News - May 10, 2012

Exams and dirty nappies

Normal life is turned upside down for students who get pregnant. Not only do they have to withdraw from the student life they have got used to, but also the organizations they have to deal with can be unhelpful and unclear. 'I don't know why they have to make life so difficult for us.'

Every year about 30 Wageningen students get pregnant. Many of them are mature Master's or PhD students, but some are young girls still in the swing of student life. It's a tough call for them. They exchange the carefree student life for dirty nappies, chronic shortage of sleep and a lot of responsibility. There are also practical problems related to their studies and to housing. Just as an example: student housing provider Idealis expects pregnant students to get out of their rooms, says Vera van Dam (29). By law, these rooms are for one person, 'and yet a baby does not make you an urgent case for the Housing Association. You just get told, move back in with your parents.'
Vera is one of the members of the recently launched platform for young student parents. The platform's aims are to exchange experiences and also to defend the interests of young parents to organizations such as the municipal council Idealis and the university. Because there is often a lack of clarity there as well. Vera: 'the deans do not all give the same advice. One will advise you to abandon your degree course, while another will tell you that some kind of financial support can be arranged.'

Student dean Marc Uijland understands the students' confusion. 'You have the policy on the one hand and the personal involvement of the dean on the other. Each student's case is different so you need to approach it differently too.' However, he says there is a clear policy for students who report that they are pregnant. 'Our advice is always: stop your studies in good time. Having a baby is a life-changing event and there is very little chance that you can just carry on with your studies straightaway. And then it's a waste of money if you have already registered.' Besides this message, a dean should always inform the student about funding possibilities, says Uijland.
Nevertheless, the deans are well aware that housing and childcare often pose big problems for student parents. For this reason, they responded with interest to the appeal from the platform. Uijland: 'We aim to keep the obstacles to a minimum. For this reason we have agreed that the university will make other organizations aware of the problems faced by pregnant students.' Idealis responded positively to the platform's appeal too. The student housing provider is in the process of changing its current policy. At the moment students can only apply for rooms allocated to the target group they belong to. This distinction will be dropped over the next few years. 'This adjustment could create more scope for students with a child', says an Idealis spokesperson. 'They will then also be free to apply for the larger apartments that are now reserved for PhD students.'  
Vera is pleased that the platform has been able to achieve something so quickly. 'It is nice to see that we really can change something. Of course you hope that the girls who come after us won't have to go through what we went through.'

Jade (22), partner of Bart (24)
Mireille (9 months)
Living in cluster housing near the campus

'When I realized I was pregnant I was pretty upset. Bart started saying maybe we should get rid of it. I looked up the number of a clinic but I never seriously considered breaking off the pregnancy. N we are very happy about the way things went. I love watching Mireille growing up; I wouldn't miss it for the world.
The university was not very helpful. The dean said I should stop studying and move back in with my parents. I asked him if I could apply for help through the FOS student support fund. He said no, but when I did some research myself it turned out it was possible. I was cross about that.
I had rented a room from a private landlord and I had to get out of it as fire regulations stated that you couldn't have two people in a room. We tried all the options we could think of to get a room: Idealis, the town council, the housing association, Kamernet, anti- squatting arrangements, the Accommodation desk - but with no success. In the end we stayed a couple of months with a landlady. After Mireille was born we opted for this cluster house and we were incredibly lucky. It was ideal that it was so close to the campus too. I can easily pop home between lectures to feed Mireille.
Before Mireille was born I did not have any concrete plans for the future. Now I am extra motivated to finish my degree. I'm not just doing it for myself anymore, but for Mireille as well. Partying all night is a thing of the past for me, but that doesn't bother me at all. My time will come again.'

Dorien (23), married to Florian (23)
Rachel (11 months)

Sub-renting a house in the middle of Wageningen until mid-May. Then sub-renting again until mid-September
'The midwife advised us not to tell Idealis about the pregnancy because then I would have to get out of my room. We were both living in Hoevestein and luckily we had a really friendly flat where no one made a problem of our living there with a child, but we didn't think a student house was a very good environment for a baby. But I fail to understand why Idealis is so strict about it. Are we supposed to go and live under a bridge?
Rachel was not planned but we were aware that it could happen. And we are incredibly happy with her. She is a very easy, lively baby. Even so, I would advise students who want a baby to wait a bit. Because from the university side absolutely no options were offered to help me continue as a student and a mother at the same time. In the end I stopped my studies for a while because I was really sick during my pregnancy. In September I started again on my Nutrition & Health Master's and now I am about to graduate. This summer I shall start a PhD. In our situation you become less naïve. You find out that society is not there to solve your problems for you and that things do not just sort themselves out. At the same time I do not understand why it is made so difficult for people to combine studying with having a child.
'You have less contact with your fellow students because you are in such a different phase. A nice example was: Florian had bought a baby seat and then went to the university to sort out something else. One of the students he ran into said, 'That's a handy way of transporting beer!'

Jacelien (21), married to Anne (27)
August (2) and Anneke (1)

The four of them live in a 35 square-metre studio flat
'I had only known Anne a couple of months when I got pregnant. We got this flat after three applications for rented accommodation. It was probably because there weren't many applicants; these houses are not very popular because they are so small. But we were just really happy to have something at all.
A couple of months after August was born I turned out to be pregnant again. I didn't fancy studying in bits and pieces so I decided to stay at home with the children for the first few years. We couldn't find a bigger house, although I feel this is far too small for four people. In the end we made up our minds to make the best of it. We managed to get hold of bunk beds from a crèche and Anne has made a bed on a pulley that we can pull up out of the way. Then we can use that corner of the room to study during the day. It is going better than I expected when I was pregnant. Now we don't want to leave here anymore. We are beautifully situated in the town centre and the square next to the flat gives us our own back garden. Of course it can be tricky now and then. If we have friends round in the evenings it's hard for August and Anneke to get to sleep. And recently we had to put Anneke on a camp bed in the bathroom because she was keeping everyone awake with her cough. 
In September I picked up my degree course again. I used to think that I would stay at home with my children but I find I really enjoy it to be studying again. I like being with August and Anneke but it's very nice to do Something for yourself as well.'
Dinne (29)
Qairha (3)
Sub-renting in Zetten, near Wageningen
'When you have a baby your world gets smaller. I used to be involved in Aiesec and did things at the WSO as well. I have stopped all that. What I did do was to spend all my time on my studies though: two days after Qairha was born I was already looking for my textbooks. I was a real perfectionist. After all, I had a child to support now and you don't get far without a qualification. So the child sometimes took second place and I felt very guilty about that.
To add to that, the search for somewhere to live was endless. I was living in an Idealis flat but when I got pregnant they sent me a letter saying I had to vacate my room. Then I tried a landlady, but it was too hectic for her. I even put letters through the letterboxes of flats that were for sale asking if I couldn't sub-rent them. Eventually I found somewhere to live in Renkum, but I got lonely there because my friends lived in Wageningen. A year ago it all got too much for me. I woke up at night with a massive panic attack and couldn't get that anxiety under control. It got so bad in the end that I could no longer look after Qairha. Thanks to therapy, things are going better now. I have taken up my studies again and I really enjoy getting out again. The teachers understand the situation and they help me figure things out. I've been allowed to do resits at all kinds of odd times, for instance. I've had a lot of support from the dean too. She was a kind of coach for me. 
Qairha is very clever but she is also a highly sensitive little girl. The whole situation has affected her as well of course. But, well, that's life. Fortunately things are going better and better now.'