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Exams, Papers, and… Baby? The Joys of Motherhood While Pursuing Your Degree

AmandaBlog Mother’s Day has traditionally been known as a day to celebrate and honor mothers and motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society. Most of us feel as though we need or, better yet, deserve at least one day to set aside our daily duties and enjoy some quality pampering. There are so many of us juggling work, friends, kids, and extracurricular activities that we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves. This is particularly true for young mothers pursuing a higher education.

Young women in college are a group of individuals that we may inadvertently forget in this celebration of mothers, unless of course it involves reminding them to call their own mothers. Truth be told, young women aged 18-19 have the highest rate of adolescent pregnancy in the country. And you know what? Sometimes these women go to college and graduate with their degrees. How do they do it, you wonder? Well, sometimes I ask myself the same thing.

I had my daughter during my freshman year of college, in the midst of calculus, chemistry, and advanced English, and I’m not ashamed to say that I struggled. To get a feel for what this was like, please, just do me this one favor. Close your eyes and imagine this: you’re in your second semester of college, so you pretty much have the feel for the coursework. Sure, you might have four articles to read, a paper due in two days, a group project to tend to, and an exam in the morning, but like I said, you’re practically a professional student now. Now add, to this coursework, your seemingly-endless parental duties. If you just had your baby, you’re worrying about breastfeeding, changing diapers, wiping a snotty nose, washing the spit up out of every single shirt you wear… oh, and trying to fit in some sleep. Or if your baby’s a little bit older you’re worried about picking her up from daycare on time, cooking for her, playing with her before she goes to bed, sitting with her during bath time, and reading story after story until she falls asleep. While the rest of your classmates have a wealth of space, time, and opportunity to read, write, study and calculate; your double duties keep you perpetually exhausted. So, when do you have time to clean your house, do your homework, have a social life, AND sleep? Well, you don’t… unless you have an extra set of hands.

Now we come back to the question on everyone’s minds: “How in the world do you do this?” In truth, it all comes down to actually having that extra set of hands – knowing where and when to turn for help and acknowledging that you really can’t do it all on your own. You can try, and please take a moment to pat yourself on the back if you are a self-renowned super hero, but I can almost guarantee you that without help, something is going to falter. I realized as soon as my daughter took her first breath that I was going to need assistance with this whole mothering thing, and I learned throughout my college career that it truly does “take a village” to raise a child.

So this is where the power of mothers – both biological and social – genuinely comes into play. Unlike some pregnant and parenting adolescents, I was fortunate to live with my mother through all of my years of college. She watched my daughter when I had to study for exams, played with her on the mornings after I’d pulled an all-nighter, and tucked her into bed when I didn’t have the strength to do it myself. And then there were my friends – the women in my life who had no children of their own but became make-shift mothers in my most dire situations. These women kept my daughter when I was so overwhelmed with my coursework that I just wanted to quit. They fed her, bathed her, and clothed her so that for just one night I could remember what sanity felt like. Without each of these women I really don’t know which direction my life would have taken.

The point of the story here is that every woman needs to find her “village,” to have at least one person she can lean on in the event that everything feels like it’s falling apart. Mother’s Day is not just about celebrating the women who have children. It’s about celebrating the women who step into the mothering role when we need them the most, many times without even being asked. It’s about celebrating the women who help each and every one of us to be the best mothers WE can be to raise children that are capable of living up to their full potential.

So, for those of us who received our bundles of joy a bit early in life, just remember that your tenacity is admired by many and that you too are deserving of a day to be loved, appreciated, and pampered. And for every woman supporting a college mother, your hard work and dedication doesn’t go unnoticed. To each and every woman preparing a child for adulthood, I say Happy Mother’s Day.

Amanda Zabala is a graduate intern at the Center for Maternal and Infant Health. She is currently attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Gillings School of Global Public Health, and majoring in Maternal and Child Health.

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