Pregnant Pause

The situation at Massachusetts’s Gloucester High School – 18 young girls pregnant, with some allegedly having made a pact to achieve that status together – gives one pause.

As a parent, it’s heartbreaking whether they are your children or not.

As a PR professional working for the school- it’s likely ulcer-inducing. (Yesterday morning on CNN a commentator actually used the words that make a practitioner’s heart sink to their knees: “a PR nightmare.”)

Trying to Manage the Crisis

No doubt it’s been a hideous challenge for the mayor, Carolyn Kirk. At her first press conference as mayor yesterday- a genuine trial by fire – she tried to dispel rumours of the pact by dismissing Principal Joseph Sullivan’s previous comment to Time magazine that “They made a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together.”

Refuting the story, Mayor Kirk was quoted in The New York Times as stating that Sullivan was “foggy in his memory of how he heard this information….When pressed, his memory failed.”

And Sullivan is apparently not returning media calls at the moment. The Boston Globe noted that he “could not be reached for comment. An administrative assistant in the Principal’s office took a message but said that Sullivan already had a stack of unreturned messages from reporters – and Oprah’s people- piled on his desk.”

As crisis management strategies go, it is not a particularly bad one. Except that it seems as if very few in the media or the public are buying into this version of events as of yet.

Did They Manage to Manage the Crisis?

The Boston Herald noted that high school students, who know the girls in question, “were equally skeptical of the mayor’s denial, with several naming those involved and telling the Herald the alleged pact was common knowledge around school.”

Of course, there really is no way to know what actually happened without talking to these girls- which is unlikely at this point. Now they are being protected. Now it’s a little late.

The Blame Game

What’s really interesting is how many folks are pointing fingers at the media and PR- it’s because of Juno! It’s because of Jaime Lyn Spears’s pregnancy!

Well…not exactly. Admittedly it is possible that the positive spin the star’s “people” put on her unexpected pregnancy and the charming nature of the low-key comedy made some girls more curious about the experience. But you can’t really say it’s all Diablo Cody‘s fault, can you?

Will Anyone Ever Really Know What Happened?

Again, without these girls telling their stories in their own voices, it is really hard to know where the truth lies. But if the allegations of a pregnancy pact is true, isn’t it possible that they wanted to build their own sense of connection and community – and went about it in the wrong way? Isn’t it possible that they felt lost in terms of what they wanted to do with their lives so they chose to take on the role of “mother”- without knowing what it really meant or entailed?

There seems to be a kernel of truth in that, particularly when you zero in on a portion of a statement in Time by Amanda Ireland, ar recent graduate of the school who herself became a mother her freshman year.

`They’re so excited to finally have someone to love them unconditionally,’ Ireland says.”

Is that what caused this surge in teen pregnancy? And was there actually a pact as alleged?

Ultimately, whether it was misguided peer pressure, misinterpretation of media or just a desperate expression of a desire to be loved probably doesn’t matter. What matters now is what is going to happen to these girls and their children.

And how the school will manage this crisis both in terms of its reputation and its students’s futures?


12 comments so far

  1. Ironic on

    Couple things:


    Enjoy. She’s a friend of mine, and very learned.

    2. The problem here is that the mayor of Gloucester (Carolyn Kirk) should not be the one talking. Why is the town talking about this? What could she do about this?

    Look, this may be the town’s second…Perfect Storm (couldn’t help it), but the girls and their parents should be dealing with this, not the national media.

    Look, working with teenagers, I’ve learned a thing or too….
    A. Teenagers are stupid. They may be intelligent, but they make alot of bad choices, and it carries on, in some cases, into their adult years (we call these people adultlescents…too many of them around…right SEXY?)

    B. Some people WANT to have kids young. Their reasoning may not be what WE agree with, but who are we to deem what is correct? I have a master’s degree…does that mean I know better than a guy or gal with a B.A.?

    C. This is a non story made into a story because there is nothing else to really talk about. Plain and simple.

    3. If you’re going to talk about Diablo Cody, you better use the Pussy Ranch. Go ahead and use Google.

    Of course I may not exist, so what do I know?

  2. thatsroger on

    I’ve been reading criticisms of Juno since it came out. On the one hand, it’s just a movie people shouldn’t take it too seriously, but the other hand I kinda agree with the critics. The movie makes it seem as if having a kid when you’re a teen is not that bad, plus in the end you fall in love with the father and live happily ever after.

    You pose good questions, will we ever know what happened? I do hope they speak up and share their story as I’m sure it must be fascinating. Personally, I wave my blame pointing finger at the abstinence-only sex education they probably received.

  3. abbymartin on


    Thanks again for the shout out. And the link. Good reading.

    The town feels it has to do something because it doesn’t want to be known as “underage motherville.” Since this story blew up, they have journalists from as far away as Brazil and Australia on this for goodness sakes. They had to do some form of crisis management.

    Adultlescents? Wasn’t familiar with that term before. I know a few of those….I might even be one of them alas.

    I am not going to debate you (at least not here) about when to have kids. But I do think that you need to be a bit more than a child yourself. They barely know who they are going to grow up to be yet. How can they make a decision like this?

    But I could be wrong.

    Silly boy- of course you exist – I’ve got nearly three decades-worth of proof. šŸ˜‰ Plus there is a link to your blog – go click it and see. You blog therefore you are.


  4. abbymartin on

    Hi Sarah

    Thanks for the comment – and your take on the Juno situation. Fair point!

    As for the girls- I do not know if there is a sex education program at the school- I’ll have to look into that because now you have me curious about that. But I have a hunch you’re right.

    But what is really interesting is that the school has also been accused in some quarters of making things too easy for students with babies- there is in-school daycare for example. Is it possible that measures they took to help a few kids stay in school may have turned into an excuse for other kids to have kids of their own? If so, that’s sad.

  5. Ironic on

    One more thing, Grasshopper.
    Congrats on having a famous birthday. Many now think that Odysseus returned and slaughtered a bunch of guys on your b-day in 1178 B.C. Get to tell that to my classes now.

  6. abbymartin on

    Sigh. First it’s the day before tax day and now this.

    Who’s this “many” you speak of? Are they sure? By which calendar? (I know, I am grasping at straws.)

  7. Brett on

    Another great post!

    It’s funny as being a former teacher who has seen this kind of situation first-hand the hypocrisy of the never ceases to amaze me.

    On one hand if a child becomes pregnant and they decide to terminate the pregnancy they are openly ridiculed (by teachers, students, parents, the community and the media.)

    On the other if they keep the child or put it up for adoption they are openly ridiculed and condemned (by teachers, students, parents, the community and the media).

    It’s hard to think that an act of social responsibility (such as having school day-care) can be seen as a contributing factor. These girls became pregnant for a reason. Though I can’t say what it is I don’t believe it’s as simple as free day-care.

    Perhaps instead of everyone talking the community should be listening to these girls. Who knows there might be something to be learned.



  8. abbymartin on


    That’s very kind. Thank you- and thank you for another smart, thoughtful comment- what you had to say about the Gloucester situation was quite astute.

    And yes- some people have indeed questioned whether it is the easy access to daycare. It’s been pointed to and questioned in a few articles. Interesting.

    I would love to know these girls’s stories but I do not think their parents or the community will allow that at this point in time.

    BTW- love the new e-mail addy- it’s an inside Twitter reference, no? When did that come into play?


  9. Ironic on

    because I know you like this stuff. Nerd.

  10. abbymartin on


    Yes, yes I am. I am quite the nerd indeed.

    Thank you for the link to Whedon’s web project. I am tremendously excited to see it. That was a nice surprise.


  11. Old Lady on

    One aspect that hasn’t been mentioned is that if the locale of the story had been Harlem, there wouldn’t have been a story. Are white teenage pregnancies really different? And if so, why and what does that say about American society?

  12. abbymartin on

    Old Lady:

    Another voice joins in- welcome to the blog and thank you for taking the time to comment.

    I hadn’t thought about the racial angle in respect to the story- and I must ask- do we know that all the girls in question are white? Or are you making assumptions?

    If they are, what it says about American society…isn’t very pretty.

    Thank you for making an excellent – if depressing – point.


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