Young Mum Stories: A Student With A Baby
Sorcha McManigan is a 23-year-old journalist, blogger and mum to 3-year-old Ema. She writes about all things parenting in college on her blog, and you can find her on social media on her instagram page.
In the midst of celebrating the end of my first year summer exams and with a job for three months in Paris awaiting, I had missed my period. Putting it down to stress, I took a pregnancy test as a joke. Most people when they see the words ‘Pregnant 4-6 weeks’ they jump up and down with joy. For me it was a little bit of a train wreck, cue the non-stop vomiting from the shock and a five hour stint in hospital on drips, just to make sure the reality of it really kicked in.
My pregnancy wasn’t celebrated, I didn’t have a baby shower or 4D scans, but I did have the endless support of my family, friends, and the staff and nurses in Dublin Institute of Technology. I was determined to continue my BA in Journalism with French and entering my first semester of my second year was relatively easy. I was five months pregnant, very neat and nobody seemed to notice. I chose not to hide my pregnancy and told my French class and as time past, the rest of my year began to speculate as my belly grew. The curiosity didn’t bother me as much as the morning sickness.
Within my first month of going back to college I had mastered a new morning routine, which consisted of getting a lift into town, immediately getting out of the car, vomiting behind it, saying goodbye and walking up to college, every single morning!
A contagious disease
My third trimester had firmly transformed my neat figure into a waddling, whale-like pregnant woman, with my own age group becoming my harshest critics. At 19 and pregnant in college, at times I felt like I had a contagious disease, particularly in my experience with young men who didn’t know me. They would blatantly talk about me as if I didn’t have feelings or I wasn’t sitting two feet away. In hindsight they’ve been forgiven, their comments were down to fear and inexperience but back then, it made me feel even more secluded and isolated from my peers.
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Despite some negativity, I always had my family and two really close friends who lifted my spirits, always had my back and spoilt me throughout my pregnancy. Other people surprised me with their kindness, older people would give a nod or smile of encouragement, my college class thoughtfully gave me a parting gift for my daughter and the lecturers, counsellors and nurses in D.I.T were a constant backbone of support.
A dramatic exit
Never one to go out without a dramatic exit, I managed to get myself hospitalised for five days just before the start of my Christmas exams and combined it with falling down the stairs nine months pregnant and cutting my knee open on the morning of my French exam. Two weeks later, with a bandaged knee and exams completed, my daughter Ema was born.
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Through the happiness and the woes, my family and a small group of friends were always there. College was tough whilst being pregnant but it was worth it. It allowed me to focus on something outside of myself, I wasn’t at home everyday thinking about how my life was going to change. I was now hungry to do well because my education was no longer something I took for granted. It was now something I knew could help me in avoiding the poverty trap that is a very real problem for a lot of single young parents in Ireland.
“The adjustment hit me hard”
In my daughter’s first year, I went from a carefree teenager to a stay at home mum. It was the toughest job I’ve ever done and the adjustment hit me hard. I mourned my old life, I felt like I couldn’t relate to anybody my own age and I had lost a piece of my identity. My family were my rock and my good friends stuck by my side with words of encouragement. I fought a huge fight against postnatal depression and anxiety, but managed to come out on top with a beautiful little girl beside me. Ten months rolled around and it was time to go back to college.
The hardest part about going to college with a child, isn’t the child. It’s juggling the finances of crèche, buses and books, studying and spending quality time with her. Calendars and planners become your best friend as you learn to amp up those organisational and time management skills. Anyone who is thinking about going back to college should get to grips with financial relief available for parents and in particular for creches in your respective college, as it will differ for each establishment.
Ireland offers very little help when you’re doing a level eight degree, crèche will be your biggest bill every month. Smart spending, saving and budgeting will be a crucial element, it will be filled with bringing your own leftover lunch boxes and your own coffee into college every morning and only buying yourself and your child clothes, toys and other luxuries when completely necessary.
I count myself lucky that my mum had agreed to help me out with babysitting on weekends and the odd time during the week, but only on the condition that I didn’t miss a single class. My grades rocketed from the 40s in first year to the 60s and 70s and I am graduating with a First Class Honours degree this November. The reason for my success was deciding not to allow anything to hold me back from doing what I wanted to do before I was pregnant.
A student with a baby
One of those aims was going on Erasmus in my third year, I needed an average of over 60% across my grades and I got it. In fact I was the only person in my French class who decided to go on Erasmus. I was fortunate that my daughter is half French and I had the support of family over there too.
Crèche was wonderfully cheap and though I had to make other sacrifices and sometimes wondered why I chose to make my life more difficult by moving to another country for six months and being the only foreign student and even more shockingly to the French, a student with a baby, I got everything out of it that I originally wanted from an Erasmus, an amazing life changing experience.
Pregnancy takes a toll on you
Pregnancy and being a parent can take a toll on both your physical and mental health.
Lifting weights was a key component for keeping me focused on my goals, re-motivated me not to give up and gave me some headspace. Not only was it good for my mental health but it also knocked off a couple of baby pounds, which gave me a much-needed boost of confidence. Taking time for myself has been a really important factor for my parenting and I continue to see a counsellor every week. I don’t think I would have come this far without that combination of support.
One of my biggest regrets was not enjoying my pregnancy enough. Society will stigmatise you no matter what you do differently in life, you’re young and pregnant you haven’t done anything wrong. Take time to come to terms with all the new emotions but fundamentally keep in mind, it’s your body, your life and your choice. Believe in yourself, ignore ignorant comments and remember, regardless of anyone’s age, being a parent for the first time is an unbelievable challenge and nobody knows what they’re doing, despite them rambling on about pregnancy yoga, birth classes and massages. Everyone still ends up with sleepless nights, nasty nappies and unwashed hair.
Though we may be a minority, I have met other young mothers in college who are doing what you could be doing. You will need to be committed, dedicated and work harder than everyone else in the room but you have a motivation they don’t. You will have those days when you come home exhausted to a bouncy toddler demanding your time and attention. It will feel like your day is starting all over again and at times you’ll be on the verge of tears but remember your achievements are twice as advantageous. In the moments when you aren’t studying or doing projects, do enjoy quality time with your little one without any guilt.
Parenting and being a student isn’t always finger paintings and straight A’s, it’s more like soggy cornflake stains and aggressively power walking with a buggy at 8:45am through Camden Street. Though it’s far from perfect or ideal, I wouldn’t have it any other way. My three year old has taught me so much about life, unconditional love and family. If you’re young and interested in going to college, I would urge you to find your network of support and the right information, it can provide you with the tools to invest in an education and most importantly, in yourself.
Do you want to share your story? Let us know in the comments below.