You know me. You know how I feel about the shoulds and the musts; you know how I feel about the blanket assumptions that society wraps around us like you would swaddle an infant, before taking us by the shoulders and pointing us toward the Path of Smart Choices That Everyone Should Follow.
You know that I think it's impossible to predict an outcome for every individual based on stereotypes and statistics.
And so maybe that's why you guys email me, asking for my advice. Most of the emails come from young women in the early weeks of an unexpected pregnancy — and they not only remind me why I started this site, but they pull back the curtain on an earlier scene in my own life. A scene of raw, exposed emotions during a life-changing plot twist.
Yet some are from young women simply wanting to be young mothers. I don't know why, but 19 is a popular age for this category of emails. So there are lots of 19-year-old women wondering whether they should cave into their maternal urges or stick it out a few more years, until they have a degree and a marriage and a stable adult life.
But they know me, you see. So they think they know what I'll say — that I'll confirm and encourage them to go forth and join the ranks of young moms. TEAM YOUNG MOM! HIGH FIVE!
Except I have no idea what to say.
I started Early Mama as a way to help younger 20-somethings who happen to be taking a less encouraged path through early adulthood. Let's call it the Path of Childrearing, and most people see flickering neon signs above the entrance: Must Be Over 30 Years Old, and Hardships Ahead. Early Mama was a way to hand out maps and flashlights, and to offer some companionship along the way.
I didn't intend to usher other young women down the path, too. (I'm still not sure that's even possible, to be honest. I wholeheartedly believe that women — yes, even 19-year-old women — can make their own choices and not be swayed into a life decision via a blog post. I really do think quite highly of you.)
So do I think you should plan to get pregnant in college?
My go-to response has been to first admit I have no real advice — not knowing you or your situation beyond the few paragraphs you emailed over. And then I might gently suggest putting it off until you're done with school. It's easier that way, right? Work on your relationship — continue to build a healthy foundation for your family — because that's a luxury that many young moms don't have. If you believe statistics, about half of all 20-something pregnancies — married or not — are unplanned. So if you're planning it, plan smart.
But then I got to thinking.
I have no flipping idea what I'm talking about. Maybe planning to get pregnant in college could actually be a smart decision for certain couples in certain majors studying for certain industries. And that's why I need your help, readers who have balanced school and motherhood —
Can college provide more flexibility for those first three years of baby/toddlerhood — with night and online classes? (I got pregnant just as I was getting my first adult job, and it was extremely stressful to handle maternity leave issues/job responsibilities/health insurance/daycare while learning to be a new mom.)
Is it a smart move for certain people — teachers, for instance — to spend the baby years balancing school and motherhood, and then enter the job force when your child starts school?
Are there more financial aid opportunities for student parents than entry-level-working parents?
Could getting pregnant in college make you more intentional in your career path?
Of course you might feel isolated from your peers and possibly dwell on the "what ifs" from missing the typical college experience. Student housing might be another issue, as it recently was at NYU, but I think most student parents would choose to live outside of the dorms.
So if you were once a college mom, what would you say to college students wanting a baby? I'm sure you can give much better advice than I ever could.