A pregnancy boom at a Massachusetts high school

Surprisingly, it’s not due to the horribly misguided abstinence education nonsense. In fact, I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around this one.

As summer vacation begins, 17 girls at Gloucester High School are expecting babies–more than four times the number of pregnancies the 1,200-student school had last year. Some adults dismissed the statistic as a blip. Others blamed hit movies like Juno and Knocked Up for glamorizing young unwed mothers. But principal Joseph Sullivan knows at least part of the reason there’s been such a spike in teen pregnancies in this Massachusetts fishing town. 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.

Really? Assuming this isn’t some bizarre error of mis-reporting, this is clearly not a failure of contraception, but what I can only assume is a failure of our culture. Here’s why:

But 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.”

Gloucester’s elected school committee plans to vote later this summer on whether to provide contraceptives. But that won’t do much to solve the issue of teens wanting to get pregnant. Says rising junior Kacia Lowe, who is a classmate of the pactmakers’: “No one’s offered them a better option.” And better options may be a tall order in a city so uncertain of its future.

I have to admit I’m bewildered. What has gone so terribly wrong in this town that young girls think the only thing of value they can do is reproduce? Or that having a baby is the only way they can be loved? Maybe it’s just my prejudice that teen pregnancy represents a catastrophic mistake on the part of all involved, but to me this is a frightening sign of cultural regression.

Recently my friend at feminist underground wrote about how far we’ve come from Jane Austen’s time. Discussing the role of marriage in her life she quoted from Pride in Prejudice:

Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and must be their pleasantest preservative from want,

I wouldn’t think it would be possible for things to degrade in this country to a point lower than what Austen describes in this passage – that women could only survive and succeed by attaching themselves to a man. But for some reason, in Gloucester, it seems that they have, when young women feel the only way they can have hope for the future is through having a baby, to the point of seeking out the homeless for sex. I feel like something has gone terribly wrong.

It seems to me the school is failing, not to provide contraception or reproductive education for these women, but to give them an education period. I am ignorant as to how exactly they’ve managed to create this culture but to me it sounds like a terrible throwback. Except rather than marriage being the only way to make it in the world, they’ve gotten the idea their only option is motherhood.

So, what the hell is going on in Gloucester? From the wiki it doesn’t sound as though they’re racked with poverty, or a particularly ailing town. What reason is there for this attitude?