Labor pains

Your Mom Goes to College

mia-villanueva

On Dec. 4, 2013, a week after completing my calculus final and a week before I would take my World Civilizations final, I went into labor. I was admitted to the hospital at 6 a.m., and as luck would have it, I was scheduled to register for the 2014 spring semester at 8:35 a.m. With an epidural catheter inserted in my lower back and a MacBook placed strategically on my lap, I promptly registered for my next semester of classes between dulled contractions and looks of disbelief from my nurses. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, this was my first taste of juggling being a mother and a student.

At 10:43 a.m., my life began. I gave birth to my beautiful son Liam. An hour later, I received a confirmation email from Fullerton College stating I had successfully registered for my classes for the spring.

Neither of my parents had graduated college, and I always knew they wanted differently for me. Since I was little, I listened to my mom regretfully tell me that she hadn’t gotten her degree because she was forced to leave her college in the Philippines and move to the U.S. at the tender age of 20.

Here I was, 20 years old, facing a different though equally challenging life change from what my mom had. I knew the stereotype I would be boxed into, and I knew the stigmas I would face as a mom in college. Rather than being another statistic, however, I decided to become the exception.

Life as a mother in college at UC Berkeley has been a lot like how it was Dec. 4. Every success I’ve had as mother has been paralleled by my success as a student, though academic feats seem a lot sweeter now than they have before. Acing a final has always been a huge accomplishment for me, but doing so after coaxing a restless newborn to sleep all night feels like nothing short of achieving the impossible.

Almost four years after my son was born, I am so proud of how far I’ve come as a student and as a mother. I’ve learned the art of rocking my son to sleep in one arm while balancing the Norton Anthology of British Literature in the other. I’ve learned that a baby’s cry is the best alarm clock to wake you up for school in the morning. I’ve learned that nothing feels better than doing the things people said you couldn’t, and I’ve learned that I’m just going to have to sleep when I’m dead.

I might not fit into the traditional mold of a student in college, but I wouldn’t change my situation for the world. Becoming a mom has given me the opportunity to see the importance of my education through my son’s eyes, as it sets the foundation for the life he so deserves.

An estimated quarter of American undergraduates are student-parents, and many of them share with me in this sentiment that their education is an essential part in providing for their child. Many parents including myself, however, have found that the culture at the university is not one that acknowledges our unique demographic, nor views itself as an organization that is family-friendly.

Too often have professors responded coldly when I’ve told them I can’t make it to class because my son is sick. Too often have I had no child care options when my classes took up my time late in the evening. Too often have I found myself having to put my parent status aside to be a student.

This semester, I hope to illuminate the triumphs and struggles of student-parents at Cal and gain the support from the university administration needed to better the resources available for us on campus while promoting the practice of equity in education among the student body.

There has never been a greater time than the present to work to improve the atmosphere for student-parents on college campuses. Just as we are pressured to study for our finals, just as I pressure my son to “please not use my MacBook as the base for your play dough castle,” we need to pressure UC Berkeley to better help student-parents succeed: because being a college student is hard, but doing so while potty-training a 2-year-old is harder. Because we are just as capable as traditional students. Because we do it on half the amount of sleep. Because our kids deserve to see us succeed. Because “I said so.”

Mia Villanueva writes the Thursday column on her experience as a student-parent at UC Berkeley. Contact her at [email protected]