Student pregnant in fresher's week: "My daughter's easily the best thing that’s ever happened to me"
25 September 2017
Emily with Beth.
An Oxford student has written in the Times about her experience of discovering she was pregnant in fresher's week and of the challenges and joys of being a student mum.
Fresher's weeks are taking place at universities up and down the country and student pro-life societies are running their stalls, holding welcoming events, and trying not to run foul of censorious student unions. However, an even more inspiring story has emerged this week - of Emily Beater and her daughter Beth.
"She gave me hope"
Writing in the Times, she describes finding out she "was pregnant aged 19 during freshers’ week at Oxford University, in one of the communal bathrooms in my college". Her boyfriend and her family were both supportive, and, perhaps surprisingly, so was her college.
"First, I told my college tutor I was pregnant," she writes. "She was brilliant and advised me not to have an abortion unless I really wanted one. If I wasn’t OK with it now, she said, I probably wouldn’t be down the line. She gave me hope. Keeping my child suddenly felt like a viable option."
More support needed
Although her tutor was supportive, her story highlights the institutional lack of support for pregnant students. "I had no idea how undergraduates with children coped. There was virtually no advice online and zero success stories I could track down." Eventually she decided to leave the university until she had given birth.
Beth was born in June 2015, and, determined to complete her degree, Emily started her course again three months later. Now Beth is two and Emily is in the final year of her English course.
Not a failure
She still has to deal with negativity from people around her: "Attitudes to young pregnancy have a long way to go. It’s still associated with failure and the notion that you’ve ruined your life. That weighed heavily on me at first. People didn’t often congratulate me — they asked me how it had happened, aghast."
This attitude was also highlighted this weekend by Labour shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, who spoke at the Labour party conference on how having her son aged 16 "saved her" and hit out at the idea that young mothers are "failures".
Emily's story shows that young mothers don't have to choose between their children and their education. It also makes clear that pregnant students should be given every support to keep their babies, which makes it all the more ironic that the charity Life have come under fire in the last week for promoting their care services at fresher's fayres. At Brunel University, they were told to remove their foetal models, and, after complaints on social media, a student's union official has said that allowing them at the fayre was a "mistake" and "we will be updating and delivering appropriate training to ensure that our staff have the necessary tools and experience to not let this happen again."
If student's unions really promoted choice, and encouraged organisations offering help to pregnant students to come to fayres, perhaps there'd be more happy endings like Emily and Beth's. Emily concluded: "I’m aware of how different my university experience has been to other students’, but I don’t regret having Beth when I did. She’s easily the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Though I’ve gone through a lot, I’ve learnt truths about life early on. Among them, the fact that you can definitely be a young mother and achieve things."
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