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  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.