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An Unexpected Pregnancy, A Change of Plans

For more than a decade, Central Falls has had the highest teen pregnancy rate in Rhode Island. The rate has declined significantly in recent years, but one thing hasn’t changed: Teens who have babies are far less likely to graduate from high school or earn a college degree.

Sonia was 18 and a senior at Central Falls High School when she learned she was pregnant. (We’re not using last names in this story to protect the family’s privacy.) Sonia recalls the pediatrician at her high school’s health clinic asking her: What do you want to do?

“When she asked me that I didn’t even think about it,’’ she said. “I said I want to keep my child.”

Sonia said an abortion was out of the question. Not for religious reasons; she just wanted to keep the baby. “I didn’t even ask his father or anything. I was like, I’m keeping my child and that’s it.”

Fourteen-month-old Prince babbled in Sonia’s lap as she told the story. She’d been on birth control pills, but said she’d briefly stopped taking them because she thought they were making her gain weight. Even so, she said, the pregnancy came as a shock.

“After that, I cried in the car,’’ she recalled. “I was very emotional. I was like: I thought this wasn’t going to happen to me. “

Like a lot of teens who decide to keep their babies, Sonia is the daughter of a teen mom. And growing up poor in the Cape Verde Islands, Sonia spent a lot of time taking care of her younger sister. Sonia said she was often the only one who could get her baby sister to fall asleep.

“My parents were calling me they were like Sonia, come make her sleep and bring her back to us,’’ she said. "And I was like, ‘I have school tomorrow!’ And they were like, ‘but she won’t stop.’ And so I did.”

Sonia has dark, almond eyes and cappuccino colored skin. As she talked, she picked up the sippy cup full of milk which Prince had dropped on the couch, which was draped with a protective cover. They’re living at Prince’s grandparents’ house in Woonsocket, until they can save up enough money to get their own place.

Prince’s dad, Julio, is looking for work. He’s 26. He’s been staying home with Prince while he’s between jobs. “I’m not in a crazy rush,’’ he said. “I’m in a situation where I kind of want to be at home a little bit before I get back into the workforce. “

Julio taught himself computer programming, and landed an IT job. He said he liked the job and it paid well -- $32-an-hour. But then the company got sold and he was laid off.

Sonia works full-time, as a cashier at a nearby Walmart. It’s not the job she’d hoped for when she graduated from Central Falls High School. 

“I wanted to be an actress,’’ she said. “But I had no Plan B. I was like, this is what I’m going for.’’ 

And she had reason to hope after meeting the actress, Viola Davis, who also went to Central Falls High School. Sonia got a scholarship to study acting at Rhode Island College. And she planned to take out loans to pay her college tuition.

“I already had my dorm already,’’ she said. “I had everything all set.”

But then she got pregnant, and turned her attention toward being a mom.

She said she still daydreams about being an actress. “I actually do this thing in my head which keeps me occupied,’’ she said. “I have a bunch of stories that I’m always the main character, you known, and it’s entertaining to me. It keeps me busy; keeps my mind off things, you know.”

For now, Sonia’s goals are more practical.

“I think in a few years I want a better job,’’ she said. “ Just have a place of my own, a comfortable place for my kid…I just want to give him a comfortable life.”

Sonia and Julio worry about not having enough money. Julio dropped out of the New England Art Institute, but he still owes about $15,000 in student loans. And he wants to go back to college and earn a degree.

“I wouldn’t want my kid to kind of ever feel like they’re the reason why I couldn’t achieve the goals that I had planned out for myself,’’ he said.

For Sonia, it’s hard to imagine going back to school right now. But Sonia said she’s grateful to have help from Prince’s dad and their families.

“I just got lucky to have a family that supported me, lucky to have his family that supported me and my family,’’ she said. “So I’m just very grateful altogether. And I think that if it was the other way around it would be very hard and frustrating for me right now.”

Sonia and Julio know the odds of being able to make it on their own right now aren’t in their favor. But they’re determined not to become a teen-parent statistic. And Sonia is already saving money for their son, Prince, so he can go to college someday. 

Prince, 14 months, was born to a teen mom
Prince, 14 months, was born to a teen mom