STOCKTON -- Rita González started using drugs at age 12. By the time she was nearly 16, she was hanging around with gang members, and had been expelled from high school.
But she turned her life around just one month after her 16th birthday, when she learned she was pregnant.
"Once I got pregnant, it saved me from going down a different road," said Rita, now 18 years old.
"Since the moment I found out I was pregnant, I stopped. It saved me."
After the news of her pregnancy, Rita continued making positive changes in her life. Three months into her pregnancy, Rita broke up with her boyfriend.
"He was the same lifestyle as me, and I don't want that for my child," she said. He has been incarcerated since one month before the birth of Aliana Bautista, who turns two this month.
Six months into her pregnancy, Rita enrolled in an alternative high school. The school provided her with individual attention, transportation, and daycare for her Aliana, once she turned one month old.
Today, Rita -- who has been sober for 2½ years -- is a proud high school graduate.
She recently earned a Morgan Scholarship from Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, which will help her pay the tuition at San Joaquín Delta College. After earning her associate's degree, she plans to transfer to University of the Pacific, where she will major in sociology, and minor in criminal justice.
She knows the birth of her daughter has helped her reach these milestones and pursue her future goals. Still, she said, other teenagers should try to delay their pregnancies.
"I would not suggest getting pregnant," Rita said. "My baby -- she is my angel, she's the one who saved me -- but it has been a struggle raising her, especially on my own."
Rita is currently a member of the group Girls in Transition, through the City of Stockton's Operation Peacekeeper, and shares her personal story of overcoming drugs, gangs, and sexual abuse. She hopes to do similar work as a career.
In the future, Rita wants to work with the Victim Witness Program, which provides witnesses or victims of crimes with services while they are involved with the criminal justice system. Ultimately, she said, she plans to work as a social worker in a women's federal prison.
She is living proof of the advice she gives to other young women.
"Anything you have been though, you can overcome it," Rita said. "You don't have to look at yourself as a victim -- you can become a survivor of anything, whether it is teen pregnancy, or gangs, or drugs."
Rita hopes Aliana does not go through any of that, though.
"I see her being a singer or a dancer," she said. "Right now, every time she hears a song, she will dance to it, and she will sing along. Even if it is just little words, she think she knows the whole song -- it's the cutest thing."
"When she gets older, I want to get her into dance classes. That is what I want for her -- I see her like a girly girl."