Student moms talk about having babies while still at university

By Wang Han Source:Global Times Published: 2016-6-2 17:03:01

A Chinese student becomes the center of attention for classmates after falling pregnant and giving birth to a child while continuing to study. Photo: IC

A photograph of a graduating mother with her baby and husband attracted a good deal of comment online recently as netizens debated the pros and cons of young women having babies before they graduated.

In September 2005 regulations that had prohibited Chinese students from getting married or falling pregnant at university were overturned.

Since then a growing number of postgraduates and undergraduates have been having babies and the sight of student mothers on Chinese campuses is no longer a rarity.

The Global Times talked to two student mothers about their experiences.

Li Lei (pseudonym) is an English-major postgraduate student from the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology. The 26-year-old has a 2-year-old son.

Not a good time

Li fell pregnant three years ago. "It didn't seem to be a good time to have a child because I hadn't finished my education and didn't have a proper job," she said.

Li was unsure about keeping the baby but her boyfriend and her friends encouraged her to keep the child.

Her boyfriend was delighted she was pregnant and her friends assured her she could study and have a child at the same time.

However, her parents initially opposed her idea to have the baby while studying. "My parents thought my pregnancy would interrupt my studies and affect my graduation," Li said. "But gradually they came round because they figured that as a female I had to give birth to a child sooner or later, and I was already 23, so it wasn't really that early."

Most of her lecturers and classmates also accepted the situation - she was not the first student mother in her school.

"A postgraduate student in my course also fell pregnant and her child is now one," Li said. "Earlier, another postgraduate had taken classes right up to the moment she was about to give birth."

As her belly grew, Li applied to suspend her studies for a year. "The university let me come back to finish my third year course after the baby was born, and I was to graduate one year later than my classmates."

Unlike many other young mothers Li kept working in foreign trade commodities throughout her pregnancy and after the birth of her son.

Work continued

"I had been working in foreign trade since my postgraduate year. My studies, my pregnancy and my son didn't interrupt my work," Li said.

Li gave birth at her husband's hometown in Guangdong Province. With her mother-in-law taking care of the baby after birth, she continued to maintain her career pretty much as she had before. And, though she is grateful for all the assistance, she doesn't always agree with her mother-in-law's methods.

"I would prefer to bring up my child in my own way. But since I have to go back to Shanghai to continue my studies, I have no other choice but to leave my son with his grandmother," Li said.

She is also grateful to her husband. "Though my husband is around my age, he is more mature than me. He is very fond of children, and when he is off work, he plays with our son and helps with household chores," she said.

She explained that she hadn't brought the child to Shanghai because her families didn't own a house in the city so it was more financially viable to raise the child back in Guangdong.

But to maintain contact and supply breast milk she has to commute between Shanghai and Guangzhou almost every week. "The travel costs me a lot and takes a lot of time and energy, but there is no other solution," she said.

She admits feeling guilty sometimes that she does not spend more time with her child and give him a better home life. Perhaps, she agrees, if she and her husband had had the child later, they would have been earning more and been able to provide for the boy a lot better.

Limited options

For her there are regrets about having the baby before graduating, because this has limited her career options.

When most of her classmates were doing internships or looking for jobs in Shanghai, Li was commuting between Shanghai and Guangzhou every week.

"I don't have any spare time to or the energy to attend interviews, do internships or look for jobs around Shanghai like my classmates," she said. And she has given up her plans to live and work in the city.

"As a mom, I put my child's needs ahead of mine, and do what is best for him rather than what is best for me," Li said. "Though I might have better career opportunities in Shanghai, my child has no place to live and no hukou (household registration) to attend public schools in the city. So I have to go back to my husband's city after graduation."

Let it be

Shi Peiyao, a 25-year-old postgraduate student from Xi'an International Studies University, also became a student mother and her baby girl is six months old.

Shi got married at the beginning of 2015, the second year of her master's course. But in April, she discovered she was pregnant and this originally caused some distress because she thought the birth would completely disrupt her career plans.

"Originally I was planning to go to job fairs and interviews in 2015 and 2016, and start working immediately after graduating," Shi said. "Because I got pregnant in April 2015, I couldn't take my big tummy to the fall season on-campus recruitment events. And I wouldn't be able to get to the spring recruitment events in 2016 neither, as the baby would only be a month old and would need breast feeding and care."

Despite some second thoughts, Shi eventually decided to have the child. "Just let it be, I told myself," Shi said. Fortuitously the pregnancy occurred at a time when she no longer needed to attend classes.

"My postgraduate course lasted six semesters, and I only had classes in first three semesters," said Shi. "When I got pregnant, it was the end of my fourth semester, so I actually had finished all the lectures and no longer needed to attend university."

During her pregnancy, Shi read books on parenting to help her be a good mother. "I didn't want to rely on my parents for parenting because many of their ideas were outdated," she said.

"My waters broke on a morning in November and my husband drove me to a nearby hospital. I went into a delivery room at noon, but my baby didn't want to come out, so at around 6 pm I had to have a cesarean delivery," Shi said.

Since the birth of her child, Shi has had to undertake more parenting than many Chinese mothers because her parents, parents-in-law and her husband all work fulltime. At present she doesn't want a job but will begin working when her child goes to kindergarten.

"Since my husband has a good income, and my parents and parents-in-law are working, I don't have many financial worries," she said.

Problems and discrimination

Zeng Yanbo, a research fellow with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that having a child at university tended to create problems.

"First there is the financial problem. Without a job or stable income, student parents usually have to rely on their parents to raise the child. It is very irresponsible and selfish to take their parents' money to raise their own kids," Zeng said.

She said that even without financial pressures, most student parents lacked experience and patience for childcare, and tended to leave their children with their own parents, which was not good for establishing healthy parent-child relationships.

Many netizens and young mothers have suggested that having a baby before graduation could give women a competitive edge in job market, as most Chinese companies prefer to employ married women with children over single women.

Duo Duo (pseudonym) is a third-year university student and a mother of two babies. She told the Chinese news site that many companies discriminated against pregnant women employees and might even sack them during pregnancy - this was her big reason for having two children while she was still at university.

However, Shi said that having babies while still at university would not really protect anyone from discrimination. Having had a child before she graduated, in interviews employers still asked whether she was thinking of having a second child.

The research fellow Zeng said that with the introduction of the second child policy, even if a female applicant was married and had a child, some employers would still refuse to employ her because of her possibility of having a second child.

"So giving birth to a child in university cannot free female graduates from gender discrimination in the job market," she said.

"Women between 25 and 30 are usually junior employees and have fewer opportunities for promotion. But these years are when women are physically best suited for childbirth," Zeng said. "So having their first child in this period is best for their health and has less adverse effects on their careers. If women plan to have children in their mid-30s, pregnancy and childbirth are more likely to hinder their promotion."

Newspaper headline: Degrees of motherhood

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, City Panorama

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