When I was in my third year at university, juggling the responsibilities of looking after a newborn with the pressures of essay deadlines, I’d often hear “I don’t know how you do it”. My standard response was to smile blithely, shrug my shoulders and say “it’s no big deal”. At the time, I really felt that way. I was right in the thick of it, and although the balancing act was precarious, I didn’t feel that I had any other choice. I wanted to graduate on time, so I had to put in the work.
This morning, a post came up on my Facebook “On This Day” feature. Bear in mind that at this point, SB was less than three weeks old. The status says –
Less than three weeks postpartum, and I was writing a university essay. I’d forgotten just how short the timescale was, between SB’s birth and me submitting those last two essays of second year. I did a little digging, going back to April 2014 on my timeline and looking at all of the posts from that month.
It’s bad enough that I was watching Jeremy Kyle, but perhaps more shocking is the fact that I was guilt-tripping myself over not doing my university work.
Seven days after my daughter was born.
Yep, SB was born on the 10th April, and by the 17th, I was berating myself for relaxing and watching TV instead of working on an essay. Ironically, the essay was an analysis of how I contributed towards the final showcase performance for second year. The showcase that I was in hospital for. As my friends went out on the Thursday evening after the final show, celebrating a job well done, I gave birth to SB. Writing that essay was interesting – how do you say “I didn’t see the finished project as I was a little busy getting off my tits on gas and air and pushing a baby out” in an academic writing style? – but I digress. The point is, seven days postpartum, I was pushing myself to write an essay, rather than relaxing, recovering from birth and enjoying time with my newborn.
It seems totally unbelievable to me now that I was putting this amount of pressure on myself, so soon after giving birth!
I think that’s the important thing to note; this pressure was coming from myself. Daf encouraged me to relax. The lecturers offered countless solutions. I could have an extension; I could re-submit over the summer; I could do those essays alongside my other ones in third year. My parents told me to put it aside for a while; my friends simultaneously cheered me on and told me to do the sensible thing and take an extension.
The pressure was mine. I didn’t want to be handed any free passes because of the pregnancy or birth. I didn’t want people to think “oh, she got special treatment because she had a baby”. I was determined to finish university on my own merit. I don’t think that in itself is stubborn – the stubborn (okay, let’s be realistic, stupid) part was my refusal to consider extensions or resits. People have extensions because of hangovers, and I was refusing to accept one despite having just given birth. On what planet is that not stupid?
I want to reach back in time and simultaneously slap and hug past-Maddy. I want to tell her to stop working; to put the laptop away and focus on recovering from the birth and enjoying having a newborn. At the same time, I want to hug her, because I know exactly why she’s doing it. She doesn’t want people to think she’s weak. She doesn’t want people to be proved right. She wants everyone who told her the pregnancy would be too difficult; or continuing university was the wrong choice, to realise that they were mistaken. She wants the people who asked when she was going to drop out to be proved wrong. She wants her baby to be proud of her, and she can’t see that happening unless she finishes those essays on time and submits them.
I did it. I submitted those essays before SB was even a month old; I passed them both; I finished second year with a 2:1. It was a crazy, stressful, unreal few weeks, but then it was over. I spent a summer with SB, not worrying about resits or extensions, knowing that I’d be going into third year with my friends. People told me they didn’t know how I did it.
When you ask me whether I’d do it all again, I want to say “no”. I want to say that I’d be sensible, and not let my stubbornness get the better of me. However, I know that I’m still every bit as stubborn as I was in 2014, and every bit as aware of what people say about young parents, and every bit as determined to prove them wrong. I’d absolutely do it again.
I’m just not quite sure how I did it in the first place.