June 22, 2008
Boston Herald Margery Eagan Column: Plenty Lost, Little Gained With Out-of-Wedlock Motherhood
By Margery Eagan, Boston Herald
Jun. 22--Mothers Against Drunk Driving has managed to completely reverse a nation's attitude about drinking and driving, which used to be a joke, something to brag about, even cool. Today? We think it's horrible, shameful, cruel, a selfish who-gives-a-damn.What we need around here is a MADD-style reversal in attitude about unwed mothers and the who-gives-a-damn boys/men who bear zero responsibility for the life they made. Here are some possibilities: Mothers Against Deadbeat Dads. Or Mothers Against Doomed Deliveries. Or Mothers Against Delusional Daughters dreaming of a baby who will love them unconditionally -- but they've got the unconditional backwards: It's the mother who's supposed to love unconditionally. Babies unconditionally need.
I mention this today because Gloucester just made international headlines about a supposed high school "pact" by teenage girls to get pregnant and give birth and raise their babies together -- no fathers need apply. We're still looking for evidence of an actual pact in the picturesque but struggling fishing village to our north. We already know that an admired teen celebrity getting pregnant (TV star and unwed 17-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears gave birth Thursday) -- and a movie like mega-hit "Juno" that soft-peddles its tragedy -- influences teenagers. Gloucester's Christine Callahan, 18, unwed, and mother of a 3-year-old, said exactly that to NBC's "Today.""The people, especially me, I look up to celebrities. It shows a lot of people that (teen pregnancy's) OK."
We also know that the number of pregnant Gloucester high schoolers has skyrocketed in this season of "Juno,""Knocked Up,""Waitress" and "Bella," all movies depicting unplanned pregnancy as key to turning your life around. Meanwhile, unwed mothers Bridget Moynahan and Spice Girl Melanie Brown won 2007's "Best Gutsy New Moms" award (why?) from Glamour magazine, a bible to teenage girls.
Maybe these Gloucester girls want to be like Melanie or Jamie, though few can afford babysitters, never mind full-time nannies. In any case, several were reportedly happy, not crushed, about baby mama-hood.
A reality check: Teenage girls wanting to get pregnant is nothing particularly new. About 80 percent wind up pregnant by mistake and about 20 percent get pregnant intentionally, says obstetrician Hope Ricciotti of Harvard Medical School, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Dimock Community Health Center. Of those who give birth, less than 1 percent do what Juno did and opt for adoption.
So obviously what's changed since, well, 1980, when MADD began its crusade against driving while drunk, are cultural attitudes about single motherhood. With the best of intentions, the women's movement destigmatized it. We went too far.
A guidance counselor from Fall River remembered yesterday what used to happen to unwed teenage mothers. They had to get married. Then there were two families -- hers and his -- to help. Then, even if the marriage failed, the father, through the courts, would have to pay child support.
Now? This guidance counselor has seen pregnant girls as young as 13. She's seen fathers who've conceived with three or four or even more different girls, yet support none of the children. Incredibly, some of these girls sought out such men because they're status symbols in the neighborhood.
"Growing Up Fast" details the fates of babies born to poor teens in Pittsfield. Author Joanna Lipper told heart-wrenching tales of violence, abuse, homelessness, even hunger. One 16-year-old who planned her pregnancy told Lipper she thought motherhood "would bring my popularity up . . . people would be like, 'Hey . . . that's cool.' "
But to the baby, it's never cool. It's cruel.
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