THE PLANK JUNE 24, 2008
So I've been reading about this situation in Gloucester, Mass., where 17 high school girls may or may not have made a secret "pregnancy pact" to get themselves knocked up and raise their babies together. (There's no doubt about the knocked up part; the pact part looks sketchier.)
Whether or not a formal agreement was made, the sense is that many of these girls wanted to get pregnant as a way to increase their "status" in this depressed fishing town. You know, the usual sad misconceptions about teen motherhood: makes you more of an adult, provides an opportunity for unconditional love, blah, blah, blah.
Freaked out school officials are considering drastic steps for next year, such as providing birth control services. But it seems to me the school could also benefit from some hard-core, excruciatingly straight talk in health classes. No, not all that mumbo jumbo about how becoming a teen mom dramatically limits one's opportunities. (Let's face it, kids who get knocked up on purpose typically do so because they don't see their futures as particularly bright.) And forget all that blather about how much work babies are and how expensive they are and how severely they leave little time for a social life. For young girls looking for someone to love and/or a sense of maturity, all that is just fuel for the fire.
Instead, let's talk turkey about the havoc pregnancy wreaks on the body. Forget upset tummies and weird cravings. That makes the whole process sound quaint. Instead, dig into the grittier details (preferably with colorful photo illustrations and videos) of any number of common side effects including acne, hemmorhoids, non-stop gas, joint pain, leg cramps, bleeding gums, bloody noses, massive bloating, yeast infections, sinus infections, inhuman constipation, and a combo of funky smells, discharges, and swelling delightfully dubbed "cheeseburger crotch." Better still, long after delivery--and long after that dreaded pregnancy weight has been shed--many moms are left with such enduring mementos as incontinence, breasts that have no intention of returning to their pre-pregnancy state, and stretch marks that never, ever fade.
Obviously, not every pregnant mum experiences all of these horrors. And, biologically speaking, it's easier to bounce back from such physical trauma at age 16 than at age 26 or 36. Still, I don't see any harm in giving teen girls the most brutal dose of reality possible when it comes to the joys of motherhood. They may not care that having a baby now could ruin their (already vanishingly slim) chances of becoming a brain surgeon. But one or two might turn up their noses at the thought of pregnancy leaving them with saggy boobs, hemmorhoids, a stomach that resembles a map of West Africa, and a disturbing tendency to piss their pants every time they sneeze. Forever.
Maybe not. But it's worth a shot.