Four weeks into my senior year of college, I was feeling pretty darn good — I was skinny for the first time in my life, enjoying my new-found ability to legally drink a glass of wine in the evenings while studying for class, and dreaming about switching my major to my true passion of writing.
I can remember the feeling of jumping up into my boyfriend’s truck one morning, my coffee cup in hand and my giant hoop earrings swinging proud. I felt good. I felt like an adult, ready to embark on an exciting new start to life.
Little did I know that my new life would start at 3 a.m. a week later, when I'd stare down and scream at the positive pregnancy test sitting on my kitchen table.
The day after I found out I was pregnant, I went looking for help in the one place I spent most of my life: on campus.
I walked into the health center on my college campus, searching — both subconsciously and consciously — for answers, direction, and most of all, I think, confirmation. For someone to tell me that this was real and that, in the end, it would be OK.
I didn’t find that.
Instead, the director of the health center refused to look me in the eye, asked me how I expected to tell my parents, told me she wasn’t aware of any resources that could help me get through school as a pregnant student, and then, when I started crying (oh, the hormones!), she literally walked out on me, leaving me alone in her office without so much as a tissue.
It was a bit shocking to me and, more than that, it was a revelation. In a world where every other accommodation is made on college campuses, where students take education as a basic right, where awareness about safe sex is promoted all through orientation — why on earth was I treated like an outcast for being a pregnant student? Why on earth should I have to fight for my right to an education, simply because I was pregnant?
I didn’t find the answers I was looking for that day, and unfortunately I didn’t find them as my pregnancy progressed. The simple fact is that, overwhelmingly, pregnant and parenting students don’t feel supported on college campuses across the nation. In fact, a 2008 study done by the group Feminists for Life of America found that resources for pregnant and parenting students at college simply don’t exist, or students aren’t aware they exist. And this is true across the board.
For young women like me, unexpectedly pregnant and still in school, it feels like a self-defeating circle. Without resources and support to get through an earlier-than-expected pregnancy, it can be hard to go on to graduate and live the life we want — which leads to feeling “stuck,” settling for a mediocre job to support our families, and ultimately fueling the cycle of women feeling like they have to choose between family life and work.
So for the early mama (or mama-to-be) students, here are a few resources to get you started in the new school year:
National Pregnant & Parenting College Resources Directory: This is a nice, state-searchable directory of campuses by resources that you may be looking for, i.e. campuses that have childcare or on-campus housing availability. The directory isn't totally complete, but you can add a school in your area to the database for other student parents.
FAFSA: If you haven’t already done so, make sure you update your FAFSA to include your child as a dependent. This can help you get more financial aid — such as the PELL Grant, which doesn’t have to be paid back.
Help with Housing: If you don’t have access to on-campus housing or are kicked off for being pregnant, The Department of Housing has an assistance program to help partially or fully fund eligible families for housing.
General Support/Resources: The Higher Education Alliance Association of Students with Children (HEAASC) frequently updates their Web site with resources for student parents that I’ve found helpful.
Child Care Resources: Child Care Aware can help connect you to childcare options in your area.
Temporary Cash Assistance: If you are in need of temporary, emergency cash assistance, you may be eligible to apply for it here.
OptionLine is a national directory of pregnancy centers across the nation that can give you practical resources or connect you to other student parents in your area. I like the option to anonymously chat online or call if you are in need of help.
The truth is, it can be done. And I fully believe that we could change a lot if more young women spoke up about the truths of being pregnant on college campuses.
That's why I'm excited to share that my first book, Tiny Blue Lines, will be released in bookstores and online in a few months. I’ll be sharing my experiences, providing tips and advice from other young mothers, and encouraging pregnant and parenting students with the ways that I was able to change my own school for the better. (Sign up for my blog’s email list or join me on Facebook or Twitter to get a chance to win a free copy of my book!)
Thank you so much for sharing Chaunie!
Does anyone else have resources to share?