'Handbags don't puke'

- January 29, 2008

Michelle Hampson, Shannon Pope and Danika Vandersteen respond to the question posed on the cover of Maclean's: Suddenly teen pregnancy is cool? (Nick Pearce Photo)

So, are babies the new, must-have handbag?

Morgan Abenhaim wrinkles her nose as she considers the question. It’s mid-afternoon, and she’s just rolled out of bed and hopped over from Howe Hall to join three friends for a discussion about teen pregnancy.

“Babies are not handbags,” she says crossly. “Handbags don’t puke.”

She’s offended, indignant and she's just getting started:  “The whole thing seems so ridiculous to me. I just can’t imagine giving up so much...

“When you get pregnant, you’re going to be thinking, ‘How do I tell the father?’ Followed by: ‘My parents are going to kill me.’ And next, ‘Holy crap. I’m going to get sooo fat.’ I think we’d all rather avoid all that by every means possible.”

As Ms. Abenhaim talks, her friends are laughing. But they all agree. They’re not ready for pregnancy and having babies quite yet.

“It’s weird. There’s a bunch of coincidences happening all at once. So someone makes it seem like it’s a bigger deal than it is,” muses Danika Vandersteen. The 18-year-old NSCAD University student considers the hot-pink cover of Maclean’s which shows Ellen Page posing as a pregnant teenager in the movie Juno.

The magazine story inside notes pregnancy is a “pop-culture staple,” with movies like Juno, Knocked Up and Waitress, storylines on Grey’s Anatomy, Gossip Girl and Degrassi: The Next Generation, and celebrity moms including Nicole Richie and Jessica Alba. Britney Spear’s 16-year-old sister, Jamie Lynn Spears is pregnant and planning on keeping the baby.

“Yeah, I don’t think we’re going to get pregnant because Jamie Lynn Spears gets pregnant,” adds Shannon Pope, a second-year English major at Dalhousie. “Give us more credit than that.”

She adds that it’s a different time from when teenage sexuality was whispered about and discouraged. There are supports for teenage moms, including parenting classes and the day-care centre at her Toronto high school. But there’s also a lot of information available about contraception, “before it gets to that stage,” she says. She adds her mother impressed on her to talk to her and get the information she needed before she became sexually active.

“She practically begged me, ‘Don’t be afraid to talk to me. I want you to be safe,’” recounts Ms. Pope, 21. “When it comes to boys, I definitely trust her to have my best interests at heart.”

She’s the only one of the four friends who hasn’t seen Juno; the three who did don’t anticipate the movie will lead to a surge in teenage pregnancy rates. In the movie, Juno calls herself “the cautionary whale.”

“I think you can relate to her,” says Michelle Hampson, 18, an aspiring journalist. “The script was funny.”

“She was really spunky. I liked her,” adds Ms. Abenhaim.

“I think what struck me was her parents’ reaction,” says Ms. Vandersteen. “Her parents were all about doing what was right for Juno. They were shocked, yeah, but they made her know that they stood by her and supported her and still loved her.”


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