Should we go to the mall -- or get pregnant?

A group of Massachusetts teen girls make a pregnancy pact.

Published June 20, 2008 1:45PM (EDT)

As of May, 17 girls at Gloucester High School in Gloucester, Mass., were expectant mothers, and the school clinic had administered 150 pregnancy tests over the course of the school year. When principal Joseph Sullivan finally said "What the hell?" he got a shocking answer: Nearly half of the pregnant teens admitted to being part of a "pregnancy pact" -- the girls had agreed to conceive around the same time and planned to raise their babies together.

Time magazine's article on the babies-having-babies boom in Gloucester wonders, "What next?" The largely Catholic community isn't too keen on handing out birth control at the high school, as local medical professionals have strongly encouraged, but personally, I'm still stuck on "What the hell?" I wouldn't have deliberately gotten pregnant at 16 for a million dollars, a new convertible and River Phoenix's phone number, even if my girlfriends did ask me to pinky swear. But then, I was growing up with a future that I assumed would involve college, a thrilling career and a string of passionate affairs with brilliant men. (One out of three ain't bad.) The Gloucester girls, on the other hand, are growing up in an economically depressed fishing town with no obvious ticket out or reason to stay.

Amanda Ireland, an 18-year-old who became a mother her freshman year at GHS, says of classmates who are happy to find themselves pregnant, "They're so excited to finally have someone to love them unconditionally … I try to explain it's hard to feel loved when an infant is screaming to be fed at 3 a.m." I've often seen that wish for unconditional love echoed on daytime talk shows with themes like, "I'm 13 and I'm totally going to get pregnant, so nyah, nyah!" Babies offer the promise of meaning, focus and love in lives that are desperately short on all three -- who can't relate to that, even if they're old enough to know how unreliable and fraught that promise is? I even think there's something kind of sweet, if woefully naive, about the girls wanting to walk this road together, raise their kids as play cousins and help one another out. So this doesn't strike me as a case of teenage girls being plain foolish so much as teenage girls putting their sincere hopes and dreams in a dangerous place -- because where else would they go? As another Gloucester High student says, "No one's offered them a better option." And meanwhile, the mayor's not even willing to offer them birth control.

By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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