Experiencing college as a nontraditional student can range from being five years out of the normal age group, a veteran or simply: motherhood. Undergoing the nine-month journey as a pregnant student could only be explained by someone who has lived to tell their story. As for this Texas State student, becoming pregnant at a young age is repeating her family’s cycle.
Shallah Johnson, is a 20 year-old student attending Texas State University. Her biological mother–who had her at the age of 17–gave her up for adoption . Luckily her grandparents made the life changing decision to adopt her. She always wondered how her mother could have ever given up, especially now that Johnson herself has a baby girl, Rylan Mae, who will be 4 months old on November 16.
Last year at the age of 19, Johnson found out that she was pregnant and one of the most challenging tasks for her was dealing with the situation without the expected biological father being present to help raise the baby. Fortunately she did have the help of her best friend and family, who were there for her as much as they could be. The biggest obstacle for her was trying to overcome time management.
“I have a child, work, go to school, and have a long distance relationship with my fiancé from my hometown. So trying to find time to do homework or meet with a partner/group members for school is really difficult for me. But so far I have decent grades.”
– Shallah Johnson
Johnson had to sacrifice many things for the well-being of her first child during her pregnancy. She had to give up coffee and soda because she didn’t want to potentially harm the baby. Being active in tennis wasn’t an option anymore either. After playing on the varsity team for four years in high school and continuing on to play tennis at the club level at Texas State for her freshman year, six months into her pregnancy, she finally ended her athletic streak.
Johnson originally did not have any complications with her pregnancy until the 3rd trimester when her body started to take a toll her
“I didn’t realize all the nutrients the baby was taking from me and I became anemic and even passed out a couple times.”
– Shallah Johnson
“One time I had passed out during my sign language class and even hit my head and pretty much no one even knew. They found out from all the noise in the hallway and the paramedics coming out and the ambulance had to come and pick me up. I spent hours in the hospital trying to figure out what was wrong and they told me I had anemia,” said Shallah.
Christina Chang, a nurse practitioner, for Dr. Kunda, explained that it is important to see a dietitian who helps with nutrition and informs patients on the amount of calories that need to be consumed per trimester. Studies have shown that nutrition plays a major role in the health and well-being of a baby.
Most of Chang’s patients range from ages 18-35 and even go through post-partum depression and depression anxiety. Some already come in with diabetes, anxiety or hypertension. Most of her patients start seeing blood pressure spikes around the third trimester when they’re tested for diabetes.
“Most patients will go through post-partum blues where they’ll come in and just say oh I feel so tired, so stressed but usually we screen them and we say “I mean are you have feelings of hurting yourself, hurting the baby,” because we are worried more about something more serious. We have a follow up usually in about 2 weeks and most of those patients after that are like “oh I’m feeling better now, I’ve slept, things are much better, I feel stable.” Most of those patients though have some type of psycho-social issue going on at home and it’s not the most stable environment. They are tired. And so we had to put a few patients on medication and have them follow up with a psychologist or psychiatrist. And we always recommend that they definitely see a psychologist. And we want them to do natural treatment first of course, like walking, exercising building better sleep habits, but when that doesn’t happen then yes, we do need to put them on medication,” explained Chang.
Chang says that a lot of her patients have anxiety and new moms don’t know what to expect. A family support system is very important especially for a college student, since most of them don’t have their family here. She says she sees them moving back to their hometown because they need their parents and because finances can be very expensive.
Despite her difficulties, Johnson remained in school and is now currently a junior studying communication studies with a minor in secondary education. She feels overloaded sometimes but she would never take any of it back.
“Honestly, cherish it. Sooner than later you realize that baby will be in your arms, so don’t over fret or rush anything. Just take a moment and breathe and always remember to do something for yourself every once in a while. I would go out for massages, mani/pedis, and haircuts all the time.”
– Shallah Johnson
Jeleta Burton, a mother of six, had her first child at the age of 14. Burton was about to enter the 9th grade when she first got pregnant, in 1993. Burton’s overall health was good and didn’t have any issues with eating or sleeping. However, she did have a complication later on in the pregnancy.
“Later on in the pregnancy, I guess around the 5th month, once I did reveal that I was pregnant to my parents, I actually started having preterm labor. My mom moved me from the high school I was originally in, to a pregnancy school, which is called Kay. When I went up there with her for her to enroll me, I seen that it was all girls and I was like I don’t want to go here with all girls, I think that actually started stressing me out and think I went up there that maybe that Thursday and by the following Monday, when I was supposed to start, I started having preterm labor. So I never got to attend,” narrated Burton.
Chang explained how common such an event can be.
“We do know that stress during pregnancy can lead to preterm labor. So if you end up delivering earlier or if you have a lot anxiety or depression and you start taking medication they have shown that some of the medications do affect the baby later on,” explained Chang.
Burton did finish high school on time with her graduating class and took a semester off right after before she continued her education with junior college. She is currently in school and is working on completing her psychology degree. Burton is also in the process of building a non-profit organization. Her son is now a healthy 19 year old college undergrad.
Yes you may face many difficulties. Yes you may have to give up certain aspects of your life. Yes you might have to overcome mental health issues. But in the end, it will all be worth having your child in your arms.
Niloofar Torabi, KTSW News.