Pregnant or mother and student: three young women talk about their path to academic success

In France, almost 110,000 students combine education and life as parents. Meeting three women who had one or more children during their studies.

Loïs gave birth in the second year of nursing school, Hawa in license 2, then in L3 and Susie, two months after her high school graduation. Today nurse, business economist and engineer, They graduated while juggling pregnancy, parenthood and college.

In France, According to a 2016 Observatory of Student Life (OVE) study, nearly 110,000 students (4.5%) are also parents. A majority had their children outside of school. Only 1.2% become parents during their studies, most often after an unwanted pregnancy.

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Loïs discovered her pregnancy “unplanned” at the beginning of her 2nd year of nursing school. The then 20-year-old waited three months of pregnancy to speak to her training manager. There is no maternity leave for students, which must be agreed with their institution. “The director made me a timetable for the end of the pregnancy, I could only follow the mandatory TDs to validate the exam and I skipped the rest”, specifies the nurse, who in June 2019, a few days after his divisions , has given birth .

As 25% of the students affected Hawa interrupted their studies for at least six months. She chose to stop her L2 in February and resume at the start of the following school year: “I gave birth in September and was able to follow classes remotely,” aided by her “small team” of friends, who sent her the classes.

Returning to prep, Susie “directly” informs her main teacher that she is a mother. “She made me a special schedule for khôlles (oral interrogations) between noon and two, I chose a ‘small’ preparation for this.”

According to the 2016 OVE study 50% of student mothers validate their first semester versus 64% of childless students. Troubled by a “huge asthma attack of her son”, Susie, but top of her class, for example, “missed” certain competitions with no repercussions for the rest of her career.

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It takes a lot of energy and organization to study with a child

“I’ve always informed my teachers about my situation, Hawa advises, you have to ask questions and show that you don’t want to let go.” But it’s not always easy to talk to teachers about your motherhood, which you’ve only had ‘a few hours’ in the Amphitheater’”, Nuance Susie. Being successful as a parent in college requires a lot of energy and a lot of organization. Susie describes a “very structured process”. Up at 5:30 am, departure to the nursery at 7:00 am, return at 6:00 pm, meals, baby’s bedtime, tutoring. Lois recalls making concessions and stopping breastfeeding to avoid exhausting herself. Hawa has stopped “taking care of the household”.

“If you are prepared and get help, having a child while studying is not generally perceived as a handicap”, notes the sociologist Aden Gaide (1), while pointing to “the many problems” posed to “the most precarious and least surrounded mothers”. Susie had chosen a preparatory school in Toulouse, “a two-hour drive from her parents and in-laws”. When Loïs hesitated last year to postpone or even stop, everyone around her mobilized: “My parents, my husband’s, my girlfriends, everyone told me to go on and that they would help me, she explains – it was a victim there I lost an important year with my son, but it was important for my future.”.

Et, There are several financial aids. A pregnant high school student, regardless of age, is eligible for RSA. The Crous can grant extraordinary help within the framework of the FNAU, the national emergency aid fund for female students. Hawa was able to complete a dual course of study last year and, like every employee, benefited from maternity leave. “Paying a nanny comes at a cost,” warns Susie, a fellow supported by CAF, her parents and in-laws. Some universities offer a crèche open to students.

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Restricted student life

The eyes of others can also play with student mothers. Lois can’t remember unpleasant remarks from teachers, but heavy “looks” from her classmates and “judgments”. Susie talks to her friends about the “lag” and lack of a social life. “You miss a lot of things, you don’t do the parties, the activities on campusit’s limited,” she explains.

Nevertheless, the engineer managed to complete an Erasmus exchange for a year with her husband and their 6-year-old son. For Hawa, having two children pushes her to invest more in her studies. “You know why you’re revising, it’s pressure, but it’s good pressure,” says the young woman. I won’t give him any advice, but if it happens, it’s possible to be successful.”

On the job market, Hawa and Loïs made motherhood a strength. “It shows that I am responsible, organized and determined,” declares Loïs. but Discrimination persists: An annual report by the Defender of Rights notes that in 2020 “3.1% of recorded referrals were due to pregnancy”. and that pregnancy and motherhood constitute “the third ground of discrimination” cited by women.

(1) 2018 “Being a mother and a student in France: confronting a youth standard in higher education.”

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