight for my sanity regarding health issues every. single. day. It’s a daily battle. Despite hearing God tell me that I won’t die, that He holds my life, that I’m not sick, my brain immediately goes to fear. 

One day, while just walking around, God said to me, “You’re so afraid of dying. You’re so consumed by the thought of dying that you’re not truly living. You’re really just afraid to live. When you were depressed, Satan tried to get you to kill yourself. Now he’s trying to make you think you’re dying.”

He’s so right, obviously. I was so obsessed with death that I didn’t give much thought to my life. I didn’t fight hard for things in life because I felt like I was going to die at any moment. What was the point of it all?

Readers, I ask for prayer in this area. I want to be fearless. I used to be completely fearless before 2015. I used to be confident, loud, bold, and fearless with everything in life. I KNEW that God had my back. I want to get to a place where I completely trust Him again.

It’s hard being a Christian and reading verses from the Bible that tell us not to worry, but then to suffer from hypochondria and panic attacks. It feels out of our control. We are commanded not to worry. But, how do we obey when our brain seems to be taking over?

Have you guys every suffered from hypochondria or other anxiety issues? Let’s have an open space to discuss, pray, and heal.

Blessings,

Gabrielle G.

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When God Brings Back Best Friends

Readers,

I have experienced so many instances lately of God’s sovereign timing. I’ve received apologies three years after I wanted them, yet right at the moment when it mattered. I’ve run into people I hadn’t seen in years, but at exactly the right time when I knew it was from God.

God has also brought back one of my best friends. This friend and I were best friends and sisters for about two years before graduating from college and losing touch, something we never thought would happen. I remember the day we met: I was late for my first day of an English class my sophomore year of college and saw that there were only two seats left in the crowded classroom. Both empty seats were next to a Muslim girl in a hijab. I looked at each girl and decided to sit next to one of them. I’m not sure why I chose this girl, but I think it was God’s influence. We sat next to each other, introduced ourselves, and from that moment, we were friends. From the beginning I knew she was a Muslim and she knew I was a Christian. She was my first Muslim friend and I was her first Christian friend. I felt like our friendship was so beautiful and so powerful. In a world where people from both of our respective faiths hated each other, we chose to love each other.

She taught me some Urdu words and explained how Muslims view Jesus, or Isa. I taught her how Christians view Jesus and how we see God as our Father. I’ll never forget one of the most beautiful moments in our friendship. While living at the dorms, I so desperately wanted to have a sleepover with her, but I knew that her mother wouldn’t consent. Her mother didn’t know me at all. Surprisingly, when she asked her mom, she said yes! That night, after feeding her a meal of mushy rice and beans (I’ve perfected my rice-making abilities since then), which she claimed to love, we sat on my dorm bed and talked about life. She confided in me that she witnessed her father’s death and felt guilt from that experience. I sat there, nodding, listening, praying for her. All of a sudden, she burst into tears and I hugged her, rubbing her back and telling her that God is her Father and He wants to take this pain away from her. She sobbed and said, “I don’t even know why I’m crying. I’ve never even told anyone about this before.” We had only known each other for a few months at that time, but I was convinced that the Holy Spirit was using me to touch her heart and soul. 

As she wiped her eyes, she laughed a little, out of relief. I could see that so much was lifted off of her shoulders. That night, as she slept on my air mattress on the floor, I looked down at her and prayed, “Jesus, give her a dream. I know how You use dreams to speak to many Muslim people. Lord, give her a dream.”

I woke up the next morning waiting to hear all about this dream. She didn’t say anything. “Well, maybe she had a dream and just didn’t tell me,” I thought. A week later, I “randomly” ran into her at school and she said, “Gabby, I had a dream! Last night I had a dream that I was walking with my boyfriend and looked away for a second. When I looked back, you were in his place and all of a sudden this peace and warmth washed over me. It was so incredibly peaceful.”

Now any other person would say, “Woah, looks like she’s in love with you.” Nah. I know that I was merely a representation of Jesus in her dream. She saw the Jesus in me and felt peace. She went to class and I walked away rejoicing and praising God for what He had done! She had a dream about Him!

After graduating, we completely lost touch. We didn’t really talk for almost two years. Much of that was because we simply didn’t see each other anymore. She lived far away and had a full-time job. I was in the same position. Over time we just became used to not talking, although I never forgot about her and she apparently never forgot about me. While texting about seeing the new Hindi film “Padmaavat”, we became reconnected. I remember thinking, “Who would see this film with me?” She was the only person I could think of who would want to join me.

Since that day, we began texting more often and picked up our friendship right where we left off. It was like nothing had changed. One night, I sent her the e-mail/blog post I shared here a few days ago about my decision to move to India. She called me crying and said, “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you. I’m so sorry I didn’t put effort into maintaining our friendship. I’m so sorry.” 

This was a shock to me! I didn’t find her guilty of anything at all! But we both cried a little over the phone and talked for an hour. She confided in me about her mom’s health struggles and how she’s has become the primary breadwinner now. We talked about my potential future shaadi in India and how we’re going to sneak her into the country (she’s Pakistani.) It was like nothing had changed but time and our level of cynicism. Working and being an actual adult had already taken its toll on us.

If she had come back into my life at any other time, I don’t think it would have been as powerful as it is now. She came back at a time when I am planning to move to India to serve Jesus and others. I truly believe that Jesus brought us back together now to grow us in our friendship and sisterhood. I believe that He will use me again to shine more truth about Him to her. I want my life to be a living testimony that I serve a living God.

Pray for that, please.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

I Was Racially Profiled in NYC

Welp. How do I begin? Let’s all take a deep breath, get a cup of tea, and settle in for this story. I walked into Beacon’s Closet, a super white hipster store, on W. 13th Street around 11 AM with a huge garbage bag full of clothes, intending to sell them. I walked straight back to the selling section of the store and was told they’d call my name when my clothes were ready.

I walked around the store for a while and ended up waiting an hour before finding out that they had already looked through my clothes, wanted nothing, and didn’t have the decency to call my name and let me know that.

The real tea here is this: if you’re a woman of color with a purse, watch out. I had with me a really loose tote bag that was about half the size of a regular tote bag. It’s such a thin and loose material that if I stuffed anything in there, you could definitely see the outline.

While perusing the socks, and waiting for my clothes to be done, a sales associate behind the jewelry counter looked at me up and down and said, with no smile or kindness, “Can I have your bag?” I looked into her eyes and saw exactly what she was thinking, “This brown girl is going to steal.” She looked very nervous. If there’s a no “large” bag policy, she should be used to asking this question and shouldn’t look so scared. I asked her, “Oh, do I have to?” She said, “I’d prefer it.” So I gave it to her and walked around the store.

While walking around, I noticed that every other woman carried a tote bag, many of them leather (making it harder to see what’s inside). Their bags were much larger than mine. I also noticed that every woman shopping was white, except for me. Huh.

I went back to this sales associate and said, “Every other woman here has her bag, so can I have mine back?”

She replied, “Sure, I just like to take bigger bags.” I took a peek behind her and saw that the only other bags taken were large backpacks, which is pretty NYC standard.

I later left and called the store, speaking with the manager who was kind and understanding. She said that the bag policy is definitely not something they force and she’s going to speak with that associate about her approach to me.

All of the other women in that store were white and they kept their large bags. My medium-sized bag was taken away and I was the only person of color.

While in the store I felt so conflicted: do I stand up for myself and make a scene, possibly getting thrown out by security and playing into the “crazy Latina” trope? Or do I just go home and write a strongly-worded blog post? I chose the latter.

Women of color, watch out.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

My Big Decision (It’s A Long Read!)

This extremely long blog post is to inform you all of an important decision I’ve made. I won’t make you wait until the end of the post to know what it is: I’m permanently moving out of New York City at the end of June. This wasn’t an easy decision to make. In fact, I did everything in my human power to stay in New York City. I’ve tried my hardest to make it work here in this city, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any stability. That wouldn’t necessarily be an issue for me if I felt that I was doing His work here. I’m not dissatisfied with my lack of material possessions, I’m dissatisfied with where I am in life, literally and metaphorically. I don’t think I am doing His work here, at least not in the fullest capacity. Allow me to explain, but I’ll have to go back to 2015.
In 2015, as most of you know, I spent a month living in India and absolutely loved it. I loved every single thing about it. I loved walking in monsoon floods and sleeping on the floor and talking to shop owners and making friends with the Indians I met. I never grew tired of it even though it was certainly a struggle to get used to my new way of living. I never wanted to go back to the US. When I came back that fall and finished up my last semester of college, I was terribly unhappy. I missed India. I lost so many friends because none could understand what I had experienced in India. I apparently changed too much for them. They didn’t understand why I would cry when people would throw out food. They didn’t comprehend why I became so strict about limiting myself when it came to material goods.
After graduating from college in January 2016, I took a wonderful job at an amazing non-profit for children’s literacy. I love children. I love literacy. It was a great fit! Yet as the months passed, I noticed that my soul was still not satisfied. I could not get India off of my mind. Every day during my lunch break, I’d walk fifteen minutes to closest Indian neighborhood and reminisce about my time in India while getting to know the shop owners. That was the best part of my day.
Later that year, I took another trip to India. Sadly this trip was only two weeks, but I went because I wanted to discern if He wanted me to live there more long-term. I’m passionate about anti-trafficking work and raising awareness about child marriage and spent a lot of time in prayer while I was there. I’d often sit up at night and cry/pray while having visions. The most tangible and reoccurring vision I had during that time is something I can still clearly picture to this day: while praying I had a vision of myself in Indian clothes, holding a child’s hand in each of my hands, and walking through a dark slum. With each step I took, more light invaded that part of the slum. I was enveloped in light. When I first had that vision, I sobbed. I knew that I was meant to do exactly what I was doing in my vision. When I left India that year, I also sobbed but for another reason. I didn’t see a way this could work out. I didn’t know how any of it would come to fruition. I sobbed because I felt like my dream was completely unreachable for me.
So I came back and invested myself in my life in New York City. I got two jobs, one of them I actually loved. While I was an English teacher, I felt like I was finally doing something I was good at. My adult students loved me. To them, I was not just an English teacher. I was their friend, their advocate, their counselor. I loved that role. But in January 2017, that position ended because it was a contract position. That loss ushered in an entire year of loss. I tend to refer to 2017 as my Job year. If you’re not familiar with Job from the Bible, please read about him. It’s powerful. Anyway, 2017 brought me many pains and losses. After losing my job, I heard that my parents were separating. Although not entirely surprised, I was still upset. In April, I began experiencing panic attacks while attending graduate school. I had this overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t supposed to be in graduate school. I felt like I had made a mistake. The panic attacks were so bad that I couldn’t even finish the semester and I dropped out of graduate school without telling anyone in the school.
Not too long after, I received word that my father was in the hospital. It was actually the weekend of my brother’s 25th birthday so we were together when we received the call. That was so gracious of Him because the phone call shook me to my core. My father had a blood clot. We didn’t know if he was going to live. I vividly recall sitting on my brother’s couch, talking to my dad on the phone, crying and telling him how much I loved him. I remember feeling cheated. “This isn’t fair! God, You can’t take my dad! We’re just now getting to know each other. Please, Abba. I’m not ready to say goodbye to my dad.” For the first time in a long time, my brother joined me in prayer for my dad. We prayed that his life would be spared. He was. Not only was he spared, but he became a believer due to this incredible supernatural experience he had in the hospital bed. Now he’s incredibly healthy and growing in his faith. I’m so proud of him and so grateful that He gave me more time with my dad.
After that, I knew that I had to leave New York City, at least for the time being. My dad, no longer with my mom, was alone and needed someone to be with him. I jumped on a flight down to Georgia and took care of my Dad for a few weeks. When I came back from that trip, I knew I had to leave New York City for a while and take care of him. I moved to Georgia with the intention of starting my life over again. During this time I was suffering from a deep depression because of all the rapid loss I experienced. Almost everything was taken from me. Me, Gabrielle, the woman who never quits or takes no for an answer lost her job teaching, quit grad school, and left her entire New York world. I lived in Georgia for a few months and found no work. My depression and anxiety hit its peak during that time. I felt like a complete failure. I have a Cum Laude college degree! I shouldn’t be struggling like this, right?
While living in Georgia, my brother came to live there as well to start his life over. So the four of us were all together again. Not long after arriving, my brother was rushed into surgery for a life-threatening bone infection in his leg. He almost died as well. At this point, I thought, “Ok Abba, You almost took two of my family members within a couple months. What’s going on?” My mind was surrounded by darkness. I had no friends around me to sit with me in my pain. My mother became my only human solace. I never told my dad, brother, or sister just how bad my depression got. I didn’t think I would make it. My mind became clouded with hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. I saw no future for myself. I had failed too much. Thankfully Abba in His great mercy didn’t leave my side and while I dealt with those issues, I also had a deep awareness that all of this was a massive test from Abba and that the enemy was trying to use this test to destroy me. The enemy wanted me dead. That was his goal. I realized that if the enemy was trying this hard to kill me, I must have some amazing future ahead of me! I clung to life although every ounce of me couldn’t see how I would ever escape this dark pit of despair.
Through therapy and medication, I did escape from that pit. Through His love, I escaped. Although I have moments of anxiety and moments of sadness, nothing really sticks to me anymore. I know that all things that happen have been allowed by Him. So I must endure them. I must learn from them. I must push through. All the greats of the faith suffered in unspeakable ways and yet did amazing things for the Kingdom.
I moved back to New York City in August 2017 and was sleeping on a woman’s couch because my roommate refused to let me move back into my own apartment, with my own name on the lease. Through a fierce battle for that apartment, I lost one of my best friends. I began passionately searching for work and found nothing. I’d get a few interviews and maybe even a couple of job offers, but for some odd reason, the employer would change their mind before I started.
I didn’t find work until January 2018. I’m currently working two jobs, both contract positions yet again. This means that my jobs will both end in May/June and I have no guarantee of work in the fall. As far as my housing situation goes, I’m currently living in an apartment in the Bronx. I have three roommates and the rent is somewhat doable for me. I was recently told that none of the roommates would renew the lease which expires at the end of June. I was initially under the impression that at least one would, but they’re not. So this means that both of my jobs end in June and my housing is gone in June. 
I don’t believe in coincidences. I don’t believe that things “just happen.” I truly believe that my time in New York is over, hopefully for eternity. I hate living in this city. I absolutely hate it. It is a city without warmth, compassion, or humility. It’s a competitive place and unless you know everyone in the corporate world or have a lot of money, you will struggle or suffer here. Thankfully my church has been so good to me that they’ve helped me with rent, food, and MetroCard money when I’ve literally had no money to my name.
Knowing that my life as I know it will end at the end of June, I’ve been asking Him, “What’s next?” While reflecting over the past three years, I believe the answer is clear: India. Wherever I’ve gone in this country, I’ve met people from Kolkata (the city I lived in), whether that’s my English professor my last semester of college, or my neighbor in Georgia. I’ve randomly run into people who serve in India while walking around NYC. There are too many “coincidences” for it to be nothing.
My plans are these (they are subject to change as He sees fit): I’m leaving everything I own here and I’m going to travel around India for a couple of months at least, beginning in July. I’ll be trying to volunteer with different organizations and getting a feel for various cities, cultures, and people. Abba knows my heart is for that country. That is where I want to be. I have family there. I want to be with them. I never stop thinking about the children I met when I was there and I yearn to go back and see how they are.
I’m not asking for money, although if you want to help me get to India this summer, I’d appreciate it. What I’m asking for is simply prayer. Prayer that I’m receptive to His voice; that I hear Him correctly. Prayer that all fear and anxiety around this trip leave me. Prayer that doors will be opened and connections will be made. Prayer that His plan will come to pass. Prayer that if this isn’t His plan for me, that I accept His plan, as He reveals it.
If you have any questions about anything that I’ve written, please ask me! Clearly I’m a very open person and I’d love to talk about this more in detail with you.
Blessings,
Gabrielle G.

When Past Pain Resurfaces (Apologies)

Readers,

Have you ever experienced a total God-moment out of nowhere that you absolutely never expected? I certainly have. Just yesterday, God showed me a few incredible things about His character. I’m still asking God why He did this yesterday and not before or even not at all, so we shall see what He reveals as time progresses.

Let me give you some context. Three years ago, around this time, I was preparing to head to India for the summer. It was my first time overseas. It was my first time flying alone. It was a time of so many firsts! Anyone who knows me in my daily life knows that I’m enamored with Indian culture. I know a lot about Indian culture and I’m proud of that fact. I’m typically more adept at discussing the differences that various Indian cultures have (yes, there’s more than one), than I am discussing Puerto Rican culture. To be quite honest, not many things interest me about Puerto Rican culture. Perhaps it’s because I was raised with it, or maybe it’s because I’m half Puerto Rican, or it might be because of my lack of Spanish fluency. Regardless, it doesn’t excite me as much as Indian culture. So, I typically show my love for India through my daily actions, never intending to “show off” my culture knowledge, but simply to partake in the things that bring me joy and the things I identify with. I don’t see myself bound to Puerto Rican or German culture. I see myself as a cultural chameleon. I find myself much more in Indian culture than any other culture and that’s absolutely okay. I think it’s given from Providence.

Some of these cultural practices I do include watching Indian movies, eating Indian food (with my hands), visiting Indian grocery stores, listening to Indian music, and trying to learn bits of Hindi, Bangla, and Malayalam (my favorite Indian languages). Well, I also like Tamil but I don’t know anyone who speaks it and I definitely can’t teach myself that language. Super complex and linguistically challenging. I line my eyes with Indian kajal. I enjoy adorning myself with Indian jewelry that I purchased while in India, or have been given as a gift from Indian friends. I let my love for the culture be known.

Right about the time before I left for India in 2015, I received an onslaught of discouragement and attack from people around me. Some friends subtly discouraged me by saying “It’s really dirty there.” or “The water is so bad. You’re going to get sick.” This came from someone who had only visited India for two weeks and had used toilet paper the whole time. Sorry, but I can’t trust your cultural competency when you choose to use toilet paper in a country where that’s not the standard. You really have to go out of your way to avoid that cultural practice.

Some attacks were much more direct. My brother screamed at me and told me I was going to a “disgusting country” with “disgusting people” and I was “going to get raped.” He also said that my “trip will not do anything” and that I was “just wasting my time.” Immediately I knew that was a Satanic attack and that the enemy was using my brother to discourage me. Those of us who know Scripture know that John 8:44 tells us that Satan is a liar and is the father of all lies/liars. Subsequently anything that a demon says is also a lie. I recognized this attack as a demonic attack and knew it wasn’t true. Yet, my heart broke for my brother. To be used by Satan to attempt to discourage me about India was a terrible experience for him. He couldn’t remember what he had said ten minutes after the attack ceased. This attack only strengthened my resolve: I was going to India and God was going to work miracles in and through me.

Now, one attack in particular was especially confusing to me because it came from someone I didn’t call friend. As a professing Christian, she and I became acquainted through my university’s ministry group, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. We knew of each other and had a couple of conversations but nothing too deep. We had no real intimacy as friends. One day, shortly before leaving for India for the first time, I received a slew of Facebook messages from this woman, attacking my love for Indian culture. She essentially said that I’m weird for loving Indian culture and I should love my own culture. She went on to say that I potentially have a mental illness because I love Indian culture. What?! How does that make any sense? I was so perplexed and told one of my best friends about it. She encouraged me and said, “Gabby, this is just another Satanic attack on your life and Satan wants to deter you from going to India. Don’t take it to heart. It’s clear that God wants you to go to India, which is why Satan is attacking you this hard.”

Sage words!

This was three years ago and my trip to India did indeed completely change me and inspire me to pursue God’s call for my life in cross-cultural ministry. Although I never forgot this woman’s words, I had forgiven her a long time ago. Yesterday, I received an Instagram message request from this woman and clicked on it. She went on to give me a lengthy apology for what she had said three years prior. She told me that she was praying and God led her to apologize to me.

This led me to stay awake for several hours that night and ask God “Why did You want her to apologize now? What does this mean for my future? Talk to me, Jesus!”

I still haven’t gotten that answer yet, but I know God will show it to me in time.

 

Readers, never give up on people. I’ve had about two experiences like this where people apologize for prior misdeeds much later. It’s always a pleasant surprise when I receive those apologies. But, friends, don’t wait for an apology because it may not come. Just give it to God and let it go. I know it hurts, but don’t choose to keep that pain in your heart. Forgive them even before they apologize. That’s grace.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

I’m Christian and I Don’t Support Abstinence-Only Education

Countless young women in middle and high school alike find themselves in life-altering situations far too often: unexpected and unwanted pregnancy. These pregnancies typically derail a young lady’s life and sometimes negatively affect the father of the child as well, although to a much lesser degree. It is the girl who must carry, birth, and nurture the child she grows inside. The teenage father can easily separate himself from the girl and move on with his life, freely pursuing his aspirations. Teenage pregnancy, although devastatingly common, is absolutely avoidable, but not through the typical pathways one might expect. The teenage pregnancy rate will not decrease because of free contraception or abstinence-only talks at high schools. The U.S. must create a fresh, holistic approach to this problem, because this problem affects all Americans, not only teenage mothers.

In the United States, teenage girls become pregnant at staggering rates. One would assume that with all of the sex education public schools offer, the rate would be much lower. Girls of color tend to have a higher rate of teenage pregnancy. It is easy to observe this and claim that for some reason, girls of color are more promiscuous or less careful when they have sex. These young girls have been blamed and written off as less valuable than their white teenage counterparts for this reason and many others. But, it is unfair and racist to make such a blanket statement without delving into the reasons behind each girl’s pregnancy. Perhaps one will find that the problem is more systemic than previously thought.

Each girl becomes pregnant for a different reason, although the method for each pregnancy is obviously the same. Looking past the act of unprotected sex, one can see a dozen reasons why a young girl chooses to engage in sex, fully knowing the risks that come with it. Yet these reasons are often overlooked or denied and the cycle continues with each generation of teenage girls. One reason for the high teenage pregnancy rate for girls of color is poverty. Poverty is complex and it manifests in various forms, from children who go hungry, to the elderly who cannot afford their medication. Poverty is at the root of many problems in the U.S. But, there are a few types of poverty that present themselves in different ways. Young girls of color in the U.S. are more likely to be born into poverty than their white counterparts. Their parents are poor, their grandparents were poor, and their children will most likely be poor. This type of poverty is systemic and one cannot simply pull themselves out of it through hard work. Many people work extremely hard at their jobs and yet never rise above the poverty line.

Poverty impacts young girls in a few different ways. It is probable that a young girl of color, born into poverty, has a mother who became a mother as a teenager. She has seen her mother struggle as she raises her children. Her mother may work menial and unfulfilling jobs, causing financial and emotional stress. Perhaps the girl’s father is absent or only physically present. Living this type of life is extraordinarily distressing for anyone, but for a young girl, it is traumatizing and can stunt her growth as a person. In order to escape her stressful home and to discover herself as a young woman, a girl may pursue romantic relationships with boys. These relationships often serve as distractions from her seemingly inescapable reality. Knowing that boys typically desire sex more often than girls do, it is natural that a girl’s boyfriend will pressure and persuade her into having sex with him. Not wanting to be left single, like her mother or other maternal figures in her life, she will have sex with him to keep him. Clearly this narrative does not apply to every young girl who becomes pregnant, but it is a story that is far too common.

If this girl becomes pregnant, much to her dismay, she is fulfilling the cycle of pregnancy and poverty that her mother laid before her. In an attempt to escape that life, she has just become secured in it. Once a girl is pregnant, her entire life will shift to accommodate the pregnancy. Assuming that the girl chooses to carry the child to term, several things will change for her. She may lose friends, have to drop out of school, and be left by her boyfriend. Once the baby is born, a focus on work will become imperative. With another human to care for, she must take a job and leave the baby with someone else while she works. Because the young girl has left school, job options are severely limited. Most likely she will take a job at a restaurant or retail store, leaving her with little room for professional growth, and perhaps a job that dissatisfies her. Considering the higher rate of girls of color becoming pregnant and leaving school, it is not a stretch to say that teenage pregnancy leaves the U.S. with an insufficiently diverse corporate world and forces women of color into a cycle of unfulfilling work, from which they cannot easily leave.

In an effort to curb this high rate, schools and religious institutions have attempted to address the problem through two different methods: free contraception and abstinence-only talks. Schools that provide free contraception to their students are clearly more realistic and understanding regarding teenagers and their sexual practices. Teenagers will have sex for a plethora of reasons, but the best way to prevent pregnancy is to provide free contraception. This has been the typical practice for a while, yet it lacks true transformative power. The contraception that is offered at no cost tends to be male condoms. This means that a young girl must secure the contraception that her boyfriend must choose to wear. Should her boyfriend refuse a condom, she is left without protection. Contraception should include girls as well, whether that be through female condoms or birth control pills. By putting the power back into the girl’s hands, a shift will come in the teenage pregnancy rate.

The other standard method of failing sex education is abstinence-only talks, typically held at or by religious institutions. This method undoubtedly fails because of the unrealistic approach to sexuality and the scare tactics used. Abstinence-only denies teenagers’ sexual urges, which are high at this age, and it leaves them with questions. If birth control exists, why be abstinent? Abstinence-only talks also tend to focus on scaring the teenagers out of the bedroom by regaling them with graphic stories of lives ruined by pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. These diseases can also be avoided by using birth control. Teenagers may be children, but they are highly perceptive and can see past the front that adults present with these types of talks. Those who run these talks refuse to accept that teenagers will have sex regardless and proper education and preparation is vital if they are to avoid pregnancy and disease.

A new approach to sex education must be implemented in every public school in America. It should also be available in religious institutions as well. When teenagers arrive for a sex education class, the instructors should switch the narrative from “take a condom” or “don’t do it” and instead engage the teens in an honest and realistic conversation about sex, while also providing various free birth control products. Women should lead these talks for the girls and be specially trained to discern any domestic issues a girl might have that could lead her to unprotected sex and pregnancy. If an issue is identified, or even suspected, the girl should be offered free counseling or therapy to begin a pathway to healing. These sessions will be safe spaces for the girl to discuss anything that bothers her, including her sexuality. If a girl does not have a domestic problem, and even if she does, then one-on-one mentoring is what she needs.

Through this mentorship program, these young women will be exposed to influential and powerful women in their neighborhood and around the country. When an older woman takes a girl under her wing, change ensues. These girls need to see that better jobs than restaurant or retail exist for them, if they focus on school. Many of these girls have most likely never met a woman of color with a high-ranking career. Expose them to these women, let them glean wisdom from them, and their perspective on life will change. When one is raised in poverty, their outlook on life tends to be bleak and their concept of the world is small. If a girl’s horizon is widened and she sees what she could be in this one life that she has, perhaps she will make a different decision. Should she continue to engage in sex, she will hopefully be stricter about contraception. If she decides to abstain from sex completely, she will understand the reasoning behind her decision and stick with it, rather than fumbling and falling back into unprotected sex after being pressured to be abstinent. Regardless, it is a girl’s choice. But, every girl should have a comprehensive understanding of what each choice actually means for her life and for the life of those who come after her.

 

Blessings,

Gabrielle G.