Sunday, 22 June 2014

University With A Baby: My Story So Far

Hey, my name is Alice and I'm starting a blog because I've been googling and googling in search for a blog with the same experiences as me. I have found nada. There is no one, or so I believe, (please tell me if you have a blog like me!!) that is documenting their experiences of being a young full time mum, whilst being at university. There are lots of women out there that study courses whilst being a mum, but I'm not too sure of how many have done it the way I did it. Maybe my way was harder. Although, I, personally, think what I did was the easiest option I had. I hope this blog can provide support to others who might be in a similar situation to me. So, I thought, by starting this blog, other student parents can learn and grown confidence in themselves. This is not rocket science we're talking about.


Pregnancy

I found out I was pregnant in May 2013. I was just about to finish my first year of university - studying International Politics. Me and my Norwegian boyfriend, Haakon, (also a student) had been dating only 7 months.We were absolutely thrilled but our emotions were mixed with the daunting prospect that we had to tell people. Having a baby young isn't a taboo but it does cause a stir. Without a doubt we have caused a stir at uni. Also, we hadn't been dating long. For us, we felt like we knew each other a lifetime by then; I had pretty much been living with him since we met! So, it wasn't a concern either.

At 6 weeks pregnant, exams started, and so did the morning sickness. In fact, I had hyperemesis gravidarum and was admitted to hospital so I could have a drip. I missed an exam or two, but I was in contact with the university. A note from the GP was all I needed to be excused from the exams.

So that was drama No1. Drama No2 was telling our family. But that turned out not to be a drama at all. Everyone was supportive, and excited. We have only encountered a handful of people who don't believe raising a baby whilst studying a university degree is a good idea. Whether that's because the baby will be neglected, or the degree. Either way, the people are wrong, their views are outdated. 

Me and my partner had the summer to relax work. We wanted to earn as much as possible now our expenses would go up. (I'm going to write about finances in another post, so stay tuned for it) At first I was apprehensive about starting again in September, 5 months pregnant, with a bump. University with a bump is fine. Don't let people tell you it's weird. I didn't notice people looking, they were probably too busy with their own drama to notice. In fact, when talking to a lecturer in December (8 months pregnant) about how I was going to miss the exams, he hadn't even noticed all term! No one in seminars asked me about it, apart from my friends. Everyone was supportive.

Writing essays and going to lectures with feet in your ribs is rather trying. I was uncomfortable the WHOLE time. My motivation to finish my essays was that in January (my due date), it was going to be 10x harder (it wasn't actually that much harder than pregnancy). Odd motivation, but there we go, it got me through. 

Throughout the term I was in regular contact with the Academic Administrator within my department of studies. She was very helpful and we laid out a plan: I would do the January exams in essay format ("in lieu of exam") during the summer holidays 2014. I would return in January/February with a new baby to start lectures. In reality, I had no maternity leave even though it was offered.


The first semester

My baby Edward was born 31st December 2013. I had him at home in Cambridgeshire at return to Wales when he was 18 days old. Studying with a baby would be made easier if you decided to bottle feed and put your baby in nursery. I decided that we wouldn't put him in nursery and that I would breastfeed exclusively. Breastfeeding exclusively is amazing and it shall be a blog post in itself at some point. It made leaving him harder, and it took some getting use to it. I had 6 hours a week of lectures and 3 of seminars. It wasn't much contact time so it was completely doable. Me and Haakon would look after him alternatively, whoever didn't have a lecture would have him.

My first lecture was nerve wracking. I had left a 4 week old baby at home with his pappa. I was back within 2 hours of leaving him and all was fine. We got better at it, and sometimes Edward would join us to come to lectures. By the age of 3 months, we were sitting him on our lap, putting the teletubbies on mute for him, and continuing to make notes on our lecture. He joined me for seminars and was the most popular student there - everyone wanted to sit next to him. I must admit, I do have an angel baby, he doesn't cry (although if he did, I would leave immediately). As long as I asked the day before, lecturers were more than happy for him to attend - only one didn't seem keen on the idea and so I made sure he never went to that lecture.

A 5 week old Edward 'reading' for my seminar prep.
Essays were the hardest part. I had four essays to write, a total of 7500 words. Gone were the days when I could sit up all night, eating junk food, and produce a 3000 word essay in a matter of 12 hours. Essays took weeks to write. I had to escape to the library to work as I would have no peace when I could hear Edward at home. Again, I was in constant contact with the Academic Administrator who sorted out special circumstances for me. I handed in 1 essay on time. The others were all late; a week at least, a month at most. 

Finally, to end my term, I had exams. I had three 2 and a half hour exams. It was arranged that whoever was babysitting could send a text to my phone, which the invigilator had, saying that Edward needed feeding. Then we would all meet in a private room, the clock stopped, and I could feed Edward under supervision. We never had to do this as I fed him up beforehand.

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So this is where I am now. Enjoying my summer holidays.  Stressing about my two 3000 word essays that need to be written and how on earth to wean Edward enough so he can start nursery in September.
I wouldn't change my situation for the world. I've got a wonderful, supportive and dedicated boyfriend and a fantastic little boy. I am also studying a degree I love and doing well at it.

Please, please leave a comment, ask any questions you might have or if you have an idea on what I should write about next. Alternatively you could tweet me: @aliceparker0101

xoxo.