I became pregnant with my first child while studying at university. My mother was pregnant in Uni. My sister was pregnant in Uni. A number of my friends were also pregnant in uni. My daughter is 8 now. I had just turned 21 when I gave birth to her.
I had always looked forward to my 21st. To having the big party that we always talked about and the dreams that we had for when we turned 21 - the “When I turn 21, I’m going to…”. I also had always looked forward to going to uni - to finally moving out from home; the independence and the stepping stone to becoming a successful career person.
Yes, I did gain my independence and move out from home, but little did I know that in less than 2 years I was going to become a mother. At 21, I never had that great party I looked forward to. Instead, I had a baby when I was in my 2nd year of Uni, in a relationship and still wanting so much to achieve my goals and dreams.
Breaking the news to my parents was the hardest thing I had ever had to do in my life up to that point. I was scared. My parents wanted the best for me, wanted me to succeed and I felt I had just let them down. I wanted to get rid of the child. The fear of facing my parents with the news was too much. I was ashamed. How do I tell them? What was going to happen to me? Do I still stay in Uni? My plans? My dreams? What was going to happen? Attempts at abortion failed. The year was coming to an end and pretty soon I would have to face my fears and face my parents - my dad especially. I didn’t know what to expect or where my life was headed; all I knew was I was having a baby and had to deal with it.
Building up the courage to tell my mum was much easier. Knowing that she had also been in the same situation, I guess I hoped that she would be more understanding-- and she was. She was very supportive. My dad (not my biological dad, but my mum’s brother who raised me up, who is the father figure in my life) was the one I feared most, as I knew he always wanted me to be the best and he always gave me the best. Breaking the news to him was hard and he let his anger out, in words. He told me that I was to pull out of uni and stay at home, since having a child was what I wanted to do instead of getting an education. I cried and begged, saying that I wanted to continue going to Uni. He finally subsided.
I told myself that I was going to prove to him that I could do it. I continued Uni and had to keep my head up at all times despite the stares and talk that came from other students seeing my bulge. But with the support of my friends, my mum, my partner at the time and my aunty who took me in--where we stayed while I took care of my baby and went to school--I was able to complete Uni, achieve my degree with merits, and be the only female in my course that year to graduate.
Though maybe my life may have been different, I have no regrets. I have a lovely daughter who I love dearly. I also have a great career. But maybe if there were better counseling services, programs, support groups available which provided better direction, I would have delayed the pregnancy. I only encourage other young females to graduate before getting pregnant. Achieve and enjoy your single, young years before motherhood.
This is my story. My mother has her story and so does my sister, my friends and other young women who became pregnant while at Uni: their fears, their feelings, the pain and struggle that they also went through.
Every year, in universities in Papua New Guinea, approximately 15 young women become pregnant. The women are allowed to continue their education during pregnancy and after, but once the child is born they lose boarding privileges and must make their own living arrangements to continue. In some cases, the female and her partner, if married, move to the Married Students Accommodation; for most cases, if there is good family support, the female leaves the child with the parents, aunty, or guardian to take care of the child while she continues uni; and for others, they simply quit uni.
In Papua New Guinea, it is considered taboo to discuss sex in family groups or anything related to it. It is not discussed openly and, depending on the background that you come from, many times it is not discussed at all. Thus, when it comes to a situation where a young female becomes pregnant, all it brings is shame to the family and to the female, and all the negativity towards the situation becomes greater. Yet, once the baby is born, despite all the struggles faced and challenges that will be faced with having a baby, most often the family rejoices and welcomes the baby as a blessing and the joy of having a new member in the family - be it the daughter, grandchild, niece/nephew-- is far greater, overcoming all the initial anger and pressures that had begun.
University years is the most vulnerable time in a young female’s life, as it is during this time that she is being prepared for life, finding the career path, the social groups, the clubs/associations that build up her individuality and interests. It is also during this time that relationships become more adhesive and more intense. It is especially during this time that life issues support groups and services should be available to advise and counsel young people in their lives’ choices - yet there is a great lack of it.
In the universities, there are health clinics. This is the only form of service available to students that is related to health and life issues. Contraceptives are available, but students are not being told in advance that these are available-- let alone what contraceptives are and how they can be used to prevent pregnancies. Counselling services and support mechanisms are close to zero and the Uni counsellor is more subject to counselling on studies than life issues.
Upon googling on the topic “Pregnancies in Universities” a lot of articles tell stories of young females and their experiences, but the availability of services and support groups that are available in universities seem to be only found in universities in developed countries. In one article, it talks about how universities have set rules for what happens when female students fall pregnant such as disciplinary actions and expulsions.
1- Catherine Kanabahita, who heads the gender mainstreaming division at Makerere University, believes universities should not take punitive action against students who become pregnant. “What they need is to offer support mechanisms to prevent pregnancy through counseling and family planning methods,” she says. However, she acknowledges that in some universities, there is little to do since the university informs students in advance that pregnancy outside marriage is not allowed. But she warns that it’s time to look at things differently since there may be negative consequences. “With all due respect they have their right to impose regulations but they need to realise that with the female student already in a disadvantaged position, especially if it is an unwanted pregnancy, she may never get another chance at a university education. So who is the beneficiary?
While at Uni, there were no good support mechanisms and little was shared with new intakes with guidance and counseling regarding the prevention of pregnancies, along with other issues such as alcohol and drug related.
I always wonder now, if I had been informed before going to Uni or during orientation week about the consequences of pregnancy in Uni, if contraceptives were available, if the issue was treated more seriously, I would have taken it more seriously, and maybe it would have prevented me from becoming pregnant in Uni. Maybe it would prevent most pregnancies in Uni. If only my mother had shared with me her experiences. If only in high school sex education was taught, and / or guidance and counselling classes or support groups and services that a young female could go to.
I feel that these services should be made available at all universities and also to the public-- lifelines, counseling services, and support groups to help people make more informed decisions in their lives. Schools should also include sex education as part of the curricular and stress on social issues including sex and pregnancies to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and young relationships, which later lead to separations and divorces due to wrong life choices in people’s younger years.
Young people only learn from what they see on TV, in books and from other peers. They themselves end up learning by being in the situation, some situations which could be prevented.
Today, with more awareness being carried out with HIV/AIDS campaign on the media, pregnancies in universities have dropped in numbers as young men and women are being informed and are more wary of being infected by the virus. But as it is, counseling and support services are minimal. It is also up to us, parents, who have been through these experiences and know of these situations, to break the taboo and make it our obligation to talk to our children and youths on the consequences of early pregnancies and life choices. It can be and is very emotionally stressful, as it was for me, to go through pregnancy while studying at uni, with all the thoughts of how and why, the what-ifs and if-only’s on top of trying to keep a clear mind for passing exams. Thus, there is a critical need for efficient services and counseling prior to, during, and after Uni life to prevent, advise, and offer support to women like me—of which there are so many.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard from corners of the world.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future 2011 Assignment: Frontline Journals.