TOPPENISH -- 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 6 1/2 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, an assignment required for graduation.
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."
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 3-by-5 cards, quotes people actually said about her during her experiment.
Her best friend, Saida Cortes, a 17-year-old senior 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. Then Gaby dropped her bomb: "I'm fighting against those stereotypes and rumors because the reality is I'm not pregnant."
She had been nervous about how the crowd might react. After all, she had been lying to them since October.
Gaby's mother wasn't sure what to make of the idea at first, either.
"I thought she was crazy," said 52-year-old Juana Rodriguez, adding it was difficult to lie to family members but she felt she needed to support her daughter.
Gaby began wearing her homemade, basketball-sized prosthetic belly to school after spring break. Before that, she wore baggy sweaters and sweatshirts to conceal her faux pregnancy.
Gaby -- who has a grade-point average of 3.8 and serves as president of her school's MEChA Club , or Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan -- came up with the idea during her sophomore year Advanced Placement biology class with Shawn Myers. She is in his anatomy class this year.
He said he wondered: "How are we going to take all of the potential that's in this girl and make sure it manifests itself and not let this define who she is and let it be a roadblock to what she wants to accomplish?"
It's a question Hispanic teens are more likely to face than white teens, Gaby found in her research. Black and Hispanic teens continue to have higher pregnancy rates than white teens.
And most teens at Toppenish High School -- about 85 percent -- are Hispanic.
On Wednesday, Gaby apologized to teachers and students for misleading them.
When she took off her baby belly, there were a few nervous giggles, and a loud, "Whaaaaat?!" from the audience. Then, there was applause.
Gaby's now ready to rejoin her senior class. She didn't want to be pregnant for prom.
After she gets her diploma she plans to attend Columbia Basin College in Pasco to study social work or sociology. And, she said, "I'm not planning to have a child until after I graduate."