Several students in the College of Nursing program have shared concerns over balancing course demands and family life and are requesting more accommodations for young mothers through the program.
“It can be difficult to be a mother and a student,” BYU nursing student Micaela Adamson Newbold said. “I do my very best to still do quality work, but, ultimately, caring for my son and my family will always come first. I feel torn when I feel pressured to put school first.”
Four mothers were asked to leave the annual College of Nursing Scholarly Works Conference in October for bringing their children to the mandatory event, according to Newbold. The incident led to student moms in the nursing program to discuss the difficulty of balancing college demands with family life, and led the College of Nursing to discuss possible accommodations in the future.
Newbold, who was asked to leave the conference with her 4-month-old son, said the conference took place at a different time than regularly scheduled classes and she was therefore unable to find childcare. When asked to leave the required event, Newbold said she worried about the effect the absence would have on her grade.
“Thankfully, my teacher did give me credit for the amount of time that I was able to attend the conference,” Newbold said. “Situations like these just make it very stressful when I am doing all I can as a mother and a student.”
Jeff Peery, the head of public relations for the BYU College of Nursing, said the nursing program’s student handbook states infants and children are not allowed in class lectures, lab or conferences. The policy has been in place for the last 20 years to avoid class distractions or health concerns for the children, according to Peery.
“Every student has reviewed and acknowledged to have read the undergraduate student handbook,” Peery said. “Students were supposed to have already read it because that was part of their stipulation of being a student in the program.”
Nursing student Lyndsy Miller said being asked to leave the conference was “the tip of the iceberg” of other experiences she and other young mothers have faced in the nursing program.
Miller said she was stressed to complete finals before her 6-month-old daughter’s birth and knows other young mothers in the nursing program who have to defer up to a year after having a child in the middle of a semester.
Miller said she has received counsel about excused absences and medical leave for pregnancy under Title IX and said it may need to be reviewed by the College of Nursing.
“Girls that may get pregnant in the future and happen to give birth in the middle of the semester don’t have much of a choice,” Miller said. “They have to defer because there’s no makeup, no leniency whatsoever.”
College of Nursing Dean Patricia Ravert said the nursing program encourages students with health concerns or who are struggling to handle the course load to take fewer credits and still graduate.
“Like engineering or any other difficult major, it will just take you longer to graduate,” Ravert said. “If you needed to defer a semester or partial semesters, we accommodate and encourage it because we want 100 percent of our students to graduate and leave as prepared to be a registered nurse.”
College of Nursing Associate Dean Katreena Merrill said work in the nursing program is difficult to make up because the course material and hands-on experience are challenging to replicate.
“When a student doesn’t attend, they may have a very difficult time catching up,” Merrill said. “We send students out in clinical to work to see a surgery or how to work with a patient who’s had a heart attack. Those are just things you can’t replicate. You can’t say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry that you missed. Here’s a one-page paper to make it up.’ It’s not the same.”
Miller said she believes more accommodations and resources are needed through the College of Nursing.
One changing station was installed into the KMBL this year and one room in the College of Nursing office is temporarily offered for mothers to pump or breastfeed between classes, according to Ravert.
“In the Spencer W, Kimball Tower, there is only one baby table in the girl’s bathroom,” Miller said. “There’s a room in the main office where mothers can pump, but the dean even said once a new faculty comes in, we’re not going to have that room.”
Ravert said she has submitted a request to look into available space for nursing lounges and changing stations and plans to discuss possible accommodations with faculty in the College of Nursing.
“I’ve sent a proposal asking space management and space planning to look and see if there could be more areas specifically for this building as well as another building where we have a lot of our nursing classes,” Pavert said. “The university is considering it. I don’t have any control over the decision that’s made or how fast that happens.”
University Communications Media Relations Manager Todd Hollingshead said he was unaware of similar requests made by other colleges or departments on campus.
Merrill said being a student and mother is possible, but it’s the student’s responsibility to prepare and consider childcare. The ultimate goal of the College of Nursing is helping students transition to work in the real world, according to Merrill.
“What we’re modeling is professional behavior,” Merrill said. “I would rather tell a student at the university level it’s not appropriate to bring your child to a professional conference than have that student make the same mistake in the work setting.”
Newbold made reference to the 2018 General Women’s Session of General Conference, where President Dallin H. Oaks spoke on the importance of motherhood and his concern over the delay in starting a family among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Newbold said she hopes accommodations and a change in conversation will help change views about being a mother and student in the College of Nursing.
“I don’t expect special treatment because I am a mom, but I wish that I heard more encouraging words about starting and supporting families from my peers, teachers and administrators in the nursing program,” Newbold said. “It is not impossible to be a student and a parent. We just need to help and support and encourage each other.”