Actually I didn’t, I experienced an unplanned pregnancy twice when embarking upon my degree. This girl did however and was horrified by the response.
The piece highlights precisely what I was talking about the other day, in terms of the stigma and prejudice that young and unmarried mothers have to face and why we should never exercise anything but charity, coupled with joy whenever we encounter a young mother who has chosen life against considerable odds. While the writer does not venture any opinion with regards to the morals of abortion, it’s excellent to see an acknowledgement in the mainstream media that the concept of consequence-free sex is nothing more than a myth.
Society, ably aided and abetted by the abortion industry is promulgating a chocolate-box, picture-perfect version of pregnancy, one that is all about designer maternity wear, high-maintenance grooming, top-of the range nursery goods and must be planned to occur at that perfect moment, whenever a woman feels emotionally and financially ready. Something I always say to teens who might be foolish enough to discuss their boyfriends or refer obliquely to their sex lives with me, is ‘do you feel ready to have a baby with this boy/man’. At which point they usually blush, start twisting their ankles awkwardly, look at the floor and hope it will swallow them up. The point being that unless you believe abortion to be an acceptable form of contraception, (and few women will actually admit to this), then you ought to be prepared to have a baby with your sexual partner.
The most amusing response is always ‘well we haven’t talked about babies yet, or what I’d do if I got pregnant, it’s far too early for that kind of thing’. Which strikes me as an illogical and emotionally incoherent response. So you are prepared to take your clothes off, get naked and intimate with this man, swap bodily fluids, but you are far too embarrassed to bring up the topic of what happens, if nature takes its course, what the backup plan might be. It demonstrates the falsehood of sexual freedom and empowerment. There is a an automatic expectation that any romantic relationship will swiftly progress to sexual intimacy but that on the whole women are too embarrassed to talk about what might happen if she gets pregnant, in case she deters her new partner from making any sort of long-term commitment to her and comes across as over-keen.
Ellie House (the writer) no doubt experienced negativity because men were frightened of what she represented and women saw her as a traitor, not only to her education, aspirations and the cause of womanhood but also because she might well put men off from having sex with them. It’s a strangely dissonant response.
The account resonated with me, because while not experiencing quite the same hostility, I was a married mature student in my thirties and thus others’ expectations were wholly different, but I did however have to sit through the stomach churning talk during Freshers’ Week where abortion was referred to in couched terms of how the University would help deal with ‘personal difficulties’ and students signposted to abortion services and counsellors and sexual health services in the numerous literature. It was emphasised that the University would be understanding to those with problems and allowances made and help given.
It was however a different story when I actually presented as pregnant. Extensions were grudgingly granted on provision of a doctor’s note certifying morning sickness, but very little in the way of actual support was given. One of the problems that I encountered was that the baby was due in the holidays shortly before the start of the new academic year. There was an on-site nursery, however they understandably would not admit children below the age of 5 months. If I were to be able to continue with my degree I would need to be able to bring the baby into lectures/seminars for the period of a few months. I did not see this as being much of a problem, it was after all my fourth baby, I was a confident breast-feeder, the plan was to have the baby quietly in a sling or car seat and of course I would have taken her out had she begun to cry or disrupt the class. I was informed that this was an unacceptable request, it would prove too distracting for other students, even if I sat at the back of the lecture theatre or was discreet in my feeding. A newborn baby simply wasn’t welcome.
The other issue was the on-site nursery which had been under threat of closure for quite some time, the university claiming that despite the rise in fees, it was not cost efficient. Fortunately there was a huge furore, the nursery was the reason that had attracted quite a few staff to the campus in some cases bringing with them millions of pounds worth of research grants. A solution was eventually found whereby the nursery was sold off to an outside provider in a tortuous process which involved lots of potential providers dropping out at the last minute and the nursery was saved, but it was clear that childcare provision was not a priority for the University of Sussex. Had the nursery closed then there would have been no facilities for either the students and staff of Sussex or of the neighbouring University of Brighton. While the student activists got terribly hot under the collar over the contracting out of all support services to outside providers, there was not a peep from them when the nursery was under threat and neither did they strike in support of the nursery workers, who had their contracts terminated and then renewed on far less favourable terms to a private provider.
Speaking from the perspective of a student who had two young children in the nursery and creche in order to study, the costs were extremely prohibitive, a child would need to be booked in for an entire session, ie. one couldn’t just drop the baby off for an hour’s lecture and on those few occasions where the nursery would ring mid-seminar to inform you that child had been sick or whatever and you needed to come and collect her, there was very little understanding from professors. The whole impression given by the academic staff was that student parents were a burden, I was being extremely foolish trying to juggle babies whilst studying and ought to reconsider. I came to the conclusion that it was simply unfeasible in my situation, obviously it was unusual in that I was juggling 3 children, a degree and pregnancy, but I can well imagine the barriers that a first-time pregnant young student might face. Abortion was implicitly mooted as the only sensible option. On one occasion I took one baby into the ‘child friendly’ cafe to feed and felt too self-conscious of all the bemused stares to continue. You stick out like a sore thumb with a baby on campus.
It was one of the reasons why I was so heartened to listen to Eve Farren, Director of the Alliance of Pro-Life Students (APS), at their London launch earlier in the year. She perfectly summarised my experience, i.e. of new students being given a leaflet with contacts details of abortion services but no information on the help available to students who choose life, and confirmed, as the article mentioned, that the secular pro-life group LIFE who are well placed to provide practical help support and advice are, in common with many pro-life groups, banned from campuses, in direct violation of principles of democracy and education.
One of the things that APS has sought to do is forge firm alliances with otherwise unlikely allies such as feminist groups, recognising that pregnant students are put in the position where the notion of ‘choice’ is but a pipe-dream given the lack of provision and support for student mothers and have together campaigned and fought for real improvements for pregnant women on campus. One way in which they can be supported is by signing up to donate £5 a month as part of their 500 give £5 giving scheme, £5 being the equivalent of one visit to a coffee shop, or a bottle of wine, to put it into perspective.
Without the Alliance of pro-life Students, life for women students who have been encouraged to lead lives full of emotionally unfulfilling short-term sexual relationships and find themselves caught out, shows no sign of improvement.
Every cloud has a silver lining, I now have 4 beautiful children and have taken the decision to pursue a more appropriate topic and method of study at Maryvale. Romans 8:28 and all that. But life is messy, best-laid plans go awry, there is never a perfect time to have a baby. That’s the message we should be passing on to the next generation and enabling them to continue with their education. Being a mother and being in receipt of a Higher Education – the two are not mutually exclusive.