The life I lead is a true blessed one. I am 21, a mother to an amazing three-year-old, he's bright engaging, hilarious, sensitive and utterly lovable, and a solid 80% of the time, a joy to be with! I am also a full time history undergraduate student, about to start my final year in September. These two very different spheres of life don't often collide in someone as young as myself. It is very difficult, it requires extreme efficiency, preparation and lots of sacrifice to simply exist and just be both people, the committed student and mother.
To say the little pink cross on the pregnancy test was 'unplanned' would be an understatement. I was 17, at the beginning of my A2 year at a prestigious college and had just that week sent my UCAS application off, my dreams were big and they most certainly did not include a baby. Within the space of a week my relationship with the child's biological father broke down, and he and his family chose to remove themselves from the situation, so I was faced with an unplanned pregnancy and life for the foreseeable future as a single parent. That week of high emotions awakened an inner strength, something I attribute to the strength of the maternal instinct. I knew I had a battle ahead but I was prepared to fight for it.
What the media and society often fail to recognise is that simply falling pregnant at a young age us does not automatically mean you cant succeed in whatever path you pursue. Teen moms are portrayed as failures, in the media 'young mums' are often labelled as being irresponsible or as benefit scroungers, neither of which are in my experience particularly true. The reason being is the often unspoken barriers faced by young mums, we aren't expected to succeed so often the support systems within university, particularly within red brick universities, who pride themselves on their statistical prowess often do so at the expense of the more vulnerable students.
Honestly being a student parent is incredibly difficult, primarily because the two spheres were not designed to coexist. Before I started I had done the fact checking and looked at the hours I could be expected to put in and though theoretically it is plausible the emotional and physical strain is often very difficult. As any parent of young children will tell you, it is very difficult being apart from them - as much as I enjoy my studies I live in a constant state of guilt that my degree is a rather selfish venture and that I should really be spending time being with my son in what is the most crucial stages of his development. Especially during exam season where I need to put in more and hours and have to put Arlo in nursery five days a week so I can perform at the standard I know I am capable of.
While I was pregnant I went through what I can only describe as a grieving process, I had to be sad and feel all those jealous resentful feelings towards my situation knowing I would never have the university experience I had dreamed of. I would not be in halls, I would not have that type of freedom to go out whenever I wanted, or to just drop everything and travel, or to even leave the house without another small person in tow. I would miss out on all of that and it hurt, it really hurt, especially because all my friends were gearing up for that life and getting excited about, moving out and meeting new and exciting people whereas I would be stuck at home in my parents spare room with a baby attached to my boob making my nipples bleed. It's partly why being a student parent is emotionally quite hard - you're constantly on the periphery and other students don't know how to connect with you as we don't have much common ground. I cant commit to any societies/groups/nights out as I simply don't have the time or the flexibility.
But so what? I'm not having THE university experience but I am having MY university experience, and its amazing. I have such a diverse group of friends and family from all different spheres, all at different stages in their life and I can draw great strength and wisdom from all. Arlo is definitely a child raised by a tribe of people, from both my mum world and my university bubble. I'm sure the coming year is going to testing but I cant wait, we both have great potential and I cant wait to see what the future holds for us both!
This summer The Huffington Post UK is spearheading an initiative helping families thrive, with a focus on parent wellbeing, the challenges facing stay-at-home and working parents, friendships and navigating the landscape of modern parenting beyond the 2.4. To kickstart the campaign, Jamie Oliver guest edited the site, bringing a focus on feeding healthy families.
We'll be sharing stories and blogs with the hashtag #ThrivingFamilies and we'd like you to do the same. If you'd like to use our blogging platform to share your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved.