Serena Freewomyn

Teenage Girls Make Pregnancy Pact

Filed By Serena Freewomyn | June 22, 2008 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living
Tags: abstinence only education, pregnancy pact, sex education

When I heard this story yesterday morning, I just couldn't believe my ears. A group of teenage girls in Gloucester, Mass. has formed a new kind of club. And this time it's not like the Mean Girls. It's a pregnancy club. USA Today reports:

Time quotes Joseph Sullivan, the principal at Gloucester High School, and Christopher Farmer, the superintendent of schools, in a story that says "nearly half the [17] expecting students, none older than 16, confessed to making a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together."

The Gloucester Times has reported in the past that a doctor who worked with the students "said he was surprised by the number of girls at the health center who had been disappointed when pregnancy tests conducted at the clinic came back negative."

This story disturbs me on so many levels that it's hard to know where to begin.

First off, I think the Gloucester Times article rightly points out that this is a signal that abstinence only sex education isn't working.

School and city officials have been discussing strategies for reducing teen pregnancy since Gloucester High School reported pregnancies among students this year spiked to around four times the annual average.

Although the question of whether the high school health clinic should provide contraceptives has driven debate, officials working to formulate a comprehensive policy on the subject are considering whether changes to school health education should be part of the solution.

The high school health clinic provides pregnancy tests and some counseling. Girls that become pregnant, or express a need for more substantial reproductive services than the clinic offers, are usually referred to outside providers.

Health Quarters in Beverly is the nearest provider of confidential, low-income reproductive health services to Gloucester and one of the organizations that has lost out on state health education funding.

Lianne Cook, the executive director of Health Quarters, said yesterday that in 2002, her organization had eight full-time staff members providing sex education and outreach to the 45 cities and towns the organization serves and was active in Gloucester schools. But after the state budget decreases, Health Quarters had to scale back to only one full-time educator, Cook said.

Federal funding is only for abstinence-only sex education. And while it's clear that the girls in this story have obviously been educated about where babies come from, I wonder if any of them have been told about the long term consequences of this pact. For starters, most people don't get knocked up the first time they have sex (if they're lucky). Obviously these girls weren't using protection because the intent was to get pregnant. So how many STD's have these girls potentially be exposed to? And did their school provide free STD testing along with the pregnancy test? Because syphillis, HIV, and a lot of other STD's can have really harmful effects on a baby, not to mention the pregnant mother. Has anyone told these girls about that?

Here's the second thing about this story that makes me sad: I've noticed a big increase in media coverage surrounding celebrities having babies. In my opinion, it's all a big reinforcement that womyn are only on this planet to reproduce. And there's also been a slate of movies lately about single women having babies: Juno, Baby Mama, and Knocked Up are just a few. Young girls are bombarded with images of beautiful women having babies without much struggle (Juno was the exception), and it looks like pregnancy is all a part of the fabulous life. No one tells them about the hemmoroids, the bloating, or all of the other un-sexy parts of being pregnant. Do these girls really know what they're in for?

One teen mother from Gloucester hit the nail on the head when she was interviewed by Time:

Amanda Ireland, who graduated from Gloucester High on June 8, thinks she knows why these girls wanted to get pregnant. Ireland, 18, gave birth her freshman year and says some of her now pregnant schoolmates regularly approached her in the hall, remarking how lucky she was to have a baby. "They're so excited to finally have someone to love them unconditionally," Ireland says. "I try to explain it's hard to feel loved when an infant is screaming to be fed at 3 a.m."

The Time article goes onto say that the school is at fault for making teen mothers feel welcome at the school by providing on-site day care so that the students can finish high school. Really? That's the issue? Making sure that the girls stay in school?

I remember making pacts with my friends back in the day. Hell, I've got pacts that I still keep, like hating Naz because he dissed Jay-Z. But it never would have entered my mind to make a pact with my friends to have a baby. The thought of raising a child right now, when I'm in my late twenties, is frightening enough. I'm doing good to take care of myself and my cat. And I have a college education. How is a high school student supposed to be equipped, both emotionally and financially, to take care of another child?

Waymon already ranted about abstinence only on Friday. I think this is just one more sign that we are failing our youth and something else needs to happen. Fast.

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Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 22, 2008 11:55 AM

Serena, there was a time when a pregnant high school student had to leave school and good luck about coming back.

I have to ask, because my vision is failing,(no it isn't) was the word "parents" or "parenting" used in your commentary? I could not find it and that leads me to believe a piece of the puzzle is missing.

"School and city officials have been discussing...", but where are the parents? Are they as unfit as these girls are to raise children? I know poverty close up Serena, I lived in a Chicago neighborhood that had a lot of teen pregnancy and it was not until it spread to a number of White girls that it got any attention.

It would seem to me that what these girls seek as "unconditional love" from an infant is really a reflection of resentment to any parental control that has been attempted upon them.

I am outraged by this problem as much as you are, but instead of a new government program (that could take years) an organizer needs to appear to galvanize parents into successful ways of communication with their children. The government is not responsible for raising children for it's citizens. Ghetto kids need something to believe in, something that inspires discipline and self identity. An expectation that while today might be crappy tomorrow can be much better. Proper use of contraceptives is part of that puzzle, but not all of it. We need parents!

Thank you for your posting.

I heard about that Time article blaming the school for not forcing pregnant girls to drop out of school, and now I read it.

This is going to be used against schools that want to help teen mothers finish their education, as if it's a common occurrence or the logical result of programs that help them stay in school.

I'm don't know the pactmakers and I don't have any idea why they'd do something like this, but I think that a lot of people are going to assume that they do to advance whatever agenda they have. Teen pregnancy rates are up all over the US, that's something to be addressing. But a strange incident at one high school that hasn't happened anywhere else? That really shouldn't affect policy anywhere outside this school district.

John R. Selig | June 22, 2008 1:26 PM

As I am between corporate marketing positions I have been doing a number of things to occupy my time besides job searching. I produce a podcast focusing on the LGBT community called "John Selig Outspoken." One of the other things that I have been doing since January of this year has been substitute teaching in inner city public schools here in Dallas Texas.

The experience I have garnered being in the schools has been one of the most eye-opening experiences in my life. I am trying to get an article published on what I have seen. Our education system is in crisis. The graduation rate for high schools in the public school districts in the 50 largest American cities is just 50%! There are many problems contributing the the problems in our schools including George W. Bush's fiasco "No child Left Behind." Of course, everybody is quick to blame teachers and school administrators for everything.

After four months of being a substitute teacher the biggest problem that I have discovered is lack of parental involvement in their kids' education (in fact lack of parental involvement in their kids' lives in total). I have seen plenty of girls in the Dallas high school nearest to where I live. The story about the group of girls in Massachusetts deciding to get pregnant garnered news because it was a whole group of girls getting pregnant in concert but there are plenty of girls in schools all over the country getting pregnant.

It is easy to put the blame on the schools the blame really belongs on the parents and society as a whole. Far too many parents of kids today just aren't involved in their kids lives. They don't take the time to raise them. So many of the teenagers that I have taught in the high school said to me that they were unable to speak with their parents and that there parents had no idea of who they were. This is so sad. Certainly, intergenerational communication has always been a challenge. It certainly was between my generation, the baby boomers and our parents. Still, the current generation of parents are spending far too little time with their kids. So they blame the schools for everything their kids do wrong. They need to spend more time talking with their kids, far more time parenting their kids which includes discipline along with quality family time.

Society is at fault because it continues to push abstinence alone in sex education. Earth to Society! Teenagers will have sex whether or not religious fundamentalists and the rest of society are willing to admit it. Safer sex and birth control need to be taught along with where babies come from, venereal disease and the other topics covered. Girls are pressured by their boyfriends to have sex without using condoms because it "feels better" for the boyfriends. The girls are worried that if they don't comply with their boyfriends' wishes they will lose their boyfriend. So there are tons of girls having unsafe sex, getting pregnant, having abortions that could have been avoided and contracting STDs.

Teenage pregnancy is so sad and most of it is avoidable but the so is the many other failures in our schools. The worst problems seem to be in the inner city schools but the suburban schools have plenty of their problems as well. Only 70% of high school students in the United States graduate from high school. Sad... very sad.

It is time for this country to wake up to the many social problems facing us that our country has ignored for far too long. I suppose it is much easier fighting an evil war in Iraq and focusing on those gays wanting special rights in California to get married leading to the moral decay of our country (which is falling apart)

I managed a video store for many years, and I had a regular clientele - I watched my customers grow old, and their kids mature. One thing I noticed, and was told by a couple of my still-teen employees that appalled me, was that having a baby was, in the 1990s, considered a status symbol, a prize to be won. Needless to say, by the time they worked for me, they'd had the hard lessons and learned that a baby is no status symbol: it is a human life, a full time job, a mouth to feed and house and clothe, and a massive responsibility for a third of a person's life. Several had lost their kids because they were unable to hold up their responsibilities, and I had to maintain strict rules against employees babysitting on the job (having their kids at work), or I'd have had kids running all over my store. None would say they'd regretted having their child, but nearly all would never have done it twice.

That's the fight that needs to be fought: how do you prove to kids that they're better off waiting for sex, and that, if they make that adult decision to engage in sex, they should use protection/birth control? Forced abstinence programs have obviously worked sooooo well. When someone gets the answer, I'm all ears.

Serena, Your point about media coverage of celebrity pregnancies reminded me of an interesting book called _The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women_. There is a chapter called "Attack of the Celebrity Moms". The book is from 2004 so it doesn't address the current media coverage of pregnancy and motherhood but you might find it an interesting read.

this is so hard on so many levels. Gloucester High school is in a very impoverish, traditional fishing town.

Anyone see the movie "The Perfect Storm?"

That is (and was filmed in) Gloucester.

Is it just about socio-economic realities? Is it about parents not participating? Is it just a single group of girls who are being influenced by ridiculous media images of pregnant Jamie Spears?

or is it a complicated combination of all- and more- of the above?

as a parent? I hear a cry for help. there is a whole community affected by this. because those girls hit the big time of recognition.

what about their peers?

Whether this is an "isolated" incident or not, it speaks volumes about young females in this country.

Girls in every school may not be joining pregnancy pacts, but they may be trying to get pregnant for the very same reasons as these girls, and numerous times in the past young mothers have said they wanted a baby so someone can love them.

I've also noticed the increase of media coverage on pregnant celebrities. A female can't simply exist today without the implications that she's sporting a baby bump every few months! It's all disgusting.

tobyhannabill | June 23, 2008 2:30 AM

It's time we started educating the parents of these and other children on how to raise their kids. We keep talking about schools informing kids about sex.

Thanks for all the comments, ya'll. I am totally in agreement that parents need to be more involved in their kids' lives.