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The Phantom Prenancy

BARBARA THOMPSON
When Barbara Thompson went home to her own two children, nine-year-old Shawn,
and four-year-old Keshia, she often brought home lingering worries about her
students. Teri Leigh was the one who troubled her the most. Her concerns were
intensified by the new Family Life Curriculum. Barbara had warned Bob Farris, the
principal, that the new sex education program recently adopted by the state would
present some prob-lems in her class.
Remembering that she had forgotten to prepare anything for tonights dinner,
Barbara absent mindedly opened-the freezer door, only to find it empty except for a
long-forgotten package of hotdogs, Oh well, she thought, this will have to do.
Placing them in the microwave, she could hear Shawn and Keshia downstairs arguing
over which television program to watch. She decided almost subconsciously not to
intervene unless the argument escalated to physical blows. Her thoughts were on Teri
Leigh.
Barbara had known since the beginning of school about Teri Leigh. Her
confiden-tial records and her special education teacher had given Barbara a great
deal of back-ground information about her. Several years ago, Teri Leigh was moved
from her home when it was discovered that she was being sexually abused by her
mothers boyfriend. The boyfriend had gone to jail, but when he was released her
mother mar-ried him and left Teri Leigh and her two little brothers in separate foster
homes. Recently, Teri Leighs brothers were adopted, and she had cried several times
in class, telling Barbara that she was upset because her family would never be
together again. Barbaras heart went out to her, but she knew there was no real way to
console her about her loss.
Teri Leighs records indicated that she had both learning disabilities and
emotional or behavioral disorders. In fact, Teri Leigh had been diagnosed as
psychotic, and court records stated that she heard voices. Although Barbara had
never seen evidence of this, she did notice that Teri Leigh seemed to have a very
imaginative inner life. Sometimes, Barbara was unable to determine whether Teri
Leigh was telling her about an event that had really occurred or whether it was
something she had only imagined. Beyond this, Teri Leigh was a well-behaved
student; and Barbara was fond of this grown-up looking girl who sought her affection
like a child much younger than her 12 years.
While she stared absently at a can of pork and beans revolving steadily on the
elec-tric can-opener, Barbara became aware that all was quiet. Apparently, Shawn and
Keshia had come to some agreement about the television. Her mind slipped back to
Teri Leigh and the time she had spent with her earlier in the day. Barbara had felt
strongly that, given Teri Leighs background, any sex education program for her should
be handled with special care. Still, neither the administrators nor the special education

teacher, Kay Middleton, had offered her suggestions or alternatives for Teri Leigh. Its
not that she blamed them, but now her concerns were being realized.
Several weeks ago, in the family life class, Barbara had taught the basic lesson
about pregnancy and childbirth. Two days later, three girls in her class approached
Barbara on the playground and surreptitiously informed her that Teri Leigh was claiming to be pregnant. Consciously hiding her alarm, Barbara thanked the girls for telling
her and sent them off to play. Could this be possible? Teri Leigh was certainly physically mature enough, thought Barbara. Because Teri Leigh had not come to her personally, Barbara felt that she should not approach her about the issue. Instead, she
watched and waited.
She noticed that Teri Leigh had begun bringing baby clothes to school, and
there seemed to be a great deal of secretive talk among her and the other girls in the
class. Finally, one rainy day during recess, Teri Leigh confided to Barbara that she
thought she was pregnant. Barbara asked Teri Leigh what made her think so. Teri
Leigh explained matter-of-factly that she would probably be pregnant because of what
her mothers boyfriend had done. Barbara explained to her several times in the course
of this conversation that it was impossible after so much time had passed, but Teri
Leigh clung resolutely to the conviction that pregnancy was inevitable. If this had been
the end of it, Barbara would have continued to feel sorry and concerned for Teri Leigh,
but she probably would not have felt the need to intervene. It was too big for one
teacher to handle. Unfortunately, this was not the end of it.
Two weeks later, Teri Leigh gave some nude photographs of herselfphotographs that her foster sister had taken-to two high school boys who rode her
bus. Fortunately, the boys gave the pictures directly to the bus driver, who immediately
brought them to Bob Farris. Bob called Teri Leigh foster mother, who claimed that she
had told the girls to tear up the pictures. Obviously, they had not obeyed. Further, her
foster mother told Bob that she was unwilling to discuss the problem with Teri Leigh.
Because Barbara was responsible for teaching the Family Life Curriculum to
Teri Leigh, Bob thought that she was the best person to address this issue with her.
Calling her into his office, he told her what had happened with the photographs and
provided her with some pamphlets to assist her in the counseling session she was to
have with Teri Leigh.
After discussing the issue with Kay Middleton, Barbara arranged to have Teri
Leigh stay after school with her so that she could spend as much uninterrupted time
as nec-essary with her. Despite all of the advice and pamphlets she had received,
Barbara relied on her intuitions to guide her. Ill talk to her as if she were my own
daughter, and tell her the same things that I would tell Keshia, she thought.
She began by asking Teri Leigh why she had given the boys pictures of herself.
Teri Leigh responded frankly that she wanted to have sex and to have a baby. She
went on to explain that she wanted the boys to like her, and that this was a good way

to be popular with them. Barbara responded by discussing the seriousness involved


with having a baby.
As she later related to Kay, I talked to her about how much my children mean
to me and how much I love them, but how much time they take from me. And I told her
I was 27 when I had my first one, and had developed into a person. So I was ready to
have my children, but I have very little spare time for myself. And that, how, at times, it
takes all of the love I have to keep going with the children.
Barbara also talked to Teri Leigh about AIDS. Because Teri Leigh seemed to
believe her warnings about the deadliness of the disease, Barbara drove this point
home, hoping that it would help to deter her from seeking sexual encounters. She also
talked about herpes and other sexually transmitted diseases, trying to be as explicit as
possible. Unfortunately, Teri Leigh was equally candid as she insisted that she wanted
to have a baby. As Teri Leigh talked, it occurred to Barbara that Teri Leighs tenacity
had a role in helping her deal with the abuse she had suffered. Because she still
thought, despite Barbaras refutations, that she would eventually become pregnant as
a result of the experience with her mothers boyfriend, Teri Leighs assertion that she
wanted to have a baby was her way of gaining some sense control over, and therefore reconciling, what had happened to her. Maybe, Barbara thought, it was Teri
Leighs way of making it all right. As the clock in the empty classroom ticked toward
4:30, Barbara did her best to persuade Teri Leigh that trying to become pregnant
would be a mistake, but she sensed that she was failing to get through to her.
After driving Teri Leigh home, she stopped at the babysitter to pick up Keshia
and Shawn. Now, as she poured milk into glasses for the kids, the sound of her
husband pulling up in the driveway drew her thoughts back to the present.
Dinner was eaten, homework was completed, and the children were made
ready for bed. Throughout the evening, Barbara reviewed portions of her talk with Teri
Leigh. Where would she go from here? What could she do to help this desperately
troubled child? As much as she wanted to help, Barbara truly felt at a loss about how
to proceed.