Students cope with college pregnancy

As a full-time student, intern and worker, junior transfer Tatiana Cohen drives from her grandmother’s home in Hialeah to Hollywood to drop off her daughter at daycare. She then takes the Tri-Rail to and from campus. After class, she picks up 3-year-old Naima and heads back to Hialeah.

Cohen, 22, separated from her husband and now lives with her grandmother and daughter. She makes the commute daily and, with a subsidy from Broward County, pays only $40 weekly for the daycare.

“My grandmother raised my daughter while I came to school and work,” Cohen said. “I applied for the daycare center here [at the University of Miami] for some time, but the waiting list was too long, and they give priority to teachers and don’t provide assistance.”

The University of Miami Canterbury Preschool offers childcare programs to faculty, staff and full-time students from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, but many students cannot afford it. Some parents receive vouchers from the state to afford the cost of the daycare.

An application for the preschool requires a $100 non-refundable fee to get onto the waiting list and the base tuition for a child in preschool costs $635 a month. Juliette Williams, the campus administrator for the preschool, said students’ children account for less than 20 percent of the 92 enrolled kids.

“We do welcome students,” she said, explaining that new openings are limited and parents whose children are already in the preschool receive priority to re-enroll them.

Senior Natalia Vanegas, a print journalism and international studies major, gave birth to her son, Julius, six months ago after becoming pregnant her junior year.

The 24-year-old continues to live off campus with the baby’s father and travels back and forth from Miami Lakes during the day.

Vanegas was concerned about how she would manage both school and a child when she first learned about the pregnancy.

“In the beginning I was worried because I’m a very ambitious and hard-working person. I didn’t know how I was going to deal with it,” she said.

She coped emotionally and financially with the help of her supportive partner.

“I’ll be there and do everything that a mother would do except breastfeed,” said her boyfriend, Fabio A. Vazquez. “I’m not embarrassed by it. I change and feed him and just assume that every dad did it.”

In the mornings, Vanegas finds time to go to the gym to relieve stress and attends classes before spending time with her son and finishing homework.

“As a mom, you become stronger and more aware of life and responsibilities,” Vanegas said. “Your level of maturity changes with everything.”

Married students or those with children, such as Cohen and Vanegas, cannot live on campus, but the Department of Residence Halls provides off-campus housing resources on its Web site. A search engine includes area listings for condos, houses, apartments and individual rooms.

“What we do is we deal with each student individually on their needs,” said Gilbert Arias, an assistant vice president for Student Affairs. “We can provide information on off-campus housing and we help them contact the right office or proper county office. We act as a referral.”

Like Vanegas, many students that are pregnant or who become mothers or fathers try to balance their busy schedules.

Graduate student Melissa R. Falcón, 25, works as a public relations specialist at the School of Communication. She married last year and is 16 weeks into her pregnancy.

“It definitely can be overwhelming because you have a lot of doctor’s appointments and it takes time from studying and work,” Falcón said. “At the same time, you figure it out and handle it. I stay very organized and keep a calendar of everything.”

Senior Lovon Ponder plays safety for the Hurricane football team and tries to find time to spend with his wife and two kids.

“I think there should be 48 hours in a day because I want to spend 24 hours with my family and 24 hours here playing football,” Ponder said. “I know I hear about some of the guys going out to the clubs, but I go out and do my own family thing. We go to dinner, Chuck E. Cheese’s for the kids to enjoy themselves and for me and my wife to enjoy ourselves.”

Students can go to the UM Counseling Center to get help in adjusting to a variety of issues. The staff sets outreach programs during orientation to present its services, trains resident assistants to identify problems and makes available stress management programs.

“Our mission is to get the student through school,” said Pamela L. Deroian, a clinical psychologist and the director of the counseling center. “We help [students] work through obstacles they have difficulty adjusting to.”

Cohen recently applied for a daycare closer to Hialeah and continues to pursue visual journalism at the University of Miami.

“Life’s not easy. Sometimes I couldn’t see my daughter because of homework,” Cohen said. “It’s sad because I’m the type of person who wants to be a mom, have a family, raise a child and wants an education.”