YOUNG VOICES

Meet The Twenty-Something Women Juggling Motherhood And University

'I never imagined I would be holding my baby at graduation.'

30/03/2017 13:43

For the average fresher, starting university means new-found freedom, big nights out and getting to focus on their favourite subject. 

But for a small proportion of women in their teens and early twenties, all of this must be balanced with taking care of their young children. 

While there are no confirmed figures about the number of young student mothers in the UK, it’s thought there are thousands juggling breast-feeding and potty-training with seminars and essays.

kaisersosa67 via Getty Images
Parenting expert Claire Halsey says it can be difficult for young mums to balance motherhood and studying 

“It can be really difficult,” parenting expert and clinical psychologist Claire Halsey tells HuffPost UK. 

“University is very much based around social activities and making new friends, but it’s so much harder when you have a child to look after. 

“The other thing is studying. The need to put dedicated time aside when deadlines are due or exams coming up represents a real challenge, unless you have an excellent support network.”  

She adds: “Increasingly though, universities are offering childcare and I think that’s a fantastic acknowledgement that parents make great students.”

But what is it really like to rush home to collect the kids from nursery while your course mates head to the pub? Or to miss your baby while you’re supposed to be concentrating on 18th century poetry? 

Hannah Greaves, 21, University of Leeds 

Hannah Greaves
Hannah gave birth to her son Arlo just three weeks after finishing her last A Level exam 

Hannah was in her second year of college when she fell pregnant with her son Arlo, now three. 

“I finished my last A Level exam when I was 36 weeks gone,” she said. “It was so stressful - I had him three weeks after that.” 

Taking a year out to spend time with her new baby - and battle with dirty nappies and sleepless nights - the history student started university 14 months after giving birth. 

But despite being the same age as many of her peers, Hannah says the experience was “isolating”. 

“Lack of flexibility makes it hard for me to make friends because I can’t go out with them,” she adds.   

“A guy in a seminar once asked me why I wasn’t part of the course society and why I wasn’t going on the Otley Run, a pub crawl. 

“When I told him I had a child, he just turned his back and started talking to the person on the other side of him. 

“It was really annoying that he couldn’t see past that.”

It was not just her classmates who struggled to understand her intense routine though. Breaking the stereotype about students, Hannah wakes up at 6.30am to get herself and Arlo ready for the day. 

“Even on weekends,” she laughs. “Children don’t sleep in.” 

Despite her early mornings, Hannah, now in her third year, still struggles to get to 9am lectures on time.  

Hannah Greaves
The history student says it has been hard at times to connect with her classmates 

While Arlo’s nursery school opens at 8am, it takes her more than an hour to get to university on public transport. 

“I physically can’t get into university for 9am, no matter how hard I try. I’ve said that to quite a few lecturers and even after explaining, they still reprimanded me - there’s just no understanding.” 

Hannah has also had issues with deadlines. When Arlo was ill recently, she asked for an extension on an essay to help her catch up on her workload. 

“They told me I needed to get a retrospective doctor’s note. But for me to get a doctor’s note, it means I would have to miss lectures and fall even further behind. In the end, it really wasn’t worth it.” 

It was only when she started speaking to history lecturer Will Jackson that Hannah says she realised that the university had policies in place to help student mums. 

“He was the first person who really listened to me when I explained the difficulties of being a student parent.

“There’s a whole policy we found online that says the university should be flexible - it was really eye opening because everything I said I was struggling with was outlined in this document.” 

Hannah, who is set to graduate this summer, has now been asked to speak about her experiences at a university conference. And, despite the difficulties she has faced, she says she has “loved” her course. 

“I really like to be able to focus and do something for me. I think as a parent you kind of lose yourself in your child a bit and forget what it’s like to be you. 

“If I had to advise other student mums, I would say - believe that you can do it. Take a proactive approach and make sure the university is aware of your situation.”

Maddy Matthews-Williams, 22, Glyndwr University 

Maddy Matthews
Maddy was in her second year of university when she became pregnant 

Unlike Hannah, 22-year-old graduate Maddy was already at university when she got pregnant.

“I got pregnant with Celyn at the start of my second year,” the former theatre student says.

“I stayed the whole time. I gave birth on the last day of proper contact hours that year and went straight back for my third year in the September when my daughter was four or five months old.” 

She also found it difficult to discover what help and support she was eligible for as a student mum. 

“The government really need to create a plan for student parents,” she says. 

“The finance is good, but there’s no guidelines on how you claim it, what you’re eligible for or what you need to do.

“The information all needs to be in one place - new mums don’t have time to be chasing it up when they have a baby to look after and studies to focus on.” 

Maddy Matthews
'I never would have imagined I would have been holding a baby at graduation.' 

But despite this struggle, Maddy says her experience of motherhood while at university was overwhelmingly positive. 

Although some students assumed she would drop out, she says her classmates and lecturers became “an extended family” for her daughter. 

“My lecturers were really the first people to congratulate us, as my parents hadn’t reacted well because it was a shock.

“They always expected that my family would come first. Although we had 15 hour rehearsal days, if I needed to leave when the nursery closed, they never had any problem whatsoever.”  

Maddy adds: “When I started university, I never would have imagined I would have been holding a baby at graduation. 

“I got a first in my degree and it was beyond anything I could have imagined. 

“The sense of pride and accomplishment was really strong as I didn’t just do this for me.

“You really don’t have to listen when people ask ‘When are you dropping out?’ It’s not the end of anything.” 

HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today.

Through blogs, features and video, we’ll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you’d like to blog on our platform around these topics, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com.

Suggest a correction
Comments

CONVERSATIONS