Motherhood overwhelms university students

By Julia Ndlela

Life at university is mostly characterised by lots of homework, lectures and projects. However, many students remember university life as the best time of their lives because of the freedom to attend parties and meeting new friends. But for female students who get pregnant before or during university, their experiences maybe a complete opposite.

Pregnant students at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) say they struggle to move up and down the stairs as they attend lectures. Photo: Julie Ndlela

Gratewin Tada (23) is a second year student at a university in Bulawayo. She is 8 months pregnant. Gratewin says when she enrolled at university, she was thrilled to meet many new friends and experience education in a different environment from high school. A few months after starting her degree, Gratewin says she fell pregnant.

“When I told my friends that I was pregnant and had recently got customarily married, they sounded supportive. However, our friendship started to quickly fade. I was made to feel like I did not belong to the group. I soon realised that many of my ‘friends’ were immature and would say nasty things behind my back,” says Gratewin.

The pressure on Gratewin was so much that at one point she says she contemplated differing her studies. She says attending lectures with her bulging tummy always attracts stares from fellow students and this makes her uncomfortable.

“Being heavily pregnant and having to attend lectures is a nightmare. Sometimes l feel like l should drop out but when l think of my future l soldier on. It is very depressing to know that people are always talking behind your back. Some students do not realise that their actions are detrimental to the psychological wellbeing of others,” says Gratewin.

Gratewin says preganancy and university do no go hand in hand. She says there is so much work that at times she gets overwhelmed.

“Walking up and down the stairs and attending 4-hour lectures is not easy for me. Most of the time I will be tired and overcome by the urge to sleep. I sometimes get cramps because of the uncomfortable chairs and sitting for long hours. Sometimes l wake up sick and my feet swollen. When this happens I have to skip lectures. It is tough because I still have to catch up with other students,” says Gratewin.

Gratewin says she is grateful that her husband is supportive and encourages her to soldier on. But for another student, Faith Khumalo (24), family support has been helpful to her but her family observes some cultural practices that almost threatened her stay at university.

Faith says cultural practices state that a woman can only be allowed to leave home at least after two months from the day of giving birth. Faith says university opened for the new semester three weeks after she had given birth. She was supposed to skip lectures for three to four week until she could be allowed to leave her home. To add on to her woes, she had lots of assignments that had been send during the semester break when she was still heavily pregnant.

“It was the most stressful time for me. There were discussions in the family about whether I should proceed or defer. I was relieved when I got the permission to proceed with my studies. However, I still get stressed during the day when I am attending lectures because I would be thinking about my baby,” says Faith.

Another student, Bekezela Mguni (28) is in her second year at university and has a six months old baby. She lives in Esigodini, 44 kilometres south of Bulawayo city and commutes to university campus every day. Bekezela says having a baby while at university has brought many challenges for her.

“I wake up early in the morning to prepare everything for my husband before he also leaves for work. I also have to take time to prepare everything for my baby before I leave. Lectures end at 1730 hours so I get back home very late. I struggle to get time at home for studying because most of the time I will be attending to my baby,” says Bekezela.

Bekezela says her studies are challenging even for students who have no children. Having a baby will doubles the challenge and she says her experience at university is a nightmare.

Zimbabwe’s education system does not provide for any financial or material support for pregnant students or those nursing babies. Students like Bekezela have to rely on the support of their families to continue with their education. But with the country’s economy facing challenges, many students continue to bear the burden with limited support.