The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Babies Having Babies

(Update: Per Kip’s comment below, there are numerous news stories circulating about, which say that the pregnancy pact may be a hoax. That’s what I get for writing a post at night, scheduling to post the next day, and not checking Google Reader in the morning. But I think the rest of what I said below, re: sex-ed, is still pretty valid.)

Maybe it’s because Dylan is six months old, and I’m still sleep deprived. Maybe it’ because I’ve one of my “assignments” this past week was to pick up a copy of The No-Cry Sleep Solution, which I will spend some time reading each night, between the time Dylan goes to bed and the first time Dylan wakes up. (I’m the night-owl in the family, so I am generally still awake for the first wake-up, between 11:30 p.m. and 1:00 a.m.).

But this story makes me want to scream.

Gloucester school officials have discovered at least part of the reason that their high school pregnancy rate has more than quadrupled over the past year, according to a Time magazine story that hits newsstands today.

“Nearly half the expecting students, none older than 16, confessed to making a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together,” the magazine’s story said, after reporters talked with Joseph Sullivan, Gloucester High School principal.

Seventeen girls at the 1,200-student Gloucester High have gotten pregnant over the school year, more than four times the average number. The spike has shocked and baffled education and health officials there and reignited a fierce debate about contraception in schools. But many told the Globe last month that the most alarming facts were that a significant portion of the expecting girls were 16 and younger and that some seemed to be intentional.

What’s more maddening is that they were warned.

Christen Callahan is 18 and wouldn’t give up her 3-year-old daughter for anything. But, warned the teen mom from Gloucester, Mass. — where a virtual epidemic of high school pregnancies has been tied to a pact reported in TIME magazine — having a baby at such a young age comes at an enormous price.

“You lose everything,” Callahan told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Friday in New York. “You lose your friends. You lose being able to go out. I know a lot of people that like to go out every night. You can’t really do it. You lose — you lose everything.”

Callahan was on TODAY to talk about the epidemic of teen pregnancy at Gloucester High School in her hometown. As TIME reported this week, 17 girls at the high school have become pregnant this year, with half of them sophomores who had entered into a pregnancy pact. All but one of the seven or eight girls who set out to become pregnant are 15 years old; the other is 16. Most got pregnant by their boyfriends, but one father is reportedly a 24-year-old homeless man.

…Callahan went back to school after she had her baby, and she and her boyfriend — the baby’s father — are planning to get married. She said that some of the girls in the pregnancy pact asked her what it’s like to have a baby.

“As a parent, I’d give them the pros and cons about being a mother, about being a parent, about how I never got my childhood,” Callahan said, adding that the girls were not deterred. “They’d say stuff like, ‘My parents I think will be fine with it. I think they’ll help me.’ ”

I hardly know where to begin.

A 24-year-old homeless man?

If I were the parent of one of these girls, or one of the boys who share responsibility for these pregnancies, I’m not sure what I’d do. On the one hand, I’d be after somebody for statutory rape charges. If it was my son, I know for sure that I would not let him walk away from responsibility for a life he helped bring into the world.

But at this point, when there’s a baby on the way, what do you do? It’s too late for prevention. Any lessons that needed to be taught are moot by this point. So, what do you do as a parent? I think assuming complete responsibility for the baby is probably not the most effective thing to do, but at the same time you want your kids to complete their educations. I think, somehow, you have to strike a balance between helping them (and, obviously, making sure that the baby — who didn’t ask to come into the that situation — is alright) and insisting that they take responsibility. That means taking care of the child, along with school and/or working, and buying diapers, formula, etc.

I was talking with a colleague earlier, and we both lit upon the same idea; that schools should offer some kind of life skills course. It if were up to me, I’d have thse kids — boys and girls — spend some time helping actually take care of a child, a toddler maybe. Closely supervised, of course.

Or I’d have them shadow a parent caring for a young child, for a good long while. Six weeks, maybe. Enough to get it through to them that the responsibility is real and un-ending. I remember when my sister had her first two children, 13 years ago, I watched her with them for a long time, and then said to her, “You’re never not a mom, are you?” And she looked at me and just said, “Nope.”

And she was right. No matter how tired you are, or even how sick you are. (Remind me to tell you about the weekend are months ago that the hubby and I both came down with food poisoning.)

It’s fun and, yes, it’s rewarding. But it’s also work; in a way that you probably can’t comprehend at 15 or 16 if someone merely tells you. I’m beginning to think sex-ed is only part of the solution. I think some real-life “parenting-ed” might be a good idea.

It occurred to me once while we were grocery shopping. We use the “divide and conquer” method; one of us takes Parker, one of us takes Dylan, and we meet up at the cash registers. I had Dylan with me this particular time. He was having one of his particularly difficult days with teething. So nothing made him happy. He was generally cranky and tired, and let me know it most of the time we were in the grocery store.

I eventually came to the “health and beauty” section of the grocery store. I picked up a few items and turned down the next aisle. It happened to be the “family planning aisle,” and up ahead of me I saw a group of teenage boys. As I got closer I realized they were standing around the condom display, laughing and joking about the different brands and style, etc. As Dylan’s complaints reached a crescendo, I sensed a “teachable moment.” So, I slowed down as I approached the boys, and stopped next to them just as Dylan’s pacifier fell out of his mouth again. I lingered a moment, where I would usually have popped the pacifier back in and kept moving. Instead I made a show of perusing the condom display, choosing from the available brands, while Dylan fussed.

The joking eventually stopped as they boys heard Dylan and glanced over to see where the noise was coming from. They saw Dylan, and the saw me looking at the condoms. At least one of them grabbed a box, started looking at it like he might buy them, and held them by his side. The rest of the guys were quiet. My work done, I popped Dylan’s pacifier back into his mouth, grabbed a box for myself — Magnum XL — tossed them into the cart, and finished my shopping.

If more teenagers spend more time with real babies, seeing what it’s really like to care for them, that might be a good place to start.

2 Comments

  1. I don’t have a link readily available, but a story crossed my aggregator this morning stating that the “pregnancy pact” was a hoax.

  2. I loved that you saw the opportunity for a teachable moment there. Kudos!

    I do remember reading somewhere that most of these girls didn’t have very good family lives. I agree that having teens spend more time with babies could be useful, but vulnerable teens also need for society to instill them with a sense of pride in their own talents and strengths. I think they need to feel valued – like there’s something else they can do other than having a kid at a time when they are most likely ill-prepared for it.

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