Ryan Chartrand

When Cerra Himle of Atascadero was 13 years old, she had appendicitis and needed to get one ovary and fallopian tube removed. Her remaining ovary was very damaged, and her doctors told her the chances of her conceiving a child were slim to none.

But in December 2006, a miracle was discovered. Himle, 20, a liberal studies junior at Cal Poly, was shocked to find out that she was pregnant. She cried hysterically, and mixed feelings and thoughts raced through her head. She was in a state of confusion, and happiness but she also couldn’t help but question, “How did it happen?” “How far along am I?” and “Am I going to have to drop out of school?”

Immediately after she found out that she was with child, Himle told the unexpected news to her boyfriend of two years. To Himle’s surprise, her boyfriend, Logan Brown, 20, calmly said, “I could deal with that.”

Six months later, in June 2007, Himle gave birth to a baby girl, Lilli, in San Luis Obispo.

“I had to balance school, work and staying healthy while limiting stress,” Himle said. “I was afraid school would interfere with my pregnancy and vice versa. It’s hard to eat healthy as a college student because you’re always on the go.”

Himle saw a doctor once a month, and because she’s vegetarian, she also consulted a nutritionist and dietician to come up with a healthy meal plan to ensure proper nourishment of her growing baby.

Himle is far from being alone. According to data compiled from the United States Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics and Condition of Education Reports, parents are in fact one of the most populous demographic subgroups of students in post-secondary educational programs.

More than 5 million parents are currently enrolled in formal post-secondary degree programs, and 27 percent of all college undergraduates and 34 percent of all graduate students have children. As a group, student parents tend to be older than traditional students – the average age is 29 years old for single parents and 36 years old for married parents. Of the student parent population, 65 percent are female, 66 percent attend school part time while working full time, and about half are single parents.

“We certainly welcome students who are parents,” said Elie Axelroth, the interim head of counseling at Cal Poly.

“It’s challenging to balance school, work and family. Children need a lot of time and attention. It’s also challenging financially – many student parents take out student loans, need to find a place to live and pay child expenses.”

Axelroth has been the interim head of counseling at Cal Poly for more than 20 years. She said that they see student parents with relationship problems due to the stress of school and work. She also said that student parents who have peers with more freedom can cause stress. Since Cal Poly has a relatively young population, older student parents may feel out of sync and that they don’t quite fit in with younger students.

It was difficult for Himle to “take it easy” while pregnant. She is a self-proclaimed overachiever. During spring quarter she took 18 units while working 25 hours a week at the Sierra Vista Endoscopy Center. She was also an active member of the California Students Teachers Association.

While pregnant, there were many activities Himle had to stop doing. She loves tattoos and has two of them, but her pregnancy prevented her from getting another one. She also stopped playing soccer and dyeing her hair, and no Jacuzzi time for her.

“I missed my sugar and caffeine,” Himle said. “I also lost contact with some friends. When my friends wanted to go to parties or go hiking or rock climbing, I couldn’t go. I won’t have that full college experience.”

After finding out she was pregnant, Himle moved out of the apartment she shared with Brown and in with her parents in Atascadero. She said her mother provides “tremendous support.”

“I waited three months to tell my mom that I was pregnant,” Himle said. “She was ecstatic; she thought she couldn’t have grandchildren. She also already knew because she heard a message the doctor left on the answering machine, and after I told her, she brought out some baby clothes.”

Currently, Himle is still working part time while her mom babysits Lilli and Brown works full time. Himle said that she will take a leave from her work at the end of August and will take fall quarter off to bond with Lilli.

In the upcoming winter quarter, Himle plans on taking night and online classes while Brown will have an opposite schedule. Brown might move in with Himle at her parents’ house, or they might get their own place, Himle said. Marriage has been discussed between her and Brown, she said, but it won’t happen any time soon.

While Himle is lucky to have support from her family and boyfriend, some pregnant students have concerns of feeling isolated, and worry about finances and completing school, Axelroth said.

It’s important for a pregnant student to talk to family, friends and their partner and gather support, Axelroth said. She encourages counseling to talk about what can be helpful to them.

After college, Himle wants to teach kindergarten or first grade. She is also pursuing a minor in child development, and hopes to have her own daycare.

Parenting is a great challenge. Since the birth of Lilli, it’s hard to get sleep at night, Himle said.

“I’m in constant worry if I’m doing it right,” Himle said. “Everything you do impacts their life. Again, it’s the balancing act – being a good role model and parent and learning to have time for yourself.”

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