When clients facing unexpected pregnancies enter our clinics, they often have concerns about all the ways a pregnancy could impact their life. Although pregnant women have presented a variety of concerns, some of the most common include housing, finances, and education. Where will I live? How will I afford it? Can I even graduate?
If this is you, just know that your concerns, thoughts, and feelings are valid. Pregnancy and parenthood open up a new season of life, including new responsibilities. You’re allowed to feel scared, worried, or even overwhelmed. But good news! Resources exist for any of the above concerns. There is support for you, whoever you are. It’s just a matter of finding and receiving what you need.
We have blogs for all types of pregnancy resource needs, but this article will focus specifically on your education. If you are unexpectedly pregnant, that doesn’t mean you can’t finish school, continue on in higher ed, or achieve your goals! In fact, many women feel more motivated to achieve after having a baby. We hope to offer you some encouragement and resources for going to school when facing an unplanned pregnancy. You got this!
Pregnancy is Not the End
The first thing we need to get right is our mindset. So often, as women, we are told, “You can’t do it all,” or “How are you going to manage that?” All that does is sow seeds of doubt in your mind. But girl–you are capable of more than you know! “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” as they say. If you believe you can do something, all you have to do is find a way.
Pregnancy is not the end of your life. Your body has incredible capacity to create and sustain new life, and this is just a manifestation of that. Even though it may feel like the end of your life goals, remind yourself that you have options. Take some time to reflect. Have you ever faced anything in the past that felt impossible to overcome, but you did? Write down any examples from your own life or the lives of people close to you. Use these examples to encourage yourself. If you were able to get through tough times before, you can get through this too.
If you are pregnant and in school, know that you have two things: rights and resources. Understanding what those are will empower you through this journey.
Pregnant & In School: Know Your Rights
Alright, so you’re in school, and this positive pregnancy test has sent your mind spinning. Maybe you were using birth control, maybe not. Either way, this was not part of your family planning strategy. What’s going to happen? Can I do this? Am I going to get kicked out? The first thing to know is that it is against the law for a school to kick you out because you are pregnant or parenting. This applies to both high school and college; your Title IX rights protect you throughout this pregnancy.
Title IX is a federal law banning various forms of discrimination in any educational institution that receives federal funds. Title IX makes it illegal to exclude students who may become, are currently, or have been pregnant from an educational program. Your pregnancy gives you rights like any other medical condition would. You rights include (1):
- Absences due to pregnancy, prenatal appointments, or childbirth must be excused.
- Professors must provide extensions for any deadlines missed due to pregnancy-related conflicts or childbirth.
- If you miss class because of pregnancy-related conflicts or childbirth, you must be allowed to make up the participation or attendance credits.
- Your school cannot exclude you from any programs because of your pregnancy, including athletics.
If you are in college, find your institution’s Title IX coordinator and set up a meeting. Their job is to make sure none of your rights are being violated.
Next Steps: Preparing for New Things
The best way to navigate a pregnancy during school is by making a plan. Maybe the pregnancy itself was unplanned, but that doesn’t mean the rest of your year has to be!
Pull together a schedule of your semester and/or year. Printing out a calendar and filling it out on paper may create a better visual than using your phone. Identify important dates: exams, project due dates, presentations, school breaks, etc. Write down your due date–that’s an important date to remember too! When scheduling prenatal appointments, do your best to plan around the more important school events. If your due date is during the semester, calculate the time you’ll need around that date to rest and recover.
Once you have an idea of how it will look, it’s time to start communicating. The first person to tell is your academic advisor (if you are in high school, talk to your school counselor). Your advisor should be able to inform you about your school’s policies and help you prepare for telling your professors. Telling your professors may feel stressful or uncomfortable, but your advisor should help you navigate that.
In the meantime, here are a few tips for telling your professor about your pregnancy:
- You could tell them in person or via email. Whichever option you choose, try to follow up with the other. If you talk to them in person, follow up with an email summarizing your conversation. If you write an email first, follow up in person to ensure they put a face to the name.
- Inform your professors as early as possible. The sooner they know, the better you can work together to plan out your semester.
- Ask each professor how you can navigate projects, dates, and extensions according to your particular situation and their particular class. If you are dealing with unique circumstances–such as intense morning sickness or a high-risk pregnancy–make sure to have a plan with your professor in that regard too.
You have the right to be accommodated and treated professionally and respectfully. If you feel as though a professor is not working with you according to Title IX and your school’s policies, talk to your advisor.
INow, you may be thinking–Okay, so I’m allowed to stay in school. But I don’t even know if I can make it work. It doesn’t matter that they can’t kick me out if I can’t even do it. Well, now that you know your rights, it’s time to get familiar with resources that can help you. No one should have to navigate pregnancy unsupported! It’s great if you have family and friends to walk alongside you, but even if you don’t, there are resources available to you.
Every educational institution offers something different. If you are in high school, talk to your school counselor to find out what resources are available to you. If you are in college, your advisor should be able to point you in the right direction. In the meantime, here are some general resources to get you started:
- WIC: The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age 5 who are found to be at nutritional risk. If you are concerned about adequate nutrition during or after pregnancy, check your WIC eligibility today.
- Pregnant & Parenting: Western Mass Young Adult Resource Guide: This page on the Massachusetts government website outlines various young parent support programs and resources in our state. Read through the list to see if any resonate with your particular needs.
- Clearway Clinic Pregnancy Resources: Our website outlines a handful of resources across our state. You can also schedule a resource appointment with one of our patient advocates to create a customized resource referral list according to your needs and get started on the process of reaching out for support.
- Prenatal Education Classes: We also offer free prenatal education classes every month to prepare you for labor and delivery and newborn care. Staying well-informed empowers your prenatal care journey! We are here to equip you.
You can also visit your school’s website to see if they have any resources posted. For example, UMass Amherst offers on-campus childcare, information about community childcare/babysitting/co-ops, and breastfeeding/pumping areas across campus. Many other schools have similar programs and resources. It’s just a matter of knowing what they are!
Listen to True, Inspiring Stories
Sometimes, you need to be your own hype (wo)man. The world is full of opinions, positive and negative. You need to choose which voices you value and take charge of your own story. Being pregnant and in school is no walk in the park, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. In fact, you may learn many new things that you never could have imagined learning otherwise!
Listen to stories of people who walked a similar path to you and succeeded. Learn from them. What habits did they practice? What mindset did they have? She Might has an abundance of stories of unprepared new moms who did not let that stop them from thriving. Read Jessica’s story, who became a doctor as a single mother; hear from Josie, Holly, and Megan, who all graduated with various degrees as college moms. Read Essence’s 10 Heartfelt Stories from Graduating Black Moms to inspire you to keep it pushing! Whatever your circumstances may be, someone else has faced challenges like yours and succeeded. You can too.
At Clearway, we want to offer you first steps towards support and empowerment on this new journey. Schedule an appointment to confirm your pregnancy and meet with an advocate to get connected to the resources you need. We also offer education on all possible pregnancy outcomes: adoption, abortion, miscarriage, and parenting. Call our office for more information.