From cans to crèche: What it’s really like being a parent at uni
I had to take out two loans
In the February of my fresher year, my life changed forever. One evening shortly after Valentine's Day, my girlfriend came running from the showers of B block in Moberly House into my room and showed me the positive pregnancy test.
It's very hard to describe the feeling of realising you will be a father, especially when you accidentally conceive in uni halls, but I suppose it depends on your situation. For me and my girlfriend it was a total surprise; she had only taken the test on the off-chance she could have been pregnant. More importantly, how was I going to explain to my child that they were made in possibly the worst student accommodation on campus?
A lot went through my mind at first, mostly wondering how on earth my partner and I would be able to raise a baby in student accommodation, but also how I was going to cope with uni. Initial reactions from our friends were mixed; they shared the same concerns as us, but didn't see me finishing university.
From there on out, life moved at an incredibly quick pace and we never looked back. We moved into an empty rental house with what little stuff we had: a small double bed, a couple of nick-nacks, and our clothes.
Over time we bought furniture and decorations to make it look like someone actually lived there, and we waited for little Elijah to come along. It's so weird going from being a student and only taking care of yourself to suddenly looking after a whole family. You take on all sorts of new responsibilities; maturing both as an individual and as a parent.
How did we afford all this? I don't really have the answer to that, apart from taking each and every bit of help we could; whether it be from the university (I am incredibly grateful for Exeter's financial and personal support), the council, or Santander's handy overdraft. I even took on a part-time job as an online tutor and took out two loans to pay for the rent 6 months in advance.
Somehow, we have managed. There is a lot of support out there for young families and I cannot express how grateful I am for this. To break it down, Student Finance offers an extended loan and a grant, available to mothers and fathers at university, amounting to around triple the standard loan. This just about covers my rent and utilities for the whole year. On top of this, the university offers a bursary (available to those whose household income falls below a certain threshold), which helps me pay for food and baby things.
Our parents also offer everything they can manage, which really makes a difference and lets us buy some great toys and clothes for our son. In terms of support from the council and cost of living, students aren't normally entitled to benefits, but they do offer help for young families. It took us a while to get this support in place and we ended up in an overdraft for several months. It was not a smooth ride to begin with.
All that was left after moving in was to wait for little Elijah to be born. I cannot express how it feels to meet your baby for the first time, getting to see their face, what they look like, but most importantly being able to love them. It was an incredible flood of emotions that reduced me to the happiest tears of my life.
Day to day life has changed dramatically for the both of us. Trying to juggle looking after a young baby and keep up with uni work; from the early starts to waking up every night and getting barely any sleep. I took three weeks off uni to help out and enjoy time with my little boy. After that, to be honest, my attendance was poor. I went to uni when I could and my girlfriend would stay at home with Eli. I'd be lying if I said it was easy to study and be a responsible parent at the same time.
We don't have any family near us, so we couldn't take a day or even an hour off. I was rocking up to uni wishing I wasn't there. I wished I didn't have to study, so a lot of the time I didn't. My girlfriend gave up her own studies to become a full time mum, something for which I am so proud of her.
As time went by, things got easier. Eli slept for longer, we got more rest, and we learned how to juggle things. It was an incredibly tough and testing journey, but no matter how hard it was we always had each other.
Despite this, and after a few deferrals, I even managed to up my score three points from my first year and finish with a 65. I put this down to the incredible support from my girlfriend, without her constant caring for Elijah, I would not have had the means to do it.
Almost a year on, I'm in my third year on track for a solid 2:1, flipping off everyone who thought I would fail, and I'm even applying for an MSc. Elijah has his birthday coming up and he has just started nursery at the family center on campus two days a week. I still don't get to go out much; instead I usually work and devote more time to my family.
I don't miss it that much; becoming a father makes me want to work harder and enjoy time with my new family. Adjusting to life as a student parent has been a very bumpy journey, but I would never wish for anything else. I am so happy to have my incredibly strong girlfriend and beautiful baby boy to support me at every turn.
To those reading this who may be in a similar situation, or about to be: listen to yourself. People will try and tell you lots of things; some of it is helpful, some of it is bloody annoying, but what matters most is what you think and feel. Have the confidence to do what you want, and know that there is always support out there.