I think it’s safe to say that I did not have the “normal” university experience. I’m what society would consider a teen mom. I had a baby while I was still a teenager.
I was just starting post-secondary like all my other friends. I was 18 years old. I had just graduated high school and I was having a baby.
Sounds easy, right?
I sort of ignored what was happening at first because I knew I had to stay focused. I focused on going to classes, doing my readings, and navigating the hallways (which is much harder when pregnant because you are constantly losing your memory). I focused on finding clubs, feeling young, and navigating the chaos of university – because I wanted to have the most normal university experience possible.
Now I should clear something up – I didn’t forget I was having a baby. I know it sounds like I did, but I wanted to focus on maturing with my age group, not fast-tracking to the age group of my parents and teachers. I was having a baby like all older people in my life so I felt like I had to act more mature. I was bringing a child into this world so I had to do like my mama told me and grow up…fast.
I’m not saying it takes a baby to make someone grow up but it definitely it pushed me in the right direction.
Going to school everyday and getting more pregnant everyday was not always a picnic. People would stare at me as if I was a guest on Maury. They would give me sympathetic looks and ask questions like “how do you do it?” or “how are you going to keep up University once the baby is born?” These were the questions that infuriated me most. I also didn’t have much of a support system through most of my pregnancy, which made these questions even tougher.
I was alone in the sense that I didn’t live with my (also) single mother. I didn’t have a significant other because the father was not supportive. I didn’t have help from grandparents or best friends. These support systems tend to fall to the wayside because people make assumptions that your priorities change. They don’t call to check up because they think the ringer will wake the baby. They don’t ask you to hang out because they want to party and you can’t. They don’t want to “bother” you in your new lifestyle.
Feeling like a complete failure, I stayed very close to positive small circles. I volunteered at different places and found outlets that took my mind off my nervousness and my feelings of doubt. I needed to feel like I was not just some pregnant 19-year-old. I was so much more than that. My son wouldn’t be an obstacle in my life, he would simply be part of it.
I learned how to put him to sleep, clean my kitchen, organize my finances, dance to a song, take a shower and get a couple hours to myself before taking him to daycare and making it to lecture. I learned how to plan a reading around his bath time and then make notes later. I was in a serious relationship with my highlighters (I used them religiously). I found support from subsidized daycare to make sure he was adequately watched so that I could go to school. I learned how to find a sitter or rely on close friends and family to watch him while I worked a part-time job in the evenings and weekends to afford rent.
So the answer to the question of “how I did it” was… I woke up and did it. It’s about priorities.
Although it took two years to understand how balance school, my son, my workload, and my relationships, I can say that, despite what my classmates couldn’t fathom, I did it. I can also say that two years later, I am now happily engaged. Take that, classmates!
I want to leave you with three tips to find balance in your life. Now I am definitely not here to make assumptions – I don’t know your story. I don’t know if you have a baby like me, if you are a single mother like me, or if you live on your own like me.
But I’m a student. Who is 21. Who doesn’t know what they are doing all the time, and sometimes needs a little love and guidance.
Just like most of us.
Challenge yourself to Adult: Create a balanced routine and stick to it
Life is about taking calculated risks. Find ways to feel independent, regardless if you live at home or plan to move out. When you feel in control of your current life, you will feel much better about making choices. Make time for yourself to try a new class, or even get around to that reading you’ve been putting off. Organize yourself and make plans. I personally use sticky notes and a small whiteboard from the dollar store to keep myself in check. Find ways to help you gain control and successfully adult.
Hold on to the little things that remind you of who you are
I love to sing! It releases a lot of anxiety. I grew up in church watching my mom sing and listening to her talent shine through made my heart swell. Music helps me release my emotions, whether happy or sad, and it also gives me five minutes of peace beside a screaming, relentless toddler. Finding the small things that truly express who you are can help you cope with the world around you. If you love to do makeup, do your makeup for no reason. Do it because you love your skill and you love what you do!
It IS much harder than it looks
It’s okay to have bad days. It is okay to feel pressure from your life. Your life isn’t always going to feel like sunshine and rainbows. I have really bad days where I have to lock myself in the washroom for five minutes. That’s okay. You have to accept that some things will happen and they will suck, but you don’t have to live in that bad moment forever. I used to put my music on shuffle. And when I couldn’t decide what to feel, I didn’t skip a song. I just felt all the anxiety, frustration and happiness that came with the eclectic mix of songs. Understand that this too, shall pass.
Life is unbalanced sometimes but an unbalanced life helps us grow and prosper. Surround yourself with other people who want to be amazing, and you will do amazing things together! Be influenced by the good, but don’t run from the bad. Understand that all these emotions are part of what make life interesting and worth living. And maybe one day, you’ll have a better answer than me when you’re asked “how you do it?”