Second thoughts on a tough decision

Published 7:59 pm Thursday, August 27, 2009

When I first heard the story pitched on Tuesday, my eyes lit up with the recognition of a potentially nice front-page feature. Two sisters were back at home after having delivered their babies just hours apart. It sounded like the kind of coincidence that makes for a great feature.

My hopes were dashed, however, when reporter Lauren Wicks told me the rest of the story, as she had learned it from a “press release” that had been delivered to the newsroom by the proud grandmother: The new mothers are only 16 and 18. I suddenly had lost my enthusiasm for the article.

On the one hand, the things that made the story interesting were still true — two sisters who had been pregnant together both became mothers and aunts in the same day at the same hospital. On the other hand, both are high-school students.

By running such a story, we risked glorifying what was, frankly and at best, a terrible mistake on the girls’ parts. Let me be clear: But for the grace of God, many of us easily could have found ourselves in similar situations when we were 18 — or even 16. Teenage sexuality and pregnancy are clearly not problems that are new to the 21st-century. What’s new, perhaps, is the cavalier attitude that accompanies too many of those pregnancies.

I think it would be hard for most adults to read the story that ran in yesterday’s paper about these particular young mothers without being shocked and a little bit put off by their attitude. These girls surely are not in line for any motherhood awards. Their seeming indifference toward anything other than the publicity they were getting as a result of the story was objectionable, and they were so clearly unprepared for the responsibilities of motherhood that one cannot help but feel pity for the two babies delivered into the situation.

Our readers agreed, responding to Thursday’s front-page story by calling and writing to say that they were angry with the young mothers, but perhaps even angrier at the Suffolk News-Herald for writing the story and playing it so prominently. By doing so, they said, we played into stereotypes, and we celebrated some extremely poor life choices and attitudes.

As I said, it was a tough decision, and it was one with which I was never comfortable. In fact, it troubles me still, as I consider that our critics’ arguments have some merit. Maybe I’d choose differently given a second chance at the story.

One thing’s clear, though. By publishing this controversial bit of journalism, we’ve helped jumpstart an important community discussion. Teenage pregnancy is a serious problem in Suffolk, and it’s time that parents and taxpayers stopped thinking of it as someone else’s bother. Teen pregnancy affects the youngsters whose potential is limited by the fact that they now have children to raise, it affects the children who grow up with immature parents, and it affects the taxpayers who so often must pay to take care of the families involved.

It can’t hurt that Suffolk citizens were talking about the issue yesterday. I hope they’ll continue that discussion — and start working toward some solutions — today.