Baby Blues at BYU: Education Becomes a Juggle for Young Parents

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    By David Hinckley

    Loretta Monareng landed herself in the hospital in November, stressed out, exhausted and almost nine months pregnant.

    Already a mother of one, Monareng tried to balance family, a master?s program and multiple jobs, all while trying to prepare for a new baby. She didn?t sleep.

    Induced a week before her due date, she gave birth to her son on Nov. 10. Three weeks later, she was back at school, getting ready for finals.

    ?There was no [discussion] about taking the semester off,? she said. ?We didn?t even consider that. I just want to graduate as quickly as possible.?

    Monareng represents an unofficial sorority of sisters at BYU, women who learn the unique challenges of pregnancy and motherhood, and decide to take classes through it all. Although numbers are hard to get at, a student doesn?t have to look far in hallways, classes and computer labs before seeing a rounded maternal belly or the soft colors of a stroller.

    Although they dot the campus, each expectant and new mother must run a gamut of hardships to balance her life, and any couple making the decision to start a family while Mom is still in school should be aware of what they might face as well as the possible benefits going through with it.

    First of all, says April Teran, a senior who gave birth to a daughter in May, a woman planning classes while pregnant should expect an exhausting couple of semesters. And the first one, she said, can be harder in some respects than the second.

    Teran took 15 credits during her first trimester in addition to working 20 hours a week at a campus custodial job. She said even with her first classes coming at 10 a.m., the schedule was tough and nausea forced her out of a lecture more than once.

    And there?s no guarantee a pregnant woman will be able to go to class at all if morning sickness is particularly bad or if complications later in pregnancy confine her to bed.

    Joni Anderson, prenatal coordinator at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, said while college-aged women generally have smooth pregnancies, the specter of complications and the uncertainty of when labor will come make planning a schedule around the birth difficult. And a doctor probably won?t listen, she said, if a woman wants to be induced more than a week early to avoid finals or to help the mother prepare for the next semester.

    In addition, she says, first-time moms usually have hard deliveries and long recoveries that should be factored into the equation. Teran had three months and said she needed every day of it. Monareng, who had her second child in the middle of the semester, was able to get by with less than three weeks.

    Naturally, the challenges only get harder after returning to school. Melanie Howland, a senior who also gave birth in May, said her relatively light class load is heavier than she ever would have expected.

    She says: ?Taking 12 credits without a baby would have been a breeze. While I was pregnant, it was exhausting. With a baby, it?s ten times harder.?

    And that?s with a mild, good-sleeping baby, she said. Anderson said infants usually don?t sleep through the night until they?re around six months old, adding sleep depravation to the list of challenges a student-mother has to expect.

    Of course, there?s also the issue of what to do with the baby while Mom?s in class. Teran says she usually keeps her daughter with her, whether that be in classes, in the library, or wherever. She said challenges range from getting the stroller through narrow doors to having to take the baby out of class two or three times a day to trying to take notes while holding a baby.

    Howland and her husband take a different approach and pass the baby around like a hot potato. One hour, she?ll be with Howland. The next, she?ll be with her husband. The next, she?ll be with a family member or close friend. Then Howland will need to feed her. But she?ll pass her back off if she has an important lecture coming up.

    ?If I want to pay attention in class, I have to have someone else watch her,? she said.

    And taking exams, she adds, is extra difficult, because she has to schedule it for whenever the baby is taken care of rather than when she is ready for the test.

    Finally, there?s the issue of nursing. Mothers who choose to breast-feed ? all three mothers in this article did ? face the issue of where to feed or pump. Monareng, going through the drill for the second time, says she is frustrated by the social pressure to pump or feed in private when the only private place to do it is next to the stalls in the bathroom. Both Howland and Teran weaned their babies at around six months because they were tired of the hassle.

    Of course, none of them say they would have done the baby-school juggle any other way. All three are looking forward to April graduation and see this semester as endurance months. Their motivation, they say, is the desire to finish school and a refusal to let themselves get off track.

    And Anderson, the prenatal coordinator, says new mothers have a variety of options and supports. Births in the valley, she says, rise every year in the summer because couples often plan their babies for when the mother won?t be in school. She says that can give the mother a good three months to learn her baby?s routine and get back on her feet.

    She said taking on-line classes or taking less credits are also good options open to most mothers.

    Both Howland and Monareng say another help is an acceptance that they can?t do everything and a focus on what is most important. For Monareng, that moment came in her stress-induced trip to the hospital and resulted in her simplifying her life by quitting a couple of her jobs. For Howland, that has meant coming to terms with the acceptability of ?B? grades.

    ?I had to let it go,? she said. ?I just don?t do my best work at school anymore.?

    Another common theme is the support new mothers receive from family and friends. Howland says a long list of people are making it possible for her to continue school. Monareng?s husband has taken time off of school to care for the kids while Monareng finishes her master?s degree and prepares to support him through school.

    Each also say that their professors and instructors have been accommodating. Monareng says she talked to her program director before the semester she delivered and told him she was concerned about having a baby in the middle of it.

    ?He was really supportive,? she said. ?He said, ?Don?t worry about it, and I?m happy for you.? That really helped me a lot. This is a very family-friendly university.?

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