Many previous and current students at Auburn University have experienced the potential challenges that commonly occur as results of unplanned pregnancies.
Oftentimes, these students might find themselves wondering what steps to take and what options are available to them after finding out that they are expecting a baby.
BabySteps and Auburn Marriage and Family Center are two of many highly cost-effective, local resources available for pregnant students.
Sarah Hirschfeldt, the only full-time employee at the non-profit organization BabySteps, said she would advise a student who just found out she is pregnant to simply breathe and realize she is not alone in the pregnancy.
“There’s a lot of pressures from the world, our families, ourselves,” Hirschfeldt said. “A common thought is that you cannot have your education and your baby when the reality is that yes, it is hard, but you can absolutely have both.”
Hirschfeldt said the organization believes that we, as humans, are capable of thriving in the midst of really hard circumstances.
“We want to give power to students so that they can say, ‘This is not what I planned, but we are going to see this as an opportunity and let it be beautiful,’” Hirschfeldt said.
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BabySteps works to empower these students who are ages 18 to 25 by providing them with multiple means of assistance and care, such as free housing and childcare for students who are pregnant and for students who have children up to the age of one.
For mothers who are considering or have decided to put their babies up for adoption, BabySteps invites them to live at the facility and utilize any resources BabySteps can offer them during their pregnancies, as well.
According to Hirschfeldt, BabySteps provides childcare to mothers who are away at class or work through volunteers from the community who undergo background checks and childcare training.
Help from childcare volunteers is one of several ways BabySteps utilizes community resources to operate successfully.
“Every week, we have what’s called a family dinner where someone from the community will cook a meal and drop it off, and we invite student moms that we know to join,” Hirschfeldt said. “Community is a huge thing. At BabySteps, we want to make it so that someone can walk into a room and maybe for the first time not feel alone.”
If BabySteps is unable to provide certain resources for a mother or expecting mother in need, BabySteps connects the mother to another resource or service nearby in the community.
For example, for mothers who do not live with BabySteps, BabySteps connects them to Tiger Sitter Services. Or if a mother is not being thrown a baby shower, for example, BabySteps will connect the student mothers to people in the community who are willing to organize a way for that mother to receive the baby supplies she needs.
“Also, Women’s Hope offers parenting classes, so there is no reason for us to make something up when there’s an existing organization that does something very well, so we send them there,” Hirschfeldt said.
Hirschfeldt said she hopes to empower future mothers by registering them for financial classes.
“Let’s say a mom comes in, we simply give her free rent, and she leaves having no other tools for life. If that happens, then I don’t think we’ve done a very good job,” Hirschfeldt said. “BabySteps isn’t supposed to be a way these moms can escape the trials of life, but more so a place where they can be empowered to face the trials and have support through the trials.”
BabySteps recognizes that many more student mothers could use their help, Hirschfeldt said, but they have not met those mothers yet because they are either dropping out of school, ending their pregnancies or staying quiet and hidden.
“It’s really all about marketing at this point and getting the word out there so much so that when you find out you’re pregnant, BabySteps is one of the options you know you have,” she said.
According to Hirschfeldt, the fathers involved in these pregnancies do not live at the BabySteps facility, but BabySteps aims to build healthy families and relationships by first cultivating the relationship between mother and baby and then by encouraging healthy family growth and dynamics.
Another resource available to local student parents that seeks to improve mental health and family dynamics is the Auburn Marriage and Family Center.
According to Scott Ketring, incoming director of the Auburn Marriage and Family Center program, the Marriage and Family Center offers therapeutic services for relationships.
Ketring said often, students who are pregnant or have children have an added burden of managing obligations with academic requirements, and these students need support in balancing those relationships and work or school requirements.
“First, I would connect her to resources within the community and help her identify personal strengths that contribute to her resilience,” Ketring said. “Most students don’t know about supports through churches, non-profits and government agencies to help pregnant mothers and new mothers.”
Ketring said he would also educate the new mother on the truths that married students and parents with children often experience increases in academic performance because they budget time and money more efficiently and learn to be organized in maintaining multiple responsibilities.
Before making a decision to drop out of school, Ketring recommends that students should consider their support networks, government grants and aid opportunities, loan programs and part-time job opportunities that are in place to help students so that the Marriage and Family Center can help them establish life plans and look at potential options at each stage of those plans.
“The goal is to help the person experience more flexibility in their life situation over time and have enough successes to trust their abilities to succeed,” Ketring said. “If the student needs to take a break from school, there are ways to put a plan in place to prepare for a return to school or adjust the academic plan.”
Ketring advises new or expecting student parents to facilitate open communication with potential support systems and maintain intentional self-care and work hard to balance responsibilities along with therapy, which can be helpful for building a set of practical skills, such as time management and maintaining physical and emotional energy to handle this new life event.
“Couples therapy facilitates support and a team attitude in combating negative thinking, fears or emotional reactivity,” Ketring said. “Pregnancy can be a time of joy and excitement or fear an anxiety, so we want to make sure that clients are aware of obstacles like postpartum depression, problems maintaining healthy sexual relationship with the newborn and the need for improved communication with the stress of a new family members.”
For students and couples who are parents or soon-to-be parents, Ketring recommends relationship therapy, cognitive behavioral couples therapy, emotionally focused therapy, solutions focused therapy or structural therapy, all of which seek to provide a supportive environment for growth and success.
The Auburn University Marriage and Family Therapy Center employs a sliding fee scale with an intake fee of $20 for the first session and $10 per subsequent session for college students, active duty military personnel and disabled veterans. Otherwise, the fee is $50 for each session, with a slide fee based on income and family size.
Therapists at the Marriage and Family center expressed that they enjoy serving all people in the community and are happy to work with people of differing faiths, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, sexualities and national origins.
Some therapists speak Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and the African languages of Chichewa and Otjiherero, and many have also lived internationally and appreciate culture and diversity.
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