THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Yvonne Abraham

No picnic for teen mothers

By Yvonne Abraham
Globe Columnist / February 28, 2010

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If only there had been a Gloucester pregnancy pact. Everything would be so much simpler.

The national hoopla surrounding the supposed plan by 18 Gloucester High students to get pregnant at the same time would have been justified, not a made-for-TV distraction. And the girls might have been “just dopey kids,’’ as a disgusted Bill O’Reilly so compassionately proclaimed on Fox at the time. We would have been right to just tsk-tsk and dismiss it all as a bizarre local aberration.

But the storyline of summer 2008 wasn’t real. There was no pregnancy pact. Depending on the girl, the reality was worse, or sometimes better, than that - and infinitely more complicated.

“It was all about that p-word,’’ said Kyla Brown, one of the young women who got pregnant that year. “It ruined the summer, the stress of it. That media thing will never happen again, but girls are still going to keep getting pregnant.’’ Brown, now 18, appears in a film called “The Gloucester 18.’’ Not to be confused with the recent, lame Lifetime docudrama based on the story, this documentary catches up with some of the girls two years after the hysteria. The film, being shown at the Kendall Square Cinema this Thursday, should be mandatory viewing for every teen in the country.

In it, we learn what happened to some of the girls after the cameras went away.

Six of them had abortions. One girl was placed in foster care with the baby son she delivered three months early, and who battles severe health problems. One sweet, shy girl lost her 1-month-old son to sudden infant death syndrome.

Several of the girls have embraced motherhood.

“I realize, some of the things I used to do, how stupid it was and how pointless,’’ Brown said when I talked to her last week. “Now my life has so much more meaning. No, I didn’t plan this, but you know what? I love it.’’

Life isn’t exactly a picnic. Brown is lucky enough to live with two helpful parents, but she has to work at a supermarket to support her 17-month-old son, and is finishing school at night. She’s cut off from many of her old friends.

“It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be,’’ she said.

Brown, like everybody else in the film, finds the notion of a pact laughable.

She and the others got pregnant for the same reasons girls get pregnant in cities and towns all over the state, some of them with teen pregnancy rates that make Gloucester’s spike of two years ago look minuscule.

They got pregnant because they were careless; because they felt like they couldn’t be good at anything else besides being mothers; because they needed the stability and love they thought a baby would bring.

Brown falls into the it’ll-never-happen-to-me category. Others were more deliberate. In one of the film’s gut-wrenching scenes, it becomes clear that one girl, Hallie, wanted to start a family to care for after being present when her best friend’s parents died in a murder-suicide. Alivia, who had been in foster care for years, said she was excited to learn she was pregnant “because I would have somebody close to me.’’

In Gloucester, like everywhere else, lowering the teen pregnancy rate means hard, uncomfortable work: making contraception more accessible, and delaying sex more attractive; making teenagers feel less alone, and that they have options beyond early motherhood.

The problem is a lot messier, and more intractable, than a crazy plan hatched by a bunch of bubbleheaded girls and blared across the talk shows.

But that’s not very sexy, is it?

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Abraham@globe.com.