When my husband and I discovered we were expecting a baby before I had finished my degree, I immediately sought the advice of my friends.
Some congratulated me.
“Why on Earth are you even thinking about this bloody degree anymore? Forget about it and enjoy your pregnancy,” wrote one friend in a note along with a bunch of flowers.
Another friend burst into tears imagining the dark days ahead of me.
“It’s such a pity that this always happens to women!” she said. “Now what will you do? I never imagined that you would become a drop-out.”
But I wanted to continue the pregnancy and the degree, a foot in both camps. So that’s what I did.
My morning sickness was so extreme I couldn’t even open my eyes for days on end. And then insomnia made me a night owl. But I persisted, listening to lectures on Wattle in the night-time.
When it was time for me to leave uni and wait for the baby to come, my friends sent me off with a fond farewell. Not only from campus but also from the degree, or at least that’s what I read in their eyes.
Determined not to start the new chapter of motherhood by closing one on university, I researched and discovered ANU courses where class attendance is not mandatory.
To my surprise I found a few, and it was easy to enrol.
Then the baby appeared, like a ray of sunshine in my life, and nothing else was easy. How could I complete the coursework and research reports when my hands were full?
Sadly, I kept missing deadlines and meeting up with teachers in the morning became practically impossible since I had been awake the whole night.
The baby was sleepless or, if the baby slept, I would stare at him with a mother’s love and affection, and a mother’s worries too. Is the blanket too thin or too heavy? Does he need socks while sleeping? Or maybe his nappy needs to be changed even though I did it half an hour ago?
When my final reports became due, I even couldn’t submit a research proposal in one particular course. It felt like every time I sat down to do it, something would happen to the baby and I would end up at the hospital emergency room.
As the census date had already passed, dropping a course would give me a fail grade. It seemed I was moments away from closing the chapter on university.
Maybe my friends were right: you can’t have it all. I thought, in desperation, I need help! If only I had my mum with me!
As if my cries had been heard, I got an email from my course convener to say that if I couldn’t manage the deadline, I should contact the ANU Access and Inclusion office so they can make arrangements for me to overcome this challenge. All I needed was a letter from my GP and my postnatal medical records.
Feelings sometimes cannot be expressed in words. For me, it was like I saw a light at the end of the tunnel.
When I went to the Access and Inclusion office they said to me, “ANU never lets you drop out, unless you want to.”
I am a full-time student now, and a mum too. I no longer need the support of ANU Access and Inclusion, having left the most difficult times behind me. I have even started to feel superior over my friends again, because I do actually seem to have it all.
Since having a baby, I have learnt what a skill motherhood is. I have also learnt that while it can be a challenge, it shouldn’t be an obstacle. Mothers dedicate themselves to nurturing others, but they need support too, which is why I hear in my ear, like a soothing lullaby, that ANU is my mum mum mum.