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Mothering at Marquette

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In April 2010, Kellee Tom, a Marquette junior at the time, discovered she was pregnant. While she realized that her life was about to change drastically, she did not know how much she would have to learn. From figuring out where she could get prenatal care to where she could live after the baby arrived, she was on her own.

“I wish there had been a resource or someone to talk to,” Tom said. “No one had any information, even on how to do the health care form. I was shocked that Marquette didn’t have anything for it.”

Tom graduated from the College of Business Administration in May of this year. She chose to stay at Marquette for the duration of her pregnancy. Upon discovering she was pregnant, she registered for summer classes so that she could complete all of her courses before her baby was born.

Her last exam was on Dec. 15, 2010. Her daughter Sloan was born on Dec. 21. In March, she moved to Omaha with her boyfriend and obtained a job in real estate but flew back to Milwaukee to walk with her class for graduation in May.

Tom, who describes herself as a go-getter, said that she was able to search online until she found places in Milwaukee to get the help she needed. Filling out the health care forms was the hardest part.

“That’s the first thing you have to think about when you’re pregnant,” Tom said. “Keeping yourself healthy, keeping your baby healthy.”

It took Tom three to four months to simply complete the process of applying for BadgerCare, Wisconsin’s health care system. Meanwhile, she had to pay out-of-pocket for any care she received. Because she was not yet covered, she put off getting prenatal care until her application went through, four months into her pregnancy.

Tom was surprised to find that no one she asked at Marquette had been able to help her, either in filling out BadgerCare forms or in telling her where she could get help filling out the forms. She did eventually talk to Ann Mulgrew, assistant director of Campus Ministry. She had heard Mulgrew would be helpful but put off the conversation because she was apprehensive about what Campus Ministry would tell her.

“It literally would have changed my life the first three months if I had had some help,” Tom said. “It’s scary. You’re getting bigger, and you have nowhere to go. How can you even focus on school when there’s something bigger than school going on?”
What Tom didn’t know was that freshman Stephanie Owsiak was asking herself the exact same question at nearly the exact same time.

Questions

Owsiak found out that she was pregnant at the end of March 2010. Because she was friends with her resident assistant in Cobeen Hall, Owsiak told her that she was pregnant. The RA was then obligated to tell the hall director.

Shortly thereafter, Owsiak received an email from the director asking her to meet.

“It felt like a pointless conversation,” Owsiak said. “She asked what I was planning on doing, if I was going to keep the baby, and if I would come back to school after I had the baby. I knew I wasn’t going to go back to Marquette. It didn’t seem like an option.”

Owsiak finished her freshman year, telling only her close friends and one professor of her situation, and then moved back home to Chicago.

In fall 2010, she began taking classes at her local community college, and on Dec. 8, she gave birth to a boy named Major.

Owsiak continued taking classes at the community college this spring. She is still taking classes and hopes to attend pharmacy school in Chicago next fall. She said she probably would have come home to have the baby no matter what, but would have considered returning to Marquette after the baby was born if she had known she had support and some sort of day care to know her baby was okay.

“It would have been nice to talk to someone and to know what my options were,” Owsiak said. “I didn’t know there was someone I could’ve talked to. It was really stressful not having anyone and not knowing if I would be able to stay in school or not.”

When asked if she consulted Student Health Service, the Counseling Center or Campus Ministry, Owsiak said she had not known that there would be people there with whom she could talk. Her hall director had not provided any direction or feedback about where to go.

Owsiak said she would have considered going to Campus Ministry or the Counseling Center had she known such options were available. Her boyfriend, not a Marquette student, was even willing to move from Chicago to Milwaukee to help her with their baby so she could stay.

He knew how much she loved it and loved her friends she had made. She just did not think it was possible.

Resources

SHS at Marquette offers pregnancy testing for $15. If a student cannot afford this, SHS can work with her to develop a payment plan.

The staff in Schroeder Complex performs between 75 and 85 pregnancy tests annually, but most of these are conducted for concerns not related to pregnancy, according to an estimate by Carolyn Smith, medical director of SHS. Smith said health providers will conduct a pregnancy test, for example, before prescribing a medication for acne or when trying to determine the cause of abdominal or pelvic pain.
Smith estimated that fewer than six students per year request referrals for outside assistance through SHS.

But if two Marquette students found out they were pregnant within two weeks of each other, how many other Marquette students experience pregnancy on campus?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 79.5 percent of college students aged 18-24 have had intercourse and 2.2 percent of college students who have intercourse experience a pregnancy. Last year, Marquette enrolled 8,113 students, according to Marquette.edu.

According to these statistics, about 142 Marquette students should theoretically be pregnant each year.

Yet 142 women are hardly walking down the street sporting protruding bellies or pushing strollers.

Most women who get pregnant at Marquette and carry the baby to term, which seems to be rare based upon those who seek resources for help, probably choose to return home, said Ann Mulgrew, assistant director of Campus Ministry and Project Rachel counselor.

Project Rachel is a network of healing services within the Catholic Church that offers emotional support for those who have been involved in an abortion and are experiencing grief. It was founded in Milwaukee by Victoria Thorn, wife of College of Communication professor William Thorn. It can be found in nearly 150 Catholic dioceses in the United States as well as in some dioceses in other countries.

Mulgrew is known on campus as one of the go-to people for issues surrounding pregnancy. She estimated, however, that she had met with less than one student per year in this respect.

She cited the financial and logistical difficulty of being pregnant away from home as the primary reason students might leave. Some, like Owsiak, may choose to continue their education at a local community college.

The biggest obstacle to pregnant students staying at Marquette is a lack of information about where they can go in Milwaukee for help, according to Tom and Owsiak.

“The resources are out there, but they’re in all different places,” Mulgrew said.

In the late 1980s, Susan Mountin, then-associate director of Campus Ministry, began a program called Life After Pregnancy, Placement, and Parenting (LAP) with three to four women who were pregnant on Marquette’s campus at that time.

The program encompassed an array of services directed toward helping women and men in need. Mountin said it provided a comprehensive list of doctors in the area who were willing to take in new patients, often at discounted prices. It worked with social services in the Milwaukee area to ensure Marquette women were getting the nutrition and care they needed.

LAP also provided a support group to which students could bring their babies. It partnered with the Students for Life group on campus in providing each parent with a directory of free babysitters.

Mountin worked with associate deans, residence hall directors, the Office of Student Development, Office of Student Financial Aid, SHS and the Counseling Center. At the beginning of each semester, she would provide workshops to these various departments about how to advise students who became pregnant or were parenting.

In its earliest years, LAP had 11 to 15 women and men in an average school year. As it became more established, it grew to about 25 students per year, including some graduate students, on the mailing list and involved in the discussion groups.

But in 2002, Mountin left Campus Ministry to take a new position at Marquette, as director of faculty for the Manresa Project. With her absence from Campus Ministry and the graduation of some of its core students, LAP grew smaller and smaller until it eventually ceased to exist and was removed from the Campus Ministry website.

Empowerment

The Counseling Center and Campus Ministry are available to give students dealing with pregnancy emotional support.

Other colleges and universities, however, have responded to the need within their own communities to empower women with knowledge and assistance.

St. Louis University has seen corresponding numbers on its campus. Five years ago, a subcommittee of SLU Students for Life began to raise money to establish an endowment for a scholarship fund to assist pregnant or parenting students at SLU.

“When we were starting this whole thing, we weren’t really sure if there was a need,” said Kelly O’Shea, 22, who graduated from SLU in May.

O’Shea was the chairperson of the Pregnant and Parenting Committee at SLU during her senior year.

The application for the scholarship has now been available for two years. Over 50 students have applied, and the committee has raised over $80,000. Furthermore, the committee has received information from SLU’s Office of the Bursar that over 100 students are claiming dependents on their financial forms. These numbers include a few graduate students, but the majority are undergraduates.

Some potential donors have questioned whether the group is promoting promiscuity by providing the assistance fund. O’Shea said she thinks the opposite is true.

“If you create a culture of life on your campus, and people interact with and see more of pregnant students who can be comfortable to have a baby and push a stroller around campus, it is almost a deterrent to promiscuity,” O’Shea said. “People will see how hard it is. There is nothing we can do to totally help a woman who is pregnant or parenting.”

O’Shea said women who are pregnant or parenting on campus cannot go out on the weekends. They are working all week. They have to wake up early to get the baby ready. They work at night but also have to do homework and prepare dinner. Ultimately, these women tend to feel isolated.

Tom would agree.

“You go through a period when you’re feeling depressed,” she said. “I felt like I was missing out on everything and that my whole college experience was ruined. It makes you not want to get up in the morning. The odds are against you.”

Tom said she wished Marquette had housing available for families, but that she had been told nothing like that existed on campus. She and her boyfriend found a place to live in Pewaukee, Wis., and she had to commute 40 minutes every day to get to school.

“For every group project, I had to drive back to campus,” Tom said. “It was pretty exhausting. A lot of universities have housing.”
SLU is not alone among Jesuit universities in offering aid to pregnant women. In 1997, Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., hired a full-time pregnancy services counselor at their Health Education Services center to advise students dealing with unexpected pregnancies, and a day care facility opened the same year.

Support

Since then, Georgetown has also began offering free home pregnancy tests and a 24-hour pregnancy hotline.  A separate group, GU Right to Life, began a volunteer babysitting operation and organized diaper drives for the local pregnancy center.

While Marquette undergraduate students have the option of using the Marquette University Child Care Center, located at 500 N. 19th St., its waiting list and high fees may make it inaccessible for many.

Rates vary depending on the age of the child and the number of hours per week of care, but a block of ten hours a day, five days a week would cost a student $248, and the parent would need to supply formula. The Center can only serve 24 infants, and there is currently a waiting list for new infants.

“The Child Care Center is so outrageously expensive, students couldn’t afford it,” Mountin said. “We even had support staff who can’t afford the Child Care Center.”

One thing Marquette does have is supportive faculty.

“There are a lot of hurdles, but I can guarantee you that it is not because Marquette does not allow students to be pregnant,” Mulgrew said. “The faculty and staff are always very supportive.”

Joseph Terrian, dean of the College of Business Administration, arranged special desks in all of Tom’s classes to accommodate her pregnancy.

“Everyone was so nice,” she said. “If there was a place to be pregnant, I’d say it would be at Marquette. It was a good experience overall.”

Tom told all of her professors each semester that she was pregnant to let them know that she would be missing some classes due to morning sickness and other health-related concerns.

“Yes, we would like students to hold off on having sex until marriage, but how are we going to help our students when they need help?” Mountin said. “If we are going to be a Catholic, Jesuit university, we need to put our money where our mouth is.”

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