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Adult women old enough to have teenagers don't get it. But their teenage daughters do. Teen pregnancy has evolved from a shameful situation to a symbol of status in many high schools in the US, and moms of teenage daughters have seen this happen in their lifetimes.
The June 2008 allegation that a teenage pregnancy pact may have existed at Gloucester High School in Massachusetts - resulting in 17 pregnancies in a school of 1200 students - rocked a town that counts among its residents a large Catholic population. The previous year, the school had only 4 student pregnancies in comparison.
Of the girls who were pregnant at the time, none were older than 16.
TIME magazine, which broke the story on their website on June 18, 2008, reported:
School officials started looking into the matter as early as October after an unusual number of girls began filing into the school clinic to find out if they were pregnant. By May, several students had returned multiple times to get pregnancy tests, and on hearing the results, "some girls seemed more upset when they weren't pregnant than when they were," Sullivan says. All it took was a few simple questions before nearly half the expecting students, none older than 16, confessed to making a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together. Then the story got worse. "We found out one of the fathers is a 24-year-old homeless guy," the principal says, shaking his head.
Teenage pregnancy is only part of the issue. Another more complicated aspect touches on legal and criminal issues - statutory rape and Romeo and Juliet laws (consensual sex between older and younger teens.) Engaging in sex with anyone under the age of 16 is a crime in Massachusetts. And as a June 2008 Reuters story revealed, a handful of the fathers are adults:
… Local officials said at least some of the men involved in the pregnancies were in their mid-20s, including one man who appeared to be homeless. Others were boys in the school.
Carolyn Kirk, mayor of the port city 30 miles northeast of Boston, said authorities are looking at whether to pursue statutory rape charges. "We're at the very early stages of wrestling with the complexities of this problem," she said.
"But we also have to think about the boys. Some of these boys could have their lives changed. They could be in serious, serious trouble even if it was consensual because of their age -- not from what the city could do but from what the girls' families could do," she told Reuters.
And the teen pregnancies at Gloucester High School raise yet another hot-button topic - the idea of schools providing contraception. The Reuters article indicated that during the course of the school year, Gloucester High administered 150 pregnancy tests to students but, in a phone interview with Greg Verga, chairman of the Gloucester School Committee, discovered that the administration resisted efforts to prevent pregnancy:
The school forbids the distribution of condoms and other contraception without parental consent -- a rule that prompted the school's doctor and nurse to resign in protest in May.
"But even if we had contraceptives, that pact shows that if they wanted to get pregnant, they will get pregnant. Whether we distribute contraceptives is irrelevant," said Verga .
As parents agonized over what had happened in their town to their teenage daughters and were puzzled by a large number of pregnant girls, others understood why what was once a shunned condition now seems glamorous.
Part of it may have to do with teen pregnancy films such as, which some have said glosses over the very real problems teenage moms face in favor of a hip Hollywood version of life as a 'baby mama.' And part of it is rooted in the socialization of young girls and teens. Books, films and music bombard teens with the message that being loved are what really matters. For teens unsure about themselves and their relationships, the desire for some form of unconditional love leads many to think motherhood will satisfy that longing.
As the TIME article observed:
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."
- Kingsbury, Kathleen. "Pregnancy Boom at Gloucester High."TIME.com, 18 June 2008.
- Szep, Jason. "Teen 'pregnancy pact' shocks Massachusetts city." Reuters.com, 19 June 2008.