Young Mothers Balance College and Parenting

Courtney Webb was expected to graduate in May of 2011 from Oklahoma State University, just like the rest of her class.

But unlike her peers, her college years were not spent just worrying about grades, looking for a job and making lasting memories with friends. Webb had to take an extra year to graduate and spent the majority of her junior and senior years taking care of her now-20-month-year-old son, Caden.

“Being a young mother forces you to grow up and mature and to see how the real world is instead of seeing it through the eyes of a naive college student,” Webb said. “You have to be a mother, student, daughter, twenty-four seven.”

Each year, 10% of college-age women become pregnant, according to Planned Parenthood’s research organization, the Guttmacher Institute. Women 18 to 24 accounted for 44.4% of all abortions in 2008, and 74% of women who have abortions say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or other responsibilities.

Against the odds and the stereotypes of being a young mother, Webb went on to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in history this past May. Despite Webb’s recent graduation success, she still faces the stigmas of being a young mother.

“They look at me like I made the biggest mistake of my life,” Webb said. “It gets to me sometimes, but that’s life.”

A lot of people ask her how she could possibly finish school with a baby. Other people are surprised and think she hasn’t graduated or that she has a few more years to go, she said.

“Society will look at you and tell you, ‘You can’t do it, it’s too hard, to get an abortion or to give up the baby and get an adoption, and it’s gonna suck,’ ” Webb said. “You have to find it within yourself and believe that this was for a reason and that you can get through a pregnancy and get through school.”

Webb said she has learned not to care, even though other people’s judgments of her still hurt, and that stereotypes do not define people. Before she got pregnant, Webb said that she and her mom used watch MTV’s 16 and Pregnant religiously. She admited that she used to think the girls on the show were stupid and didn’t understand why they didn’t use a condom, but now she said she looks at them differently.

She understands.

“I know that mistakes happen in life but God doesn’t make mistakes,” Webb said. “I wish that those girls would have done something different and I wish that for myself, but I applaud them for being a parent and keeping the child and doing what they have to do.”

The last two years of college was a completely different experience for Webb. She had to give up simple things like napping after class, going to the grocery store, spring-break trips, going to the bars for her 21st birthday, study groups at odd hours of the night — all things that college students can take for granted.

“It just really changed,” Webb said. “At the same time, it’s OK because you learn.”

Although Webb encourages other young mothers to go to school while being a parent, she also encourages young women to wait before having children. Caden came as a surprise to Webb during her junior year. She said she doesn’t for a second regret making the choice to be a mother and student, but that it does leave her emotionally, physically and mentally drained all the time.

A typical day for Webb starts around 6:30 a.m. She gets herself ready for school and then she gets Caden ready for daycare. After dropping off Caden, Webb is off to her first class (she organized her schedule so that she could pack all of her classes into the morning).

All before 5 p.m., when Caden gets out of daycare, Webb must also squeeze in time to work out, study, run errands and do homework. After she picks up Caden, she comes home to cook, do laundry, wash dishes, bathe and put Caden to sleep. Then Webb studies into the wee hours of the night, only to wake up and do it all over again the next day.

“It is a lot being a single parent and a full-time college student,” Webb said. “You are completely exhausted from when you wake up until you go to bed.”

Fortunately, Webb’s parents and little brother have been supportive of her since having the baby. Webb lives at home with her parents, which allowed her not to have to work while finishing school. From running errands for her to taking the baby so she can study on weekends, Webb said that her family is always there for her.

Webb plans on returning to grad school once Caden is older to receive her master’s in public history. To other young mothers, she said it is important to know that there are other people like them in similar situations and that there are so many resources.

“Even if family and friends turn their back on them, they can do it,” Webb said. “It might be harder, but they can do it.”

Stephanie K. Taylor graduated from Oklahoma State University in May 2012 with a degree in news-editorial journalism. Her three favorite things are writing, music and fashion. She is passionate about telling other people’s stories. Her mission in life is to help young women reach their full potential and to use media to create positive self-images for them. In the future, Stephanie plans on becoming the editor-in-chief of a young women’s magazine and screenwriter. She is currently looking to make her way into the journalism/media world with an entry-level position.