Jenny Gibbons knew she didn’t have much time. She had been working hard on this paper and wanted a good grade. She knew the challenges that accompanied using Independent Study but was trying her hardest to be self-motivated. In just a few minutes she wouldn’t be able to work on her paper anymore and desperately needed to finish.
Just after she pushed “submit,” her daughters walked through the door. She had made it. Now she could spend precious time with her children.
Getting a college degree is hard enough without the added stresses of raising a family, although many women choose to juggle both at the same time.
Madison Berbert is one of these women. She graduated with a degree in exercise science in April 2013 after having a baby girl eight months prior.
“Finishing my degree was important to me because I have always valued my education, and I knew that I would need it if I ever wanted to go on to graduate school,” she said. “My grades suffered a little bit, but it was still worth it. ”
Women in Utah are already at a disadvantage when it comes to getting their degrees. According to the Utah Women’s College Task Force only 25.5 percent of Utah women have bachelor’s degrees versus 31.6 percent of Utah men.
Seeing women with babies or pregnant women on campus is not uncommon. This year, BYU recorded that 26 percent of its students were married, a higher percentage than the national average of 18 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sponsors BYU, it is not shocking to see so many young mothers on campus due to the LDS religious emphasis on marriage and family.
W. Douglas Shumway, of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, reiterated this in the April 2004 General Conference.
“In a society where marriage is often shunned, parenthood avoided and families degraded, we have the responsibility to honor our marriages, nurture our children and fortify our families,” Shumway said.
The Guttmacher Institute estimates that about 40 percent of women who get abortions are in their late teens or early twenties. For those who choose not to abort, a Wisconsin Financial study found that less than one in 10 students with children completed their bachelor’s degree within six years of beginning college.
In addition to starting families, the Church also stresses the importance of getting an education.
“In revelation the Lord has mandated that this people get all the education they can,” President Gordon B. Hinckley said at General Conference in 2006.
With so many married students at BYU, the stress of finishing a degree and starting a family is real. For those who have babies before graduation and continue to advance in their education, the journey is not an easy one.
“I think that the reason this is such a difficult decision for young couples to make is that we want to have families,” said Cynthia Hart, a mother of five, who had her first baby with two and a half years left of school. “We want to be obedient and help Heavenly Father raise his children. It’s a lot of pressure to be a woman. We want to get educated. We feel pressure to work and stay home with our kids too. It’s very difficult to find the right path.” Hart graduated in 1994 with a degree in music.
“It’s hard,” said Brooke Carter, a communications major with a seven-month-old boy. “Having a baby while both you and your spouse are in school is not for everyone.”
Carter had her baby boy last May and had only one semester left. She said she is grateful she was so close to finishing when her baby came along.
“It’s not fun to feel like you want to stay home and take care of your child but have other obligations to fill for hours and hours every single day,” Carter said. “We made a conscious decision for things to go this way, so I don’t regret it; but emotionally it’s definitely stretched me to my limits.” Carter has been working on her degree for six years and is excited to graduate at the end of December.
These mothers said they do not regret their decision or their experience, but they advise others to think carefully before attempting the same thing.
Katrina Romney graduated in August 2014 with a degree in visual arts after giving birth to her baby girl.
“I would say to people who are contemplating having children before graduation, that’s something you need to approach prayerfully,” she said. “If you feel like it’s right, don’t be scared, because it works out, (but) once you’re in that position, it’s important to realize your children and family are your first priority.”
Romney said if she were to do it again, she wished she had a better idea of what she was getting herself into.
Hart suggested that a woman should know how much she can handle and really think about how much work it will really take.
“In the end, we all do the best that we can, but I think that God expects us to study things out as well as feel them, and that means we should be informed and wise when we make decisions,” Hart said. “We need to know our limits and our resources and know that there is a time and season for all things and that is okay.”