Friday, January 25, 2013

Infants and Expecting Moms on Campus

Think for a moment about expecting mothers, college students, and professors. What images come to mind? When one thinks of a community college student one generally conjures an image of a youngish person with few responsibilities in the world beyond making it to class on time, maybe working a part time job, and not forgetting to turn in assignments.
Similarly when one thinks of a college professor, generally the image of a wizened man, most probably with a beard,  comes to mind. If one were to go back a decade or two these two images would more or less perfectly describe the people found on college campuses.
The image of an expecting mother, however, is not likely to be associated with being a student or a professor, and yet it is increasingly common for expectant mothers to either be employed or in school when they conceive.
Today the average age of a community college student is, according to the American Association of Community Colleges, 28 years old, the median age is 23 and 57% of students are women. Meaning the majority of college students are women between the ages of 23 and 28.
On it’s face this seems a random fact, but 23-28 is an especially important age range for the average American woman, because the average age of first conception is 25.4 years almost smack in the middle of the range.

Given that nearly 50% of community college students have either been pregnant or helped in the process and that of that population some 60% drop out as a result speaks to the challenges faced by expecting mothers who are also students.
This means that community colleges have to be more than just a place for students to learn, increasingly community colleges will need to be a place for families to thrive. When a woman has to choose between her education or her career and her desire to start a family  society as a whole loses out. The challenges faced my expectant mothers will require of colleges institutions for helping to support them as they begin or finish their academic careers.

While LBCC does offer childcare for children, they do not, at present, offer childcare for infants and babies. This leaves expecting mothers with little option beyond relying on family members for support or hiring a stranger to watch their children while they are at work and school. 
There are several women who are taking on this challenge right here at LBCC Marci Bailey-Moling a professor in the Chemistry department Justeen Eliott a writer and editor here at The Commuter, and Laura Penny to name just a few.
Marci, who has been a professor here at LB for the last 7 years, will be having a baby boy in February of this term. Far from being nervous or stressed, Marci exuded enthusiasm and optimism about having a baby and maintaining her professional life. While she counted her blessings she also felt that other expectant mothers have to believe in themselves and know that they can do anything they set their minds to.

For her the biggest challenge that she has faced has been time management and planning. There are so many little things that have to be done in preparation for a new baby, not least of which was in making sure that she would have the time off she needed to spend with her newborn. 

While other women in a different circumstance might be limited to only 12 weeks, Marci’s time management practices, foresight, and accumulated sick leave will enable her to spend the entire spring with her newborn. When she does return to work in the fall her husband, as is becoming more common, will be staying at home to take care of the child while he works on his law degree.

For many female college students becoming an expecting mother means dropping out of school, at least for a time, but this is not true of all students. One such champion is Justeen Eliott, who had her first child just three-and-a-half months ago and never stopped attending classes.

During the first week of the trimester, and afraid she might be dropped if she didn't attend class,  Justeen went into labor on the evening of Sept. 26, a Tuesday night, had her baby six hours later, early Wednesday morning, and was back in class by Thursday morning and all without painkillers.  

Her determination is an inspiration to all women who wonder if they will have to sacrifice family life for work/school life. She spoke of how being in online classes, versus in person classes, really helped her in remaining in school.

In the intervening months Justeen has relied on her mother to help her with child care. Grandma watches her son while Justeen is  in class and her husband, Kent, is at work. She really stressed the need for expecting mothers to have family to rely on and a stable relationship with their partner before they embark on motherhood, “I wouldn't have been able to make it without Kent, I do not know how single parents make it.”

Laura , a straight pre-nursing student, with a five month old son, says that the hardest part of college life with a child is getting all her homework done. She said that, "Online classes help out a lot" because of their flexibility.

When asked about what she needs from LBCC she said, "I would like them to have a designated area for breast-feeding moms". A completely fair request given that there are already designated areas for smokers. Why not have them for mothers of infants, its a far worthier cause.

These women demonstrate that it is possible to start a family without giving up on your career and academic goals. It takes hard work and determination on your part and it requires academic institutions to offer services to their students to facilitate their success.

At A Glance

One such service is already offered here at LBCC, free-headstart for the children of parents registered at LBCC or at OSU from 7:45 A.M to 3:05 P.M.They have one class for three year olds, two for four to five year olds, and one class for infants and toddlers. 
Eight families make use of this program receive more than just childcare, staff at the center offer health and nutrition training for parents as well as training in developmental programs like tantrum management and bed time procedures.
LBCC Head Start Program Head Start Sites in Linn and Benton Counties
Maternal Child Health Programs in Linn County