Katy and Emma Lodge are two sisters who both have experiences of being student parents. Both fell pregnant around the same time; Katy was studying in her second year at Plymouth University and Emma was in the army, but left to study her A levels. Both Katy and Emma spoke to Student Parents to discuss their experiences, the separate challenges they faced at different stages of education, and how they went through it together.
SP: Hi, Katy and Emma. Can you explain a little bit about when you found out you were pregnant and going to be a student parent?
Emma: I joined the army after leaving school, instead of doing A levels, to become an army vet. I was 17 when I got pregnant. At 18, I had Ollie and decided to leave the army to give him a more stable life. I still wanted to be a vet but am now doing it the more conventional way!
Katy: I was studying my undergraduate in Fine Art at Plymouth. When I found out I was going to be a student parent it was absolute panic, it was not at all planned, I didn’t think I could do it, I didn’t want to go through my 2nd year of uni pregnant. The thought of it made me angry, upset and quite helpless was also worried about what other students would think, and if my house mates would want me out!
SP: Did you feel the same Emma?
Emma: It was different for me because I planned to become a student parent, as I decided to do my A levels when Ollie was 1. I was very worried about being a student parent though. I was worried I wouldn’t fit in with the younger students or that my teachers would judge me for being a young mum. I was also very worried about my work load affecting my relationship with Ollie as I took on four difficult subjects; Maths, Biology, Chemistry and PE.
SP: How was it when you actually became a student parent Katy?
Katy: When my daughter was born in my second year I couldn’t have been happier, even though it was tiring trying to finish my studies.
SP: How did your university and college react? Were they helpful in anyway?
Emma: I haven’t found my college to be very helpful. I have had issues with being chased up when taking even one day off when Ollie is sick. I had letters threatening that I would be kicked off my course, even though my marks and attendance were much higher than a lot of the class. I have had one very helpful teacher, who offers me extra tuition if I have to miss anything and always saves me the hand outs.
Katy: I had a completely different experience from my university. They were very casual about my pregnancy and then me being a student parent. They were very
helpful and luckily my term dates fitted in well with my pregnancy.
SP: Why do you think this is? Is it maybe because Katy is older?
Katy: Maybe, but university is a completely different atmosphere. The students are older and you a judged less in general than at school.
Emma: Yes, I felt like I stood out and people were expecting me to fail my exams. I soon proved them very wrong!
SP: What other issues did you face as a student parent?
Emma: Money is an issue. I really struggle with the concept of not earning, and I haven’t applied for income support as I find it embarrassing. However, I get help with childcare costs which is fantastic. Luckily my partner is a good earner so supports us both well. The only downside to this is that he works away, which I find difficult.
Katy: I struggled with dizziness in my longer lectures, especially if it was hot, so often I missed on taking good notes, but my friends helped me out.
When my daughter was born, I was very tired! I only took 2 weeks out to have her and when I went back I had to catch up on work and finish my second year. It was easier in my final year, as I had had a summer to spend time with her and managed to put her in nursery for two days a week. But this again was difficult. I hated being away from her, so every moment I had her with her had to be well spent.
When I went back to university after summer for my final year luckily I only had a few lectures, which meant I could manage my own time, I set my routine and timetable around Lily’s routine. I’d put her to bed and then work till late, then get up before she woke up to get a couple more hours in!
Like I said my university was very good with me; I was able to take my daughter into the studio when I worked as she was only small and could just go in a baby carrier on my back or in her Moses basket. They were also very supportive in other ways like encouraging me to claim for extenuating circumstances for the time I had missed during the birth.
SP: Were your friends supportive?
Katy: I couldn’t have asked for more supportive friends. I don’t think I would have been able to cope without them. I lived in student housing during my pregnancy and was dreading telling them I was pregnant, as I was worried they wouldn’t want to live with a fat, cranky, sober person! They made my pregnancy fun and helped me with everything they possibly could, they came to my scans, hospital appointments, they used to sing to my bump, and always understood when I wanted to sleep instead of party and they even organised a surprise baby shower.
Once Lily was born I moved out and stayed in holiday home with my parents and Emma, who had also just had Ollie. My housemates babysat when I had lectures, they always invited me and Lily to everything (child friendly!). She was very close with all of them and still is to this day. They made the whole experience amazing for me! As well as friends, my family helped me a lot, especially Emma who as well as having her little one looked after Lily a lot in the early days.
Emma: For me, I had just moved to a new area so I didn’t have many friends, and it took me a while to make friends at college because I was either studying or spending time with Ollie. I also felt like I didn’t fit in, but after a few months I made a really good group of friends and feel like I really fit in now. My friends from home and family are very supportive as they often babysit for me. One of my best friends is helping me look after Ollie during my exams, and of course, Katy is amazing. Having a sister there who knows what you’re going through is always a plus! I couldn’t imagine not having Katy, and I don’t think Ollie could imagine life without Lily now!
SP: What advice would you offer to others who are going through the same thing on their own?
Emma: Always stick up for yourself and have good communication with your tutors and teachers.
“I overcame all my issues by not being quiet when I felt I had been treated unfairly.”
I also keep a very strict timetable, helping me to manage my subjects. I make extra time for study by making sure Ollie is in bed by 7:30.
Don’t take on too much, only do what you feel comfortable doing; I had to drop one of my subjects (PE) as I didn’t think it would be as much use to me as my other subjects and I was struggling with my workload. I give myself weekends off as it gives me something to look forward to and gives me, Ollie and my partner the quality time we need. It was incredibly challenging for me to go back into education, but it is already starting to pay off.
Katy:My advice to others would be: don’t let anything put you off what you really want to/ need to do. Studying whilst being a parent is more than challenging, but it’s something to be proud of. There are good days and bad days but it will pay off. It’s easy to feel guilty about spending time studying instead of being with your little ones, but I knew that if I wasn’t studying I’d be working anyway.
“I want Lily to have a good role model; to show her to follow her dreams, work hard and study hard.”
I’m proud of myself for continuing to study. Since my degree I’ve gone on to do a masters, which felt a little bit crazy at the time but is now really starting to pay off with offers of work in the job of my dreams! And luckily the course is very relaxed and Lily can help me in the studio and come on some of our field trips!
Try and follow a routine with your kids as much as you can. I always get up early with Lily and spend time with her before nursery and I always give her dinner, bath her and put her to bed without fail, even if I’ve got the biggest deadline the next day!
Don’t be put off if you’re a single mum, I wasn’t ‘single’ at university, but my partner is in the Navy and is away most of the time.
Make sure you’re getting all the financial help you can. I went to citizen’s advice and my student union to find out what I could get help with. I get income support, child benefit and child tax credit. I felt embarrassed applying but couldn’t manage financially without it!
My main tip would be, get lots of sleep (if you can!) and don’t waste any of the time you have with your kids; if you get a second with them, spend it well! Make sure you put aside family time; there’s only so much you can do, and it won’t feel worth it if you don’t reward yourself by spending time with those you love.
Katy, 23 and mother of Lily, is now studying an MA in Art and Environment at Falmouth.
Emma,aged 20, has a son named Ollie. She finishes her A levels this year.