Last summer, as you may have heard, a group of pregnant but otherwise unremarkable high school girls in a tiny Massachusetts fishing village became temporary repositories for our collective ire on teen sexuality, taking over for Ellen Page and Jamie Lynn Spears before ceding ground once again to girls more accustomed to the public eye — like, say, the daughter of a vice-presidential candidate.
If you’ve every wondered what it’s like to be young, vulnerable and an international political symbol of teenage depravity, check out this article in Boston magazine, in which reporter Rachel Baker takes a look at Gloucester’s “season of infamy” through the eyes of 17-year-old Kaila Simpson and her best friend, Alivia.
In an amusing twist, both girls first heard of the so-called pregnancy pact from reporters camped out at their local McDonald’s – a pact that “they, being girls of Gloucester High, found totally bizarre.” Shortly thereafter, Kaila, pushing a baby stroller, made her network debut. When asked what parents could do about the pregnancy “epidemic,” Kaila, “clutching a cigarette,” replied: “Get into their kids’ lives. Half the parents here have no clue what’s going on with their kids.”
But here’s the funny part: Kaila is not, in point of fact, a teen mother. (The kid in the stroller was her niece, Kaycie.) As Baker puts it:
Her real role in the whole drama was as her pregnant friends’ spokeswoman. She had always been the popular girl within her crowd, the kind of kid who sets the nightly social agenda and orchestrates the matchmaking between her friends and the older boys. Why shouldn’t she also be a quasi-agent when the press came calling? Her friends had enough to deal with. This was how she could help. Plus, the way she saw it, she could share the limelight without actually being saddled with a kid of her own. “I know how they are and how they think and everything,” Kaila says. “I basically say what they’re feeling about things because I know them so well.”
In the summer of ’08, “Spokeswoman for Pregnant Teenagers” appeared to be quite the lucrative career move. When reporters from the National Enquirer parachute into town, literally lugging a “backpack full of cash,” Kaila takes $200 to hook them up with her pregnant best friend, Alivia (who is “thrilled” that her friend “hooked her up with the kind of opportunity [she] never could have brokered for herself” — though she ends up with her picture plastered beneath the headline: “WE WANTED TO BE LIKE JAMIE LYNN”). She fields offers from NBC to fly her to New York (along with “as many pregnant and teenage-mom friends as she could help them find”) but holds out for a dream offer from her heroine, Tyra Banks, only to have her hopes dashed when Alivia’s aunt backstabs her by offering her own exclusive to Dr. Drew (“Kaila couldn’t help but feel resentful — she had been there for her friend in a way that she felt Alivia’s aunt never had.”)
With her cigarettes and her “real-looking faux Chanel bag,” Kaila brings to mind the stereotype of the cigar-chomping producer, and I suppose you have to admire the kind of entrepreneurial moxie it takes to stage-manage your friends’ private lives for fun and profit. But while I suspect Kaila may have a better sense of how her friends “feel” than, say, the high school principal, who, in my opinion, sold them out to save his ass politically, I’m still a little bothered by the way she holds herself up as role model — “I’m 17, and no babies!” — while simultaneously dishing up the most personal details of her friends’ lives to an audience who manifestly does not have their best interests at heart.
When this story first broke, I questioned whether the idea of a pregnancy pact was really such a terrible idea. Not the kind in which girls make a pact to get pregnant, mind you, but rather the kind in which girls already pregnant band together with their friends to help each other out. One of the least astonishing — and saddest — revelations in this piece comes when Alivia, now back at Gloucester High (Kaila dropped out after her first semester of sophomore year), admits she “doesn’t want to be associated with other teen moms” lest they be seen as “some kind of clique.” She does, however, depend on her best friend to help her raise her son, Xavier. “The girls joke that Kaila is Xavier’s father,” writes Baker, and, less than six months after the original story broke, it seems that most of the girls are already getting more support from their girlfriends than the fathers of their children:
On her wall at home, Kaila has put up photos of Xavier alongside pictures of her niece, Kaycie. Sometimes Kaila and Kaycie meet up at McDonald’s or Burnham’s Field with Alivia and Xavier, as well as Meaghan and her baby boy, Jayden. Then they stroll the Boulevard together, the way they always talked about.