When I learned, 28 years ago this month, that I was expecting our first child the reaction throughout our family was a resounding, high-fiving, back-slapping “YES!,” in anticipation of the first grandchild, niece-nephew on either side. At the time, I was a 30-year-old married woman working in my family business with a stable, income-producing spouse.
    It was still hard. 
    Having and raising that child and the two others who followed him remains the great challenge of my life. I suspect most parents would say the same.                                                                                                                                          That is why recent news from Gloucester, Mass., is so troubling. Who could ever have imagined a pact among adolescent girls 16 and younger to become pregnant, give birth and raise their children together. I immediately conjured images of a lovely Victorian house with a rose-covered picket fence where fresh-faced young women and their perfect, healthy and beautiful babies live happily ever after.{mosimage}
The thought of it almost takes my breath away.
    Grown-ups — that would be the people in charge at school and other folks in authority, began to take notice when more girls than usual appeared at the high school health clinic seeking repeated pregnancy tests, when, as we used to say in the olden days, “the rabbit died.” Girls one might expect to burst into tears upon hearing such news were actually delighted to find themselves in the family way, with no dads in sight. 
Since Time magazine first reported the story, there has been considerable backpedaling and general confusion. The mayor of Gloucester held a press conference to say that the high school principal might have misunderstood a few things, and the teen moms themselves are nowhere to be seen.
    Time has stood by its reporter and its story. Nonetheless, it is certainly true that a “pact” — real or imagined, forged among teenage girls in high school bathrooms, in cars or on school buses, during slumber parties or wherever is quite a bit more slippery than the public signing of a NATO treaty by various heads of state.
    The former has lots of wiggle room, shades of gray, and deniability, while the latter does not.
 Gloucester is a hard scrabble American town, one which has fallen upon hard times with the demise of the New England fishing industry, just as many North Carolina communities continue to reel from the loss of manufacturing jobs in the textile, tobacco and furniture sectors. It is understandable that people in those communities seek refuge and relief whereever they can.
    Teenaged motherhood, though, seems a serious, significant, and lifelong overreaction. I think of how much our culture has changed on the issue of out of wedlock births since my own teenaged years. Then, I knew girls who suddenly and inexplicably went to spend a summer with a mysterious Aunt Thelma in Nebraska, a relative whom no one had ever heard of before and have not since.
    Times are different and much less judgmental today. We have baby showers for moms in middle school, and we all rightly embrace our precious babies, whatever their parental status when they arrive.
But I know, and I know you know, that having a child and being a parent is hard. I have no idea what went on with those teenaged girls in Gloucester, and, I suspect, neither do they. The fact, however, that this year’s teen pregnancy rate in that community is quadruple the expected number says that something is afoot. Other than the dads who do not seem to be publicly stepping up, what is it?
    {mosimage}Social scientists tell us that cause and effect are notoriously difficult, if not impossible to prove. I cannot help but suspect, however, that in addition to the economic distress of Gloucester, our popular culture, including the likes of Angelina Jolie and Jamie Lynn Spears, play a role. It glamorizes high fashion pocketbooks, empire waistlines and stiletto heels and, in the same breath, describes “baby bumps” as if they were just another modern fashion accessory.
    Everyone wants one.
    A designer bag, a fabulous dress, a pair of killer shoes, though, can wind up in a pile at the back of the closet. The baby, subsequent to the bump, is forever. Untold millions of women throughout time have borne and raised children alone, mostly inadvertently. It appears, though, that at least some of the young mothers in Gloucester set out to have babies on their own, pact or no pact, which tells me that there is a real gap between the romance of motherhood and its reality.
    Very early motherhood can turn out well for all parties, but I do not know anyone who would not say it is almost always more difficult than for a mother who is more emotionally, educationally, and financially prepared and who has a contributing partner.
     My heart is with these young mothers and their babies as they embark upon the road they have apparently chosen for themselves — and for their precious and unknowing little ones.
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