'Pregnancy pact' grabs international attention for small Massachusetts town

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A supposed "pregnancy pact" at Gloucester High School in Gloucester, Massachusetts has drawn international attention to the small Massachusetts fishing city which is considered to be one of the oldest settlements (1623) in the American continent.

The story, which was broken by TIME magazine and the Boston Globe, involved the fact that 17 girls, all sixteen years old or younger, got themselves pregnant as part of a "pregnancy pact", so that the teenage mothers could raise their babies together.

According the magazine article, school officials at the 1,162 student school became concerned starting as far back as October when a uncommonly large amount of girls began to enter the school's health clinic to see if they were pregnant.

As of earlier this May, seven girls returned more than once seeking pregnancy tests and upon hearing results, "Some girls seemed more upset when they weren't pregnant than when they were," according to James Sullivan, the principal of the school. Some smiled, others cried, and one declared, "Sweet!", according to the Globe upon hearing their results.

Local officials, including the mayor, are uncertain whether there really was a "pact", however. Mayor Carolyn Kirk called it a "blip" in the pregnancy rate and noted many factors playing into it, such glamorization of teen pregnancy including the announcement around the same time that Britney Spear's sister, Jamie Lynn Spears had given birth to a baby, and last year's critically acclaimed movie, Juno, a comedy about a 16-year-old girl who gets pregnant and other movies, such as Knocked Up.

There is some concern over what might be statutory rape, as it has been reported that most of the men who are the fathers are older, including one report that one of the fathers is a 24-year-old homeless man. In Massachusetts, the age of consent is 16, therefore it is illegal for anyone to have sexual intercourse with anyone under 16.

Other teen mothers however have criticized the new mothers. Two such girls are Alivia Fidler and Meaghan Orlando, childhood friends and sophomore students at the high school, the girls were 16 years old when they became pregnant unexpectedly.

Orlando noted, "If I could go back in time I would want to wait and have the same baby later. You can't do stuff that normal teens do," who is now 17 and has a 3-month-old son named Jayden, "They don't know what they’re getting themselves into."

Meaghan's friend, Alivia, also now 17, said the pact idea is "ridiculous." Noting, "They're not going to be friends very long. You have to take care of your baby. It's frustrating. I don't have a lot of support." Fidler is no longer with the father of the baby, 5 month-old Xavier Fidler-Aguiar and recently lost her job at McDonalds.

One other teen mother, Amanda Ireland, who recently graduated from the school, also gave a warning to the mothers, "Don't try to get pregnant. People say they know what it's like because they have younger siblings, but they really have no idea."

Ireland also noted, "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."

46 year-old Gloucester resident Lori Mitchell, whose daughter dropped out of high school at 16 to raise a child said there are worse things than being a teenage mother, "They could be junkies or prostitutes. You try to protect them as much as you can, but it's up to them to do the right thing."

Greg Verga, the chairman of the Gloucester School Committee called the pact, "disturbing", as he himself was once a teen father.

"They are going to have a rude awakening. It was no picnic. People don’t realize there’s 3 a.m. feedings ... it’s a lifestyle change. It’s not a possession you can play with and stick on the shelf. That's why I fear for these girls."