I was homeless as a teen, now I’ve graduated from Cardiff with a first

Emily also had a baby in her second year

For many of us, our university years are ones of partying, socialising and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. But for some, university is a totally different experience.

Emily Hattersley is a young woman who has been on a long and unusual journey through uni. From being homeless as a teenager, pregnant in her second year and coming out of university with a First Class Honours in Media and Journalism, I think Emily can teach us all a thing or two about hard work and determination.

The Cardiff Tab interviewed Emily to find out more about her journey.

What was teenage life like for you? What vision did you have for your future?

I was made homeless at 16, following my first spinal surgery. During this time I also had to complete my GCSEs.

Studying while being homeless, however, came with its challenges. Mental health issues left me with barely enough energy to attend college, which then further affected me mentally as I felt I wasn’t achieving anything and was just in a stage of limbo.

I decided that I would put myself into care, after a year of sofa surfing at friends' houses, as I felt I didn’t want to be a burden on them any longer. I felt like it would be nice for someone to look after me for a change, so I could focus on my studies.

However, after being independent for so long, I found it difficult to be restricted as much as I was in care. So at 17 I moved into my own flat, provided by social services and orchestrated by Ty Hafan. At this time I had to learn how to take care of myself and how to budget. My flat was far away from anyone, and I very often didn’t have enough spare money to catch public transport to see my friends or my partner. I also didn’t have the funds to pay for internet, so this was a very isolating time. However, this did mean that I had a lot of time to spend on my A-Level coursework.

I managed to achieve grade ABC in my A-Levels which meant I could go to university. I applied for Cardiff University to do Media and Communications… and got accepted!!

Do you remember how you felt when you found out you were pregnant?

I completed an internship with S3 Advertising Agency in 2017, in the summer of my first year at Cardiff Uni. After a night out, I had a hangover that lasted for three days, so I knew something wasn’t right.

The two pink lines were as clear as day and I immediately got tunnel vision. I started hyperventilating and had to sit down. I could see everything I’d done in my life flash before my eyes. I knew the statistics of students completing their degrees with babies were low. I knew I had a tough decision to make.

My partner came into the bathroom with me, and we cried together. We spent the next few days just talking about what we were going to do, and discussed every possible outcome, as you have to in these situations.

On the final day, I think it was four days after we found out, we had just had a big cry and fallen asleep together, and my partner looked up at me and said 'we can do this Em'. I’ll never forget those words.

Being young and pregnant come with their challenges, especially at uni. What was your first semester like being pregnant?

My first semester at Cardiff was a strange one. I had decided I would keep the pregnancy a secret for as long as I could, and was lucky in this respect as my bump didn’t come until a few weeks before I gave birth.

I was afraid of the judgement, and I didn’t want to be laughed at when I told them my plan to finish the rest of uni with a baby.

My friends from university would invite me to party with them, and I would make up different excuses not to go, so I wouldn’t have to explain why I wasn’t drinking.

I did feel lonely a lot of the time, as a lot of socialisation in university is through going out and having a drink.

Luckily, though, my partner always made an effort to make me feel special, and I realised that I would have plenty of time to socialise after the baby was born.

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Did you ever feel like dropping out or taking an interruption of study during the pregnancy?

Of course, the idea of dropping out of university was always in the back of my mind. We lived quite far away from my uni building while I was pregnant, and it would take me 40 minutes to walk there in the morning (which made 9ams especially painful!!)

While I was pregnant, I stayed long hours in the library after my contact hours, and stayed up all night sometimes to finish my assignments.

In my head, I wanted to get the best grades as I could before she was born, so it would help if having a baby had a detrimental affect on my grades.

If I’m honest though, the time I most thought I would quit was after she was born. I was allowed to take out extenuating circumstances straight after she was born, so I could complete my modules in the August resit period. However, I didn’t realise how hard this would be. I was breastfeeding every two hours, but still had deadlines looming, and my partner needed to go to work, and focus on his own dissertation in the day times.

But I had one thing in my mind the whole time; I had set myself a challenge and I was going to complete it, no matter how hard – I’m a very stubborn person!

What would be your advice for someone who may have just found themselves in the same situation you were in?

A piece of advice to someone in my position would be to not over think anything. Nothing is permanent, any stress you are under will end eventually, so just ride it out and keep your head up. But also, I’d advise to not be afraid of asking for help. We all struggle, but those that succeed are the ones that shared their problems and got help from others.

And my final piece of advice would be to never regret anything that happened in your past. I see everything that has happened to me as a learning experience that has made me the person I am today. Life is a journey of personal growth, and every experience is a lesson.