Guest Post: Your Questions put to Cheryl Wood

For parents currently studying at University; one of the greatest worries is the impact having a child early will have on their future career. Speaking to the Leeds University Student Parent Community at their Easter Party in March, many expressed a wish to hear from someone who had “been there, done that” who could share their experience of what life is like for a student parent after graduation. I asked you to send it your questions (thanks to those you got in touch) and have taken them to Cheryl Wood who was a student parents during the mid-80s. Here, she answers your questions and shares her experience of what it was like being a student parent and how it has affected her career path.

Cheryl was 19 when she started an undergraduate course in Business Studies at Plymouth University in 1984. Not long after starting her course she fell pregnant and gave birth to a son, named Alex at the beginning of her second year.

“I found out I was pregnant part way through my first year at University.  I got married in April 1985.  Initially only close friends and my tutors knew I was pregnant.  It was a shock to my fellow students when I started back in the autumn with a huge bump.”

How did you juggle studying and motherhood?

I planned well and made sure I attended enough lectures, or had notes taken for me so I didn’t fall behind.  I did most of my studying in the evenings when my husband took over with the childcare.

Did you have a grounded support network?

Yes, my husband Andrew and close friends helped a lot.  My mum lived in Bristol, and Andrew’s mum and dad were in Bolton so we only saw them occasionally.  It would have been easier and a lot cheaper to have them on hand, but the downside would have been a lot of interference.

Was the University supportive? What help did they offer you? Or did you feel there was any stigma from your tutors or peers?

The university was absolutely great.  I was the first student on my course to have a baby so there was no policy or procedures in place.  All my tutors did whatever they could to make life easy for me, if I didn’t attend a lecture I would get copies of notes passed to my friends and often got extensions to deadlines. There was never any stigma from tutors or peers.

Ezinwanyi Udechukwu, studying at Leeds University recently gave birth to a baby son. She wants to know “what aspects of being a student parent were the most difficult and how did you overcome them?”

The hardest part was being different from the others, and having the ties and responsibilities that none of my peers had.  It was also very tiring as I was studying and looking after a child at the same time so there was little time to call your own.  Once you become a parent there is no such thing as time off!

Kyrsty Bonham, studying in Southampton asks, “Any benefits you may have found to having a child whilst studying?”

There is a little flexibility in terms of time as lectures aren’t full time and studying can fit around the baby.  However there’s no paid maternity leave either!

 How did Alex interact with your student lifestyle?

Alex went to a couple of lectures in a baby sling but that had to stop as he became too disruptive – burping, farting and gurgling – much to the amusement of my friends who wanted me to bring him along to liven things up.

Did you ever feel you were missing out on anything or were you really happy with how things panned out?

I didn’t have time for student socializing and I felt that I was a bit of an outsider.  A lot of student bonding happens when you just spend time with each other. It’s often said you make lifelong friendships at University, and I think I missed out on that.

Lucy Rayner, studying Psychology and Media at Kingston University who has a 4 year old son asks: “What I would want to know is what advice would you give student parents like me, from someone who has been there and done it? Any top tips?”

My best advice would be don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it as most people are really pleased to help out.  You also need some friends who have children so you can have those endless discussions on feeding, nappies, development etc.

Question from Sophie Mason, who graduated from York University last year and has recently started her first job: “Have you found that having a child whilst studying has impacted on your future career, either positively or negatively?”

I didn’t take any time out to have my child so there was no impact in terms of having to keep my career on hold.   I think overall it had a positive impact as I felt pressure to progress faster and earn more to support the family.

If you had your time again would you have done things differently?

Yes.  I would have completed my studies, got my professional qualification, and then worked for a couple of years.  I would then have taken maternity leave to have my child and then returned to work on a part time or job share basis.

Thank you to Cheryl for sharing her experience.


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