Honoring Our Heritage, Nurturing Our Mental Health: A Black History Month Reflection
By Jessica Orenstein As a young Black woman, this Black History Month feels particularly poignant. It’s a time when we celebrate the richness of our ...
By Brenda Leger, Former JED Social Work Intern
As a child of immigrants, walking the stage to accept my Bachelor of Social Work diploma from Lehman College was a tremendous point of pride. My mother and father left the Dominican Republic to pursue a better life for their family; they didn’t understand the culture of their new country or speak the language, but they managed to carve out a life for themselves that continues to inspire their daughters today.
Growing up with depression and anxiety, the idea of joining my sisters in becoming the first generation of my family to graduate from college often overwhelmed me and felt out of reach. But there I was, magna cum laude and planning to pursue my dream of becoming a licensed social worker at Fordham University in the fall.
For the first time in my life, I felt confident that I could achieve everything that I set my mind to and continue my parents’ legacy of providing for–and inspiring–their family.
But just a few weeks after graduation, I received life-changing news: I was pregnant.
My mind was racing with questions: Should I go ahead with graduate school? Could I really work a full-time job and do all of the class and fieldwork that comes with pursuing a graduate degree in social work–while pregnant, and then as a new mother?
Or should I defer my dreams until later in my life?
You Are Not Alone
I was excited by the idea of becoming a mom, but this unexpected pregnancy also made me anxious and unsure about what was next in my life. And that’s not uncommon.
According to a 2021 joint study by Ascend at the Aspen Institute and The Jed Foundation (JED), more than 1 in 5 college students in the United States is also a parent. And although student-parents over the age of 25 demonstrate remarkable resilience, 43% of the nearly 4 million mothers and fathers attending college reported that extreme stress negatively impacted their mental health and educational success.
Financial stress and feelings of isolation on campus are also major stressors for student-parents, with 38% saying they considered dropping out in the last 30 days.
Thankfully, one of my biggest supporters stepped up to offer me advice and a much-needed nudge. It was my own mother. Through her love, reassurance, and positivity, she gave me the confidence I needed to press on with my plans to attend graduate school and study social work.
I intend to be the same kind of advocate and champion for my new daughter, Lorelei. My first test of resilience will be facing medical challenges related to her heart murmur–which we will do together.
You Can Courageously Adapt
Pregnancy is a beautiful thing. Bringing a child into this world is probably one of the best experiences of my life. I love looking down on my daughter and locking eyes with her as she gives me the biggest smile in the world.
If you are pregnant while pursuing your academic studies, it is OK to have conflicting emotions. But remember that you have options. You can easily defer the semester and come back strong in-person after bringing your baby into the world. You can also adopt online learning with the flexibility to attend classes from the comfort of your couch, probably while feeding your baby, like I did.
If you are pregnant and unsure if you can still pursue your academic goals, I would encourage you to be one of the 26% of student mothers who are courageous and hungry enough to go after their dreams and complete their education. I am living proof you can do it! But it is also OK if your path changes. None of us can predict our future and should give ourselves grace when life throws curveballs our way.
You Can Make It
My advice to any student-parent is to never give up. You deserve to pursue your goals, and having a child does not need to hinder your dreams.
But remember that mental health is health. If you are a new parent or mom, and especially if you are in the middle of your studies, consider seeking mental health treatment from a professional therapist.
From personal experience, I know it is a confusing situation to find yourself in, but finding a culturally competent therapist will go a long way. The benefits of having a therapist who shares your cultural background can help build your self-confidence, manage stress, and develop a healthy and positive mindset. I would also recommend finding a great support system, whatever that may be for you.
While in grad school, I was fortunate to complete a social work internship at The Jed Foundation (JED), which has been another dream come true. Lorelei was only a few months old. Now, I am looking ahead to May 2023, when I will once again cross the stage–this time to accept my master’s degree, and this time as a mother.
From one student-parent to another, I am wishing you the best on your journey.
If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7.
You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.
If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.