Caitlin is a second year BA student, majoring in Creative Writing and English. She enjoys drinking tea from bowls and writing down snippets of strangers’ conversations in her little black notebook.
Halfway through my first year of uni, I found out I was pregnant. Long story short*, I decided to have the baby, and a little over two years later I’m back at uni and the single parent of a one and a half year old.
Balancing studying and parenting is not easy. But, I’m nearly through my first year of doing both, and I can tell you it’s been hands down the best year of my life.
There are lots of things I still don’t know about the juggle, but here are some things I’ve learnt.
It’s worth being open to rethinking your degree
Once I decided to go through with my pregnancy, I knew three things for certain:
- I was going to be the coolest mother ever;
- Salt and vinegar chips were sent directly from God as a gift to pregnant women; and
- I was NOT going to change anything about my degree.
The only one I’m still certain about is the chips. I won’t list the ways I fail at number one, but eventually I did decide to rethink my degree. I’m an Arts student, and I was planning on doing a double major in Politics and Anthropology, a Diploma of French, and then subsequently travelling the world and saving little bits of it somehow.
I’m not saying you can’t do that with a baby. But what I am saying is that it’s a good idea to consider whether or not making some new compromises is going to end up working better for you. For example, now I’ve dropped my Diploma (fewer contact hours at uni = more time with son) and switched my majors to Creative Writing and English (my favourite things in the world which are also subjects I can teach). And I’m more excited about my career than ever.
Your parenting experience is an asset as a student
Becoming a parent will change you, in most ways (if not all) for the better. You will learn and do so many new things, and if you think creatively there will be ways in which the skills you learn as a parent can be assets in your studies and career. Perhaps not mashing nappies or changing pumpkins, but resilience and a sense of humour come to mind. Also, if you’re rad enough to choose a creative writing major, you can exploit your parenting experiences for writing fodder. So I’m told.
You do not have to listen to everyone’s advice…
Here is a small selection of some the advice I’ve been given since becoming pregnant:
- Have an abortion, you’ll be throwing away your potential otherwise!
- Don’t have an abortion, babies are cuuuuuuute!
- Do not eat sugar! You’re pregnant!
- Eat as much sugar as you want! You’re pregnant!
- Do not use the gas during labour, it will make you feel sick!
- Suck on this gas mask, it will take away the pain!
- Stop pushing!
- Do not pick your baby up!
- Do not put your baby down!
- Cry if you need to!
- Stop crying in front of the baby, you’ll make him sad!
- Feed with a bottle!
- Feed with your breasts!
- Do not keep living with your parents!
- Do not move out of home!
- Childcare is fantastic!
- Childcare is from the devil!
- Stand up!
- Sit down!
- Eat this lasagne!
You get the idea. It’s mindboggling, and to add to that boggle, here is my advice: do not sweat advice. Take some, leave some, go with your instincts. You will work out what’s best for you, and then you get to tell the next crop of new parents what they should do. It’s the circle of advice, and it serves very little purpose.
…but you must accept help
I hate feeling dependent on other people, and I’ve always struggled with accepting help. But I’m learning to, because the support I’ve received from both people and services has made it possible for my son and I to live the life we do.
As well as financial, practical and emotional support from friends and family, I have relied on support from medical clinics, therapists and psychiatrists, a ‘sleep school’, childcare, Centrelink and many other services. I think, at different stages, I have resisted help from every single one of these sources out of misplaced pride and the need to feel independent.
Trust me, I totally get the urge to resist help, especially as a young parent when can you feel like you’re failing if you’re not totally independent. This feeling is not based on truth. In fact, every parent – young, single, new or otherwise – relies on help from other people. I’m such a convert to accepting help that I’m giving you a list of services to access at the bottom of this article. Use them as you need them.
Your choices are valid
As a pregnant woman, as a parent and as a student, choices about your body, your child and your life are yours to make. It goes without saying that this is a huge responsibility when you’re responsible for another person, but it’s also extremely empowering. That can be easy to forget, though; especially if you’re a young and/or single parent and you feel like everyone else knows better than you do. Here’s the thing: other people may have more experiences or even more knowledge about parenting or studying than you do, but that’s not the point. Some advice (mine) is good, but in the end the choices are yours, and the ones you make are valid.
At the end of the day, parenting can be difficult and fun and studying can be difficult and fun. Really, they go together more nicely than one might think. It’s just about finding the right support and trusting your own choices. Minimising the difficulty, maximising the fun.
*If you’d like the long story, here is a shameless plug: I have a memoir piece about exactly that coming out in this year’s edition of Judy’s Punch, the annual magazine published by the UMSU Wom*n’s Department.
The aforepromised list of support places (there are many more, but these are a good starting point):
University of Melbourne Children’s Services: http://services.unimelb.edu.au/childcare
Raising Children Network: raisingchildren.net.au
PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia): www.panda.org.au
My twitter account: @caitlinmcgregor (Seriously though, if this article is relevant to you and leaves you with questions, feel free to get in touch)