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Teen parents balance hope, reality

Shane Macomber/Vail Daily"She is my best friend and takes care of me just as much as I take care of her" Perla Gurrola says about her daughter, Elizabeth. The Edwards park is one of their favorite places to go.
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EDWARDS ” Perla Gurrola wasn’t scared.

She wasn’t afraid to tell her boyfriend. Even though the two of them had only dated for three months, she knew Jorge would be happy to learn he was going to become a dad.

She wasn’t worried about money, either. Perla was going to move in with Jorge, into the apartment he rented above Avon’s City Market, and he was going to support her.



Perla wasn’t scared about having her baby, even though she was pregnant at 14 and still in high school.

When Perla remembers what was going through her head when she found out she was pregnant, she turns her round, brown eyes toward the ceiling and pauses for a bit. She rests her chin on the top of the black ringlets that cover her nearly 2-year-old daughter’s head and makes a small smile “a smirk, really ” when it occurs to her that she was afraid of only one thing back then: telling her mom.



Back then, Perla had big ideas about starting a family. She and Jorge would be together, and she would have all the time to take care of her daughter, Elizabeth.

It didn’t work out that way, she said.

She’s living with her mom these days, for one. Perla’s moved in and out of Jorge’s place now three times. The reasons have always been the same. Jorge drinks too much. He’s never home. And they fight. They started fighting as soon as Perla moved in with him while she was still pregnant.



Perla works now, too. She helps her mom clean office buildings, beginning at 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. Then a few nights a week, she works at Fiesta’s in Edwards. She leaves Ellie ” that’s what they call her daughter ” with her sister while she’s at work.

And Perla worries now. Even with that smile on her face, Perla said she sometimes thinks she leaves her daughter, Elizabeth, with other people too much while she’s at her job. She worries about money, too.

And while Perla is still officially in school, she’s convinced that she’s failing. Even though someone from Red Canyon High School brings her homework so she doesn’t have to go to school, Perla has fallen behind. It’s hard to make time for homework between her job and taking care of Ellie, she said.

But she still has big ideas. About graduating from school and getting a good job. About moving to Mexico with Ellie and buying a house there. About getting married.

“I still want to wear a white dress,” she said.

When Perla Gurrola got pregnant she became one of the 60 or so teen girls who become pregnant in Eagle County every year. Of those 60, about half are in the Eagle County School system. Those who are usually have met Bryn Manzella.

During the 2006-07 school year, Manzella worked with teen parents who were trying to finish high school for about 10 hours a week. It wasn’t enough time for Manzella to do everything she needs to do, she said.

Manzella left the school district at the end of the school year because her family is moving to New Mexico.

Her primary job, she said, was to help link teen moms with programs and public services that can help them, and to do what she can to keep the mother in school.

Manzella might refer a teen mom to the county’s health and human services department, which could help the girl receive low-cost health care for her and her baby. Or Manzella might work with teen moms still enrolled in high school by helping them find the child care they need to stay in school, or, such as the case for Perla, she’ll deliver the school work to the girl’s home.

Child care is the biggest reason why a teen parent drops out of school, Manzella says.

One of Manzella’s biggest concerns is that most of these teen moms can feel isolated. “They are not part of a child-bearing culture, meaning, when I have kids I have peers who also have kids who can show me the ropes,” she said.

Perla said she lost most of her old friends after she became pregnant. They made fun of her.

Once Perla transferred to Red Canyon High School, she became friends with a girl named Pamela, who also was pregnant.

“We would talk about how she was feeling. Like how I wanted watermelon. And we’d talk about how we felt at night, like how I would keep the windows open while I was sleeping because I was hot,” she said. “We connected over that.”

After Perla had Ellie, though, she lost touch with Pamela. She misses talking to her. They related to each other.

“I have a friend who hasn’t been pregnant who is like, ‘Let’s go to Wal-Mart.’ And I can’t because I have to pick up Ellie,” Perla said. “Or if I take her she’ll start crying or something. I don’t get out. I just go to work. I don’t got any friends.

“Elizabeth is my only friend because she’s the one I spend time with.”

Sometimes the teen doesn’t fully understand the responsibilities that lie in front of her, either, Manzella said.

“I think there are some moms who really understand how major this undertaking is in their life, they are very grounded in that. They understand it, the depths of it,” Manzella said. “Other moms, that doesn’t really come until they actually have a baby. One of the moms said, ‘I can’t believe I’m a mom and I’m going to be a mom the rest of my life.’ … It occurred to her while she was in labor.”

After having her son, Marisol Zapata continued to attend school at Red Canyon, and graduated this year. She leaves her son with relatives and neighbors during the day, and then takes care of him when she gets home.

Still, it’s her mom that has the knack for getting her infant son, Brandon, to sleep. And for a long time, Marisol didn’t feel comfortable giving her son a bath.

“It’s like she’s the mom and I’m more like the sister,” she said.

Jorge Sura liked Perla instantly.

It wasn’t long after they were first introduced to each other that she invited him to her sister’s birthday party. They danced at the party and started dating right after, he said.

After a few months of dating, Perla told him she was late. He bought a pregnancy test and when the test came back positive, Jorge said he remembers being happy and filled with a sense of purpose.

“I know that I had to take care of both of them, so I was worried about if I could make it with the job that I had,” he said.

When Perla was four months pregnant, she moved in with Jorge, on his birthday.

They didn’t have much furniture ” “a sofa, a TV and a couple of dishes,” he said. His family and her family began buying them things, and since he lived in an apartment owned by his employer, City Market, the rent was taken out of his paycheck. That left about $150 per paycheck to spend.

Things started looking better. Jorge was promoted into a managerial position and he started bringing home a little bit more money. He and Perla were happy to be together, but it started to get tough.

“I’m older than her and she didn’t like to do things, like going out,” Jorge said. “She only wanted to stay home, maybe because she was pregnant. They say pregnant women are grumpy.”

One day, while Jorge was at work, he got a call. It was Perla. She was starting have contractions and it was only her seventh month of pregnancy. She was heading to the hospital.

The scene at the hospital resembled something from a movie script.

“She was like, ‘This is all your fault. You did this to me,'” Jorge said. “It was funny. She’d say, ‘You need to be there’ and then the next minute she’d be like, ‘Get away from me.'”

Doctors tried to keep the labor from progressing, but Ellie was born around 6 a.m. the next day.

“I can’t explain it,” Jorge said. “You don’t know if you want to cry, or if you want to laugh. I just decided to cry.”

After a month in the hospital, it was time for Ellie and Perla to come home. At first the two new parents were consumed by taking care of their tiny infant. Ellie had to breathe off of an oxygen tank for a month after she came home.

“She would sleep right beside us,” Jorge said. “God, every two hours she was waking up.”

And then the troubles began again. Jorge spent too much time out of the house, drinking. Perla, angry, moved back in with her mom.

But Jorge said he’s changed this time. He’s got a job at the Sports Authority in Vail. And after the recent death of his mother, he wants to prove to Perla that this time will be different.

“I don’t drink at all, I don’t hang out with my friends,” he said. “I’m trying to spend more time with (Perla). I told her that I’m not going to go back together with her until she’s convinced that I’ve changed.”

But Perla said she’s doing just fine without him.

“I’m working now, I’m making money for me and my baby,” she said. “I don’t have to stay with him. I don’t have to ask him if I can go somewhere, I can just go.”

Jorge sees Ellie sometimes. But Perla limits the time he spends with his daughter; it’s punishment for him not giving Perla much financial help, she said.

“I’m trying to get back to with her,” Jorge said. “I’m still working on it. I won’t give up.”

In the meantime, Ellie is growing, running, saying new things. Like how she tried to tell her mom that she wanted candy. She pointed to a glass-door cabinet full of candy that sits in the living room and jumped up and down.

Sometimes Perla will put her cell phone behind Ellie, put it on vibrate mode and call it. When Ellie feels the vibration she tries to tell her mom that she’s getting a phone call. Ellie also like to pretend she’s talking on the phone.

Ellie knows how to say mom, dad, soup, and some other words, all in Spanish.

She has a lot of her mother’s features: the large brown eyes that turn up at the end. The long lashes.

And she has her father’s nose, Perla said.

Jorge said he’s hopeful that he and Perla will get back together.

“My dream is to give everything to her,” he said. “Whatever she needs. To be by her side for everything, and make her happy.

“As far as money is concerned, I’m going to have to find another job, work two jobs to make a future, because Perla said she would like to go to Mexico,” he said.

As for Ellie: “I want to give her the best education that she can get. I want the best for her, to be like a hero for her.”

Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 748-2936, or tmiller@vaildaily.com.

Vail, Colorado


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