Riverhead's Lilly Bennett with James Kennedy on "Unexpected."

Riverhead's Lilly Bennett with James Kennedy on "Unexpected." Credit: TLC

Many new mothers call their baby a gift from God. Lilly Bennett of Riverhead, one of the teen-mom stars of TLC’s new “Unexpected,” premiering Sunday at 10 p.m., has taken that more to heart than she had ever expected after nearly being killed, she says, soon after getting pregnant this year.

“Early in my pregnancy I got into a car accident and I thought I lost the baby,” Bennett, who turned 17 on Oct. 12, remembers. She and the baby’s father, fellow former Riverhead High student James Kennedy, were driving in a car they’d bought only two weeks earlier. “We were going to pick up my cousin, my baby’s godmother,” Bennett says, “when we had a head-on [collision] with a big truck, right in front of the meeting house in Aquebogue. The way it happened, we maybe even should have been dead. And I knew God was protecting this baby,” she believes. “Something was there. Something really saved us.”

Even if the outcome was more luck than divine intervention, the baby girl Bennett delivered on Sept. 4 “saved me,” she says. “I was truly going down a bad road before I got pregnant — hanging out with the wrong people, being pretty depressed. When I got pregnant I knew I had to turn everything around, grow up. My life is not just my life anymore — I’m living for my daughter. If I didn’t have my daughter, I would probably be doing not-great things right now.”

Bennett, who was born in East Hampton and lived there until “four or five years ago,” is one of three teens in the series — all of whose mothers themselves were teen moms. Lexus, 15, and her mother, Kelsey, 31, live in Monticello, Illinois. McKayla, 16, of Salem, Ohio, and her younger brother, Dylan, have been raised by their 60-year-old maternal grandmother, Cindy, and 58-year-old grandfather, Tim, since they were little; their father had died and their mother turned to drugs and has been largely absent.

Bennett says she has found teen motherhood no more difficult than usual, due to strong support from mom Kim Bennett, 44, who works in the office of a relative’s construction company, and stepfather-to-be Glenn Verity, 60, an auto mechanic. “I have no room to talk,” Kim Bennett says in the first episode. “I unfortunately had the same thing happen to me” — delivering son Thomas Gallanti, who uses his mother’s maiden name, at 16 and daughter Juliana Bennett at 21 before having Lilly. The children’s father, Brett Bennett, lives in Florida.

Lilly Bennett did, however, “lose a lot of friends” and was gossiped about when word got out at school that she was pregnant. “Friends’ parents told them they can’t hang out with me. What am I gonna do, give them the pregnant disease?” she asks. “I’m not drinking and partying all other teenagers are — I’m home with a baby changing diapers. I’m not a bad influence.” The stigma led her to drop out; she plans to obtain a GED.

Kennedy, also 17 and the child of a teen mom, left school to work at Target to help support Bennett and their daughter, Aaliyah Rose Kennedy. He was in the delivery room at Southampton Hospital, and Kim Bennett calls him “a really good kid” and, for his age, “quite mature.”

As seems Lilly Bennett, who notes that the first question she asked producers was: “Is this gonna be like MTV’s ‘Teen Mom’? They told me it’s gonna be a positive kind of show and not all have that terrible drama and portray me in a bad light. And for the most part that’s what happened. Of course,” she adds, wise beyond her years, “there’s some drama on the show because that’s how real life is.”

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