How I manage being a student-parent

Proof that it's not impossible: If you have the dedication you can make it work. Source: Emily Hattersley

By Emily Hattersley

Being a student is scary. But being a parent at the same time, is a whole new ball game. I found out I was pregnant in the summer after my first year of uni and, honestly, I didn’t know what to feel. Immediately I was afraid that I’d have to end my studies and abandon my whole life for this little peanut growing in my tummy. But I was so in love with my course at JOMEC. There was no way on earth I would give up my degree, especially after everything I had already achieved. There was no way that I wasn’t going to have this baby either. So, there it was. My decision was made. I was going to be a student mum.

First things first, we had to tell my partners family (arguably the scariest part of the whole experience!) We were both in university (my partner nearing his final year), and neither of us were emotionally or financially equipped to be having a baby. We had been together for 5 years but we couldn’t even keep plants alive. Safe to say we were expecting to have a good telling off about how careful we should have been, and how stupid we both were. So, after an emotional cuddle, and a promise that everything would be okay, we began the dreaded phone call. I had imagined, in years to come, the announcement of my first child’s existence would have been a little more romantic than the inaudible blubbering that his parents were presented with. But, thanks to my partners insightful translation, they took it very well, and offered us their full support.

And there it was. Now that they knew, it felt real. It was happening. I looked on the Cardiff university website for their ‘Pregnancy and Maternity Policy’ and it advised me to meet with my personal tutor. I was very shy and embarrassed of my situation (I have no idea why), but my tutor was incredibly supportive and informative. She talked me through the process, and outlined my options. Either I could take a year out after having the baby, and return when I was ready, or I could continue as normal, and if needed, apply for extenuating circumstances for assignments that I was unable to complete. I decided that I wanted to graduate as planned so I wouldn’t be left behind. The head of JOMEC was fully supportive of my decision and offered help wherever he could.

We then had to find out how we would finance ourselves. Student finance Wales, as always, were not the most helpful. There are currently no provisions for pregnant students. The financial part has to be sorted out after the birth of your child. Even then, it takes 6-8 weeks to process; an extra worry for a brand-new mother. A student mother, following the birth of her child, is entitled to a maintenance loan, a special support grant, a parental living allowance, and a childcare grant (which pays for up to 85% of the childcare costs). We registered our unborn baby in the Cardiff University Day Care facility (right next to the students union), and that was the business end of things sorted.

I didn’t tell anyone in uni I was expecting. I was worried I’d be treated differently, and there was something quite exciting about keeping a secret as big as that. I managed to keep it to myself until 20 weeks, when I just couldn’t keep it to myself anymore. The reaction we had was amazing. I was so afraid of judgement, but there was none at all. Everyone was just so supportive.

Our daughter was born in April, so I decided to take advantage of my extenuating circumstances for three assessments that were initially due in May. My partner, who was completing his dissertation at the time, was also entitled to a 2-week extension. We had to isolate ourselves completely from the outside world, in order to complete our deadlines. It was hard, but we managed. Luckily, in those first few months, our baby would sleep for 18 hours a day, so we could dedicate time to our assessments, while also sparing a few hours to sleep ourselves. It was hard, but we are both incredibly proud of ourselves, and each other. My partner graduated with a 2:1, and I am still on track to graduate this year, with everyone else.

The one thing that I would say is essential is to establish a routine (something I had always been terrible at). Our daughter attends Day Care 4 days a week between 9am and 5pm, while I go to uni and my partner works. It is hard to be away from her for so many hours each day, but I utilise the time that I am not in scheduled classes, working in the library on upcoming deadlines, or spending some quality time with my partner on his lunch break. I pick my little one up at 5, give her dinner at 6, and put her to bed by 7, which gives me time to tidy the house, and prepare for the next day.

Our lifestyles have definitely changed, but I cannot even describe how much better it is. Being a parent as well as a student, is doubly difficult, triply rewarding, but completely manageable with enough dedication. If I had a choice to go back and do it again, I’d never choose a different path. I relish the thought of bringing my daughter with me to graduate – and I guarantee she will be wearing a little gown and hat to match her mamma.

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