For the women who need us most

For the women who need us most

I’m Werking On My…

I’m Werking On My…

Young Mum University: Meet The Graduates 
By Daisy Kimpton

Women in higher education are supported through choosing their university, selecting modules, completing coursework and sitting exams. But are they still supported as adequately when they fall pregnant during their studies? I spoke to three girls about how they balanced life as a mum and life as a student. 

Larissa, 20, Manchester Metropolitan University
A young mum that gave birth to her son Logan in her second year of studying

Larissa and her son

I’m a self-confessed slave to the routine. I wake up at 5am, get myself and Logan ready, drop Logan at nursery for 7.30am, sprint to the train station to get on campus for 10am, race back home at 3pm and collect my son, before bathing and soothing him to sleep. We wake up and Groundhog Day starts again. 

Finding out I was pregnant with Logan in my first year of university was admittedly a lot to cope with. Having requested a transfer to Liverpool John Moores to be closer to home, I was told this wasn’t possible due to the University’s discrimination terms that are in place to ‘protect’ pregnant women. That was a tough pill to swallow and to be honest, I did consider dropping out and deferring but I knew deep down the new responsibilities within my life would mean I’d never go back. 

Logan was born in November 2022, at the start of my second year, just before my Christmas exams. After my pregnancy resulted in a C-section, I could barely move, never mind consider studying and completing assignments. The truth? I felt like utter sh*t. 

As impending deadlines loomed closer, Logan was floored with the worst cold of his life, he was so ill and impossible to settle. I asked my tutor for an extension which he said wasn’t possible without a doctor’s note. Logan was barely two months old, the doctors couldn’t prescribe any medication at this age so we struggled along with calpol and lots of fluids. As I couldn’t provide a doctors note, it made the process of having my mitigating circumstances approved an absolute nightmare. Eventually, I was granted an extension and thankfully passed my exams. 

I managed to navigate newborn life, but this wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my parents and siblings, the support system I needed most. It also helped that the University cover 85% of Logan’s nursery fees, a silver lining through some cloudy days. Having said that, Logan’s nursery was oversubscribed on a Friday, the day I needed to be on campus. 

It was a shame to receive threatening emails from tutors claiming I’d fail a module because I’d missed six Fridays, but I had no childcare for my one-year-old child. He needed me and I can’t expect my own parents to drop everything. I responded and explained as best I could that the situation was out of my control, but never received a response.

After an onslaught of more emails and feeling that the emotional support was lacking, I scheduled a meeting with my department leaders. The Manchester Met team were apologetic and said they hadn’t seen my email. I felt like I’d just been swept under the carpet. 

I’m now in my third year of a four-year degree and finding a balance between motherhood and student life is no mean feat, but I’m coping. The hardest part is having the determination to keep going; however, I am proof that an academic brain can exist alongside the odd case of baby brain. I really want to do well for Logan, he’s the driving force when it comes to getting my work done.

Sophia, 23, London City University
A young mum that gave birth to her daughter Graciella in her third year of studying

Sophia and her daughter

The hour-long journey from Chelmsford to London City University campus is a whole new experience with a five-week-old. Pair that with the daunting fact of having never taken her out alone, other than a quick trip to the corner shop. 

My hormones were still balancing themselves out and I felt anxiety like never before, but there isn’t much other choice than to throw yourself in at the deep end when you’re a new parent. I hadn’t been afforded the opportunity to attend classes online, so I had to get on with it.

Having survived the train journey and made my way to campus, I was stopped by the University Building’s Reception desk who told me I couldn’t come through with my pram. I felt discriminated against and quite frankly embarrassed as the world watched my flustered attempts to justify my right to access education. 

After a call to my tutor, he resolved the situation by explaining that the workshop was taking place in a classroom, rather than a lecture hall. He lied, but if being a young mum in university means finding loopholes then I’m happy to oblige. It hurt to watch his word be graciously accepted over my own, but it opened my eyes to the difficulties of blending my two roles, mother and student. 

One fire put out and another to tackle. Getting the pram into the lecture hall in a building with no stairs was anything but ideal. After my peers helped lift Graciella’s pram, the workshop began, and so too did her newborn cries. Can you imagine the feeling of leaving a silent seated room with a five-week old’s piercing cries echoing around the vastness of the room? Times that by 100. 

Fast forward to surviving third year lectures and suddenly dissertation season had arrived. My Mum was so much help, she took Graciella for an hour or so throughout the day which allowed me power-hours to focus hard and achieve a few hundred words at a time. In all honesty, the whole period was a complete blur and looking back, I don’t know how I did it. Running on two hours sleep, spinning plates, fighting fires and finding time to bond with my daughter was hard but I did it. 

I sit here today with a first-class degree in Youth Justice and I’m a far more resilient person for the challenges that came along the way. All I wanted was for Graciella to grow up with a Mum that has a stable job and a good income; I’m proud that I have been able to achieve both for her. 

Holly, 24, Liverpool John Moores University
A young mum that gave birth to her baby girl Daisy in her third year of studyi

Holly and her daughter

Finding out in December of my second year of university that I was pregnant is a memory that will stay with me forever. I was so excited but quickly pulled back down to earth when I remembered I had to complete 2300 hours of unpaid hospital work to complete my paediatric nursing degree. 

I had to figure out a way to do this so that I could take time off to give birth to Daisy and reduce my hours when I was heavily pregnant. I sat down, pen in hand, timetable in front of me. I had to plan out to the hour how I was going to manage it. I did this before I told the university I was pregnant, so it was clear to them that I was determined to graduate in 2023, deferring just wasn’t an option in my mind. 

I waited until I was 11 weeks before emailing my personal tutor as I had almost convinced myself that something would go wrong, and I needed to avoid facing the reality that my dream of being a mother may be cut short. Thankfully I made it to 11 weeks with no complications and emailing my tutor began to feel like telling my mum for the first time! She was super sweet and delighted for me but told me to arrange a meeting with the head of department. 

I went into the meeting with the confidence that I had it all figured out but reception from the HOD was a little less warm. She told me again and again to take the year off but I stuck to my plan and told her I didn’t need to, I had it all sorted. Of course it meant a lot of long days and extra shifts but it was worth it to have my degree still on track for when Daisy arrives. 

My head of department still wasn’t happy, she said the distribution of hours had to be spread equally across each week. I agreed to fulfil the required hours but already knew I was going to take it upon myself to devise a plan with the Alder Hey placement nurses to cram my hours to suit me.

Before long, I was hit with the risk assessments. And more risk assessments. And more risk assessments. It felt like a tactic to pressure me into deferring a year but by this time I was so far into my placement that my determination to complete the course was too strong a force to be reckoned with.

Daisy was soon born and after settling into newborn life, I was back on the ward and faced with the challenge of exclusively breastfeeding, and needing her with me on placement. 

“What will you do if Daisy is in her pram in the ward and there’s a fire?” they asked me, over and over again. My answer was simple, grab my child and get downstairs I replied, that’s a mothers instinct.

The Alder Hey nurses were so accommodating, they allowed me suitable breaks to breastfeed, a fridge to keep expressed milk and were wonderful with Daisy. They made fulfilling my 2300 hours slightly more achievable. The only thing they could improve on is their maternity uniform though, it could’ve fit two of me in.

For more information on being a young mum and trying to start your career, read more here.