Today marks a year since my son’s due date. Of course, like most babies, he didn’t arrive on his estimated due date – instead making a very lazy entrance a week later – but as his birthday approaches I can’t help but reflect on the past year. I find myself looking back at the photos of him as a tiny newborn baby and thinking about how much he’s learnt in the last year. He’s on the cusp of learning to walk, and that itself feels like the beginning of a new chapter of his life.
I’m anticipating the challenges it’ll bring, too, and the opportunities it will offer for me to adapt and learn as a parent.
When I look back, what’s surprising to me is that I look more tired in photos now than I did a year ago; I’ve never felt more fulfilled. But then again, I have had an entire year of broken sleep. Almost a year ago too, I remember applying to be a columnist: it was late evening in one of the hazy weeks of my son being a newborn. He was asleep, as he spent most of his days back then, and I was in bed with him. I had a couple of hours to myself between each of his feeds and although I would try to sleep, my brain was always too active. I was constantly checking if he was okay, if he was still breathing, if he had anything covering his face, and replaying his birth and first moments with us in my head. While he slept I would scroll through all the photos and videos I’d taken of him so far and all of the congratulatory messages we’d received since his birth.
I’d applied for this columnist position twice before and been unsuccessful. I almost didn’t apply again – if my son had woken up to be fed and interrupted me I would have abandoned the idea. I applied on the basis of wanting to write about being a student parent: what it’s like to juggle essays, dissertations, breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, and exams. It’s a perspective that is often hidden by the image of the stereotypical student, and it felt important to talk about. imagined writing about accessibility on campus, taking my baby to the library family room to study, and attempting to integrate two vastly different full-time undertakings. What I didn’t anticipate was how long-lasting the effects of the coronavirus pandemic would be, and how physically isolated we’d become.
I think I’ve been on campus twice since my son was born: once to take photos, and a second time to show a new friend and prospective student around. Both times my son came with me – he’s in my photos with me and my dissertation, and I let him crawl around outside the main building on my brief tour after I had to stop to breastfeed him there. The last class I attended was probably in February or March of 2020. The last class I actually remember attending was one I had to leave in the middle of to throw up. In many ways, my degree feels as though it lacks closure and finality. I have graduated, technically, but there seems to be very little difference between how I spent my time in the first half of this year to how I spend my time now. Because I was at home for the last year of my degree, it’s gone by more quickly than usual and it’s easy to forget the time I spent studying. I spent hours in online lectures and tutorials with my
son sitting on my lap or sleeping next to me. I breastfed him during my Zoom classes. He was with me while I conducted interviews for my dissertation and spoke to other new parents about their experience; my dissertation was inspired by my transition into parenthood. Graduation feels like a different kind of transition. My time at university – virtually or otherwise – slowly contributed to my sense of self and identity, how I see the world, how I learn and understand things, and I’m sure it will bear an impact on the path my life takes from here. Although university offered me a lot of opportunities, what has changed me more are the other less celebration-worthy events that have been encompassed in the last year. Alongside studying I have (and you probably have, too) dealt with loss, grief, changes in my body,
changes in my mental health, strains on my relationships, and isolation from my friends and family. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved at university but I’m prouder of how I manage the everyday stuff – of how I’ve coped with grief and loneliness and stress, of how I’ve grown as a person, and how I make choices every day on how I can be the best person/parent I can be.
[Jasmine Yancey- she/her]