Remember the story in the media about the “pregnancy pact” of the girls in Gloucester, Mass.? Well their story is told in a new documentary, The Gloucester-18. I had the pleasure of talking with its producer, Kristen Grieco Elworthy. Here is Part I of my interview with her:
Give readers a brief summary of the story.
In the summer of 2008, news broke nationwide that 18 high school girls from the fishing village of Gloucester, Mass. had made a pact to become pregnant. The story was never much more specific, and it origins were humble; I know because I was a local reporter in Gloucester and worked on the story. But when TIME picked up on the story after the resignation of Dr. Brian Orr and Nurse Practitioner Kim Daly of the school’s in-school health clinic, it became a national sensation.
The in-school clinic was a general health clinic (administered meds, diagnosed the flu, etc.) that also did pregnancy tests, and Kim counseled some of the girls on birth control. She was a really trusted source for them. When she noticed a spike in pregnancy tests–she had done nearly 200 tests halfway through the year—and that these girls were coming in repeatedly for tests, she and Dr. Orr went to the hospital that oversaw the clinic to get permission to prescribe them birth control.
They believed that if she could have immediate access to the girls and prescribe birth control instead of them having to go to their doctor (likely with a parent in tow), she might prevent some pregnancies. However, Orr and Daly got into a prolonged battle with the overseeing clinic, and when they felt that they could no longer do the best thing as medical professionals, they resigned. Their story was the lightning rod for the national coverage.
There was a spike in pregnancies at the school. The school principal, for reasons to this day known only to him, used the words “clique” and “pact” to describe the pregnancies. However, no one talked to the girls themselves, so we really did not know if the crux of the story–that the pregnancies were intentional–was actually true or not.
Why did you decide to make the story into a film?
When the story broke nationally, the rumor mill spun completely out of control. As journalists, the film’s Director John Williams and I saw how these girls’ stories had been told by rumors and assumptions from often irresponsible reporters. We and associate producer Joe Provenzano knew something was not right.
We are the only people who spoke directly with the majority of these girls, and got real insight into their minds and motivations. Whether you agree with the girls or not, we felt that they should have a chance to be heard, and that people would be interested in their stories.
Is the “pact” rumor true?
I won’t tell you here but it is answered in the film. But I will tell you that the actual story told from the girls themselves, is far more interesting than what was portrayed in the media or by Lifetime in a fictional film.
Why did those who got pregnant want to get pregnant as a teen?
We heard one recurring theme: many of the girls came from unstable backgrounds and were looking to create their own family as means of stability and/or love. We also heard from girls who had dated men a bit older (e.g., one girl was 16 and the guy 21) who told us that the “older” guys were “mature” and ready for families. (Side note: the guys in these cases did NOT stick around.) In some cases, there was an element of seeking or wanting attention.
What was my own observation, as a woman about 10 years older than these girls who personally put college/career above having kids?
Kristen will tell you in Part II ~ and talk more on their motivations, what happened to these girls, and what the film tells us about teen pregnancy today…
What have your read or heard about this story?