Sometimes I feel like college kids aren’t too far removed from kindergarten. Minus the workload, crazy hours, a little sex here and a little alcohol there, we’re all still waiting to pounce on the class freaks during recess. The only difference is that the freaks have changed.
A couple weeks back in my psychology discussion, one showed his face. He wasn’t a four-eyes, a brace-face or a teacher’s pet. His crime against normalcy was much more severe; he was 19 and engaged to be married. Of all the 30 or so refined, mature young adults in this small Dennison classroom, not one refrained from staring at him with incredulity and disapproval. In a psychology class, where the real showstoppers should be mutated rhesus monkeys or schizophrenics who cut off their own hands, it was this boy who earned the disgust of his peers who got to be the freak.
And I sat there thinking, rather hopelessly, how would they look at me if I told them that in their midst was not only this conjugally-minded lad, but a 21-year old girl who was three months pregnant – and happy about it?
The harsh reality is this: You can change your major a hundred times, you can transfer in and out of schools as often as you change clothes, you can tack on as many super-senior years as you want, but if you’re a “non-traditional” student at the University of Michigan, you’re an outsider. I wear this on my shoulders almost every day, worrying as my pregnancy begins to show that I will run into acquaintances and friends I haven’t yet told, or worse, run into the occasional once-over from a judgmental stranger. Pregnancy is hard enough, between morning sickness, mood swings, fatigue and dietary restrictions, but none of the “what to expect” books tell you how to prepare for being a social outcast. And I have yet to see the button or T-shirt that says what I sometimes feel I need to scream through a megaphone: “I AM PREGNANT BUT I WILL STILL BE SUCCESSFUL! I AM PREGNANT BUT I STILL WANT TO BE INVITED TO HANG OUT! I AM PREGNANT BUT I AM NOT A FREAK!”
I know that if I had the chance to sit down with everyone I encounter and explain how much time and energy I’ve put into deciding on parenthood and what my adjusted five-year plan is, very few would remain unsupportive. But I’m not struggling with individuals; I’m struggling with a system, and in that system is the built-in assumption that college – serious college – is no place for those distracted by peripheral domestic pursuits like marriage and a family. I know this system well, because I am a part of it. I have my own doubts about the feasibility of finishing a degree and pursuing a career in these circumstances. So why does it feel like I’ve been written off before even being given the chance to try?
From my limited research, there are few resources for those of us with a bun in the oven – probably because there are precious few of us. I personally know of only two other pregnant students who were bold enough to stick around campus – ever. Search “pregnancy resources” on the University’s website and you’ll find a list of links to UHS pregnancy testing and information about emergency contraception. Call the Office of Financial Aid and they’ll tell you that yes, there is childcare for students, but oh, by the way, you’ll have to cover it with student loans when we tack the cost onto your tuition. Financing child care? You can’t be serious. There has to be something better than this.
But there isn’t.
It has taken some time – I’m five months along now – but I’m finally realizing that these hurdles aren’t going to go away, and it’s OK if I’m “non-traditional.” A month ago, I got my first ultrasound; a week ago, I discovered I can put my hand on my abdomen and feel a child, my child, dancing. No amount of unwanted stares, awkward explanations or disappointing advising meetings can diminish the magic and miraculousness of that. If that’s non-traditional, I’ll take it.
I wish I wasn’t embarrassed. I wish I had the nerve to tell the people I haven’t told that I’m pregnant and thrilled about it. But some people just aren’t ready. Those who are (close friends and the odd professor or two) have my unending gratitude. The best advice I’ve received from these lovely and supportive people is just to buck up. It’s going to be hard, yes, but it won’t be impossible. And I will not give up.
Watch out, U of M. You haven’t seen the last of this freak.
–Kendall Dorie is an LSA junior.