Remember the story in the media about the "pregnancy pact" of the girls in Gloucester, Mass.? Well their story is told in a new documentary, The Gloucester 18. I had the pleasure of talking with its producer, Kristen Grieco Elworthy.
Give readers a brief summary of the story.
In the summer of 2008, news broke nationwide that 18 high school girls from the fishing village of Gloucester, Mass. had made a pact to become pregnant. The story was never much more specific, and it origins were humble; I know because I was a local reporter in Gloucester and worked on the story. But when TIME picked up on the story after the resignation of Dr. Brian Orr and Nurse Practitioner Kim Daly of the school’s in-school health clinic, it became a national sensation.
The in-school clinic was a general health clinic (administered meds, diagnosed the flu, etc.) that also did pregnancy tests, and Kim counseled some of the girls on birth control. She was a really trusted source for them. When she noticed a spike in pregnancy tests -- she had done nearly 200 tests halfway through the year -- and that these girls were coming in repeatedly for tests, she and Dr. Orr went to the hospital that oversaw the clinic to get permission to prescribe them birth control.
They believed that if she could have immediate access to the girls and prescribe birth control instead of them having to go to their doctor (likely with a parent in tow), she might prevent some pregnancies. However, Orr and Daly got into a prolonged battle with the overseeing clinic, and when they felt that they could no longer do the best thing as medical professionals, they resigned. Their story was the lightning rod for the national coverage.
There was a spike in pregnancies at the school. The school principal, for reasons to this day known only to him, used the words "clique" and "pact" to describe the pregnancies. However, no one talked to the girls themselves, so we really did not know if the crux of the story -- that the pregnancies were intentional -- was actually true or not.
Why did you decide to make the story into a film?
When the story broke nationally, the rumor mill spun completely out of control. As journalists, the film's Director John Williams and I saw how these girls' stories had been told by rumors and assumptions from often irresponsible reporters. We and associate producer Joe Provenzano knew something was not right.
We are the only people who spoke directly with the majority of these girls, and got real insight into their minds and motivations. Whether you agree with the girls or not, we felt that they should have a chance to be heard, and that people would be interested in their stories.
Is the “pact” rumor true?
I won’t tell you here but it is answered in the film. But I will tell you that the actual story told from the girls themselves, is far more interesting than what was portrayed in the media or by Lifetime in a fictional film.
Why did those who got pregnant want to get pregnant as a teen?
We heard one recurring theme: many of the girls came from unstable backgrounds and were looking to create their own family as means of stability and/or love. We also heard from girls who had dated men a bit older (e.g., one girl was 16 and the guy 21) who told us that the "older" guys were "mature" and ready for families. (Side note: the guys in these cases did NOT stick around.) In some cases, there was an element of seeking or wanting attention.
What was my own observation, as a woman about 10 years older than these girls who personally put college/career above having kids? I saw some level of girls who did not have an identity or maybe did not feel that they were "good" at anything, and motherhood was an answer for them. As women, we are told that we all have the capability to be a good mother. Imagine the draw of that if you are feeling that you have no other purpose in life. This type of theory is supported by research. I should add that no statement I'm making describes all the girls, but I personally felt that some fell into this category.
Those who became mothers, what are their lives like now?
This question brings up a good point. Not all 18 girls did end up having their children. The exact numbers are still a bit sketchy and we're not sure of why some babies were not delivered due to medical privacy laws.
The girls who did have their children have very varied lives. Some still live with their parents. Others live with boyfriends (either the fathers of their children or new men). Some are alone. They all struggle day to day with being parents at such a young age, most have not pursued higher education and they work retail, etc. to make ends meet.
For the most part, these girls live for their kids. They seem to truly be trying to do the right thing -- but it's easy to see that they have it far rougher than someone in a more traditional situation, or someone who at least had the chance to finish their education and start earning some sort of income before being thrust into parenthood.
The occurrence of second and even third children among these girls is FAR higher than the national average of 25%. We are taping some updates now and may recut the film to include why this might be the case. We also want to update to show what has happened to these girls once the cameras went away. By revisiting them, we give them another chance to complete their stories, which I think are really important to understanding the psyche of teen mothers.
What does the film tell us about teen pregnancy today?
Every girl in our film told a different story, but there are some universal truths that we saw about teen pregnancy. First, it's so important to give girls self-confidence and a vision for the future. They can be moms, and great ones at that, but that should not be looked at as the "default" necessarily. Give them the confidence to pursue education and a career, because all of us should have the ability to support ourselves -- and our children.
Having open, honest conversations about teen pregnancy is so important. Twenty percent of all teen pregnancies ARE intentional -- that number is huge! And with 750,000 girls getting pregnant in the U.S. each year, that percentage is particularly significant. But teen pregnancy affects more than just the mom. The child is the biggest collateral; kids of teen parents just don't do as well in school, aren't as healthy, are more likely to face teen pregnancy, poverty, and even incarceration, studies show.
And for the rest of us? The effects of teen pregnancy cost billions of dollars of taxpayer money a year. It's a problem that we should all be interested in facing and fixing.
Childfree author of Families of Two
blogging at La Vie Childfree http://lauracarroll.com
More from parenting