By Nontsikelelo Qulo (3 mins read)
I am a second-year journalism student at the Durban University of Technology. Just about a week ago, I earned a new title – mother.
I fell pregnant towards the end of my first year and honestly thought it would be a breeze that I could balance school, pregnancy and my part time job.
The support I received from my family is something I still cherish to this day. My mother was a support system, friend, medical doctor and parent all at once.
Beyond that, she ensured that I was able to cope with all the emotional distress. I looked to her for everything.
Even about things that required no guidance, she would be there for me as a pillar of strength, holding me up. At that moment, I realised that we are really a manifestation of God, because I saw God in my mother.
During my pregnancy there were three more students in my class who were also pregnant. I witnessed a change in their academic scores due to the inability to attend all lectures, failure to submit on time and a lack of communication between them and lecturers.
They had some supportive peers who kept them updated on academic schedules in their absence. But also, there were those who lambasted them with uncivil comments and treated them differently.
During the first trimester, all of my assignments were submitted on time, I was never late for work and my pregnancy was going perfect.
Like them, I also faced my own difficulties such as adapting to raging hormones, food cravings, fatigue and constant need to urinate.
Moreover, I had to force my body to proceed with academic stress as usual whilst ensuring that it does not affect my baby.
Pregnancy hit rock bottom
When the second trimester arrived, my pregnancy hit rock bottom. I was diagnosed with a kidney infection and had to spend a week in the hospital.
It meant a whole week of not attending lectures, possible class tests and not submitting my assignments, which are all vital to qualify for exams.
As I worried, another unexpected dilemma came my way. This time, it threatened my unborn child. I was informed of having a placenta praevia, when the placenta is in a low-lying position.
I had to move less, spend 70% of the time in bed resting and ensuring there is absolutely no stress. As a result, I had to resign from work.
What about school? It was completely a mess. However, I desperately continued attending lectures although this was said to be injurious to both my health and that of the baby.
My main concern was that if I missed a lot of classes it meant two things: I might end up repeating my second year and be disqualified due to insufficient attendance.
It was a dichotomous conundrum. I wanted neither to fail, be disqualified nor to endanger the life of my child.
As a result, I had to change my lifestyle and have little of walking. I used public and private transport even on distances less than a kilometre. I literally relied on transportation for every single move.
On campus, I had to make sure that I remain still in one place the entire day and do my schoolwork. Otherwise, even movements to bathrooms may be equally detrimental for my child. It was hectic!
Having already missed lots of deadlines due to time spent away from school, I had to beseech lecturers to give me more time to catch up with my work, which they agreed. Luckily, I eventually managed to catch up.
“I had to choose between my health and education”
By the third trimester, all seemed to be well. My minimal body movement meant that my placenta previa had improved and my lifestyle changes were assisting my kidneys, keeping them in a manageable state.
Though I would constantly get tired due to the growing tummy, school was also beginning to be manageable.
But by the last few weeks, stress returned again. Now overdue and unable to physically perform, walk, stand or even sit for too long, I was always tired; schoolwork was now difficult, and I could not balance my fatigue with the demanding deadlines.
Overworking my body would mean more complications towards the end, so I had to choose between my health and education.
It reached a frantic stage where I was physically unable to do simple tasks like waking up and preparing for school. I was late every single morning. At one stage I arrived 45 minutes late for a test that was meant to last for one hour and 30 minutes.
I was failing to balance school and pregnancy. Remember in the academic world, there are no policies that could come to my aid. I eventually stopped attending and stayed at home. Hoping this would lead to labour and that rest would be beneficial.
I had to approach lecturers once again and ask for leniency and not all of them were willing to assist. Though pregnancy is not an ideal situation during any level of study, it can’t be guaranteed that it will not occur.
Pregnancy is a difficult journey physically, mentally and emotionally; lack of support should not be one of the challenges added to the equation. There needs to be a support system for pregnant women in tertiary institutions and workplaces. TOJ
Writing by Nontsikelelo Qulo. Edited by Magnificent Mndebele and Gaby Ndongo. Feature image accompanied by 9th month of pregnancy, Umhlanga Beach, Wednesday, 03rd July 2019. Image courtesy to Qiqa Enzokuhle Tobia.