Balancing family and education: Students discuss being parents on campus

By Masaki Sugimoto

Lakrista Cummings was only a sophomore when she found out she was pregnant with

her daughter, Audrey. While at home in Chicago during winter break in 2014, the senior

in LAS wasn’t feeling well. The inclement weather made it difficult for her mother to shop

for fresh groceries, and Cummings thought the food they had at home was making her

ill.

When Cummings returned to school, she still experienced nausea and discomfort, so

she decided to go to McKinley Health Center. She was told she was pregnant three

days before her 20th birthday.

“I started crying because I didn’t know what to do,” Cummings said. “The doctors started

talking about different choices I could make. I just cried a lot. I didn’t tell anyone until

after Valentine’s Day, but I did tell my boyfriend.”

Jocelyn Williams, junior in LAS, was also only 19 years old when she found out she was

pregnant with her daughter, Jayla. Williams thought she was just sick when she went to

McKinley for a possible mononucleosis test.

She knew she had missed her period but thought it was just due to stress and other

factors. After giving a urine sample for her mono test, she was told she was having a

baby. She said she was determined to keep the baby and her education.

Both Cummings and Williams had similar mindsets in approaching their new

pregnancies, neither believing in abortion. Above all else, they wanted to remain in

school and earn their degrees. Cummings had to drop her course load from 15 hours to

12 hours that spring because of how severe her morning sickness was for the first five

months of her pregnancy. It was so bad that she was barely eating.

“I almost failed one of my classes, but I ended up getting two A’s, one B­plus and a C-
plus that semester,” Cummings said.

Williams’ pregnancy wasn’t easy either. She also experienced horrible nausea and

couldn’t tolerate the scent of pizza sauce. Williams was able to finish up the rest of the

semester while pregnant but had to take the spring semester off once her baby was

born in November 2012. She came back to school the following semester but then

realized she needed the whole following year off so she could focus on her child.

Both Williams and Cummings had good support systems while pregnant. Williams’

professors brought in a table for her to sit near to support her belly. Cummings also said

her professors were very empathetic, telling her how proud they were of her for

completing her schoolwork in her situation.

“I’m a very organized person. The first thing I did was plan out the rest of my

semesters,” Cummings said. ” I planned out two years of coursework.”

The two mothers are now focused on their toddlers and their futures. Williams said one

of the biggest life lessons she learned from having a child is to learn how to plan. She

no longer has the luxury of procrastinating essays and assignments because she never

knows what the next day could bring, whether that be her child getting sick or another

commitment coming up.

Williams will be studying abroad in Spain next year, meaning her mother will have

temporary guardianship of Jayla until she returns. She is currently writing a book and is

also planning on graduating next year. She wants to return to the University to begin

working on her bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Cummings will be graduating in May and will start her master’s at the University over the

summer. She plans on eventually getting a doctorate and hopes to become a professor.

While Williams and Cummings both do most of the work in raising their children, they

also have day cares where they drop off their kids when they have classes or need

breaks. For that, they use resources in the community. Williams uses the Crisis

Nursery, a 24/7 care facility in Urbana, when she has exams she needs to take at night.

Stephanie Record, executive director of Crisis Nursery, explained why students should

consider using the facility’s services for help in raising their children.

“We are here if (students) haven’t been able to get day care, and they have exams and

are being stressed and overwhelmed,” Record said. “As a college student, when you’re

trying to balance getting to class and graduating, and then being a parent on top of that,

it’s a great resource to alleviate that stress of caring for their child during a short time

period.”

Record said students can call beginning at 7 a.m. and can drop their children off for up

to 72 hours; however, eight is usually the average duration for a child to stay. She said

the Crisis Nursery is not a day care but is instead a backup.

Among day care services, the Nursery also has specialists, support groups, and child

education classes.

“Asking for help is a sign of strength. A lot of times, people think they have to do it all on

their own,” Record said. “We really promote to families that it’s really OK to ask for help.

Everybody needs support at one point or another.”

Williams and Cummings both said they want girls to know they’re not alone. Williams

stressed doing well in school, and Cummings said: “Don’t drop out. Love your children,

and don’t neglect them.”

Both Jayla and Audrey keep their moms busy but are bundles of joy, Cummings and

Williams said. The kids like to play with technology and their moms’ homework

assignments, but both are fast learners who are curious about the world around them.

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Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article stated Jocelyn Williams’ daughter was

born in August 2012, but she was actually born in November 2012. The article also

stated Williams took the fall semester off, but she actually took the spring semester off.

The Daily Illini regrets these errors.