My two proudest achievements – my daughter and my degree: Balancing study with raising a child.
By Maddy Matthews, Guest contributor.
Back in 2012, when I started my first year at Glyndwr University, I was just like any other student. I went out, turned up to more than one or two lectures with a hangover, hoped for good grades and adjusted to independent life away from my parents.
In September 2013, as I prepared to go back and start my second year, and my partner Daf got ready to start his first, a little blue plus sign on a pregnancy test turned my world upside down.
At that point, I could feel my dreams of graduating university slipping away. I was nineteen and pregnant – it might as well have been a death sentence for my career aspirations, as far as I was concerned. We buried our heads in the sand, returning to university and moving into a shared house with some friends, but neither of us held out much hope for our futures at the university.
That is, until I went to tell my lecturers. I was more nervous about telling them than I was about telling my parents, and that’s saying something! I was convinced they’d kick me off the course – how could I possibly continue studying Theatre, Television and Performance during pregnancy?
The lecturers couldn’t have been more incredible in their reactions. They congratulated me, laid out my options and promised their support. For the first time since finding out I was pregnant, I felt hopeful for the future. I decided to be optimistic; continuing with second year rather than deferring for a year. I knew I’d probably have to put my third year on hold, as the baby would have arrived by then, but I was determined to continue for as long as I could.
The other students on the degree were amazing too. They rallied around, and although to say they were surprised when I showed them pictures from the first ultrasound scan is an understatement – I somehow managed to conceal weeks of morning sickness, despite dashing out of lectures every ten minutes at times -, they were immediately supportive. I played the voice of the plant in the course production of “Little Shop of Horrors” that Christmas, feeling the baby kick as I sang. As performing experiences go, they don’t get much more surreal than that!
As the year progressed, and we moved into a privately rented flat of our own, I became quietly confident that I’d finish my second year. In the end, I made it to the last week, and our final performance of the year. As my fellow students celebrated at the aftershow party, I gave birth to a little girl, Celyn.
Call it what you will – stupidity, naivety or blind optimism – but after a whirlwind summer of adjusting to parenthood, Daf and I decided to go back to university that September. We enrolled Celyn in Little Scholars, the on-campus nursery, and I can’t praise them enough for the quality of care our daughter received there. We were able to attend lectures, knowing that she was safe and secure and well-looked-after by the incredible staff.
With Celyn happy in nursery, it was time to get back to studying. Third year was challenging, to say the least. Huge projects – culminating in my dissertation performance and essay – were looming, and there were plenty of occasions where I felt like throwing in the towel. This was where the brilliant lectures and my fellow students stepped in; offering encouragement and support without judgment or any mention of “I told you so”.
When we had late night rehearsals for that year’s musical, “Grease”, I was excused early so I could be there for bedtime. When Celyn was poorly and had to go home, there was never any attempt to stop me from going home with her. She was welcome at the studios, and everyone would make a huge fuss of her whenever I brought her in. She came to see my dissertation performance; I wrote
essays late at night once she was asleep. She became a huge part of my university experience, and I can’t imagine what it would have been like without her.
I wanted to prove to myself, to Celyn and to society in general that unplanned pregnancy at a young age doesn’t have to mean the end of dreams and ambitions, and that with the right mindset and support, younger parents can continue to thrive and achieve in education. This was why I started my blog, The Speed Bump – to document our experiences, and to offer support and perhaps even inspiration to young people who found themselves in a similar situation.
The proudest moment? Having my daughter at my graduation ceremony, to see me graduating with a First, alongside the class I started university with, thanks to a little bit of blind optimism, a lot of hard work, and the incredible staff and students at Glyndwr University.
My two proudest achievements – my daughter and my degree – happened within two years of each other, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
When she’s not here making our site look good Maddy runs her own blog at thespeedbump.co.uk