University Offers Aid to Pregnant Students



Recent studies by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States have shown that one of every 10 college-age students becomes pregnant each year. To address this reality, UB offers pregnant students a wide variety of options to ensure their health is protected and their educations continued.

Janina Kaars, assistant vice provost of academic advisement, said that choosing to follow through with an unexpected pregnancy does not necessarily mean a student will be forced to forfeit her education.

"There are many students at the university who are pregnant and do just fine," said Kaars. "They continue their studies and they graduate."

In the event that a pregnant or new mother feels her grades are suffering, Kaars said the mother may qualify for a medical withdrawal, pending review by a third-party medical doctor.

"People carry a variety of baggage when they come to the university," said Kaars. "This is not high school - people are treated like adults."

At the beginning of the semester, Jennifer Schiller, a 22-year-old senior majoring in English and legal studies, was engaged and aspiring to attend law school when she learned she was pregnant. Although "stunned" and "petrified," Schiller intends to carry the baby and to earn her degree at the same time.

"[Being pregnant] forced me to focus a lot more and redistribute my time better," she said. "All-nighters are not an option."

Frank Carnevale, clinical assistant professor at UB's Center for Student Health, said that university clinicians discourage students from discontinuing their education, although the center recognizes that even students have children.

"We encourage students to press on with their studies," he said. "It's an important part of their lives.

Schiller said most of her professors were understanding and supportive; one male professor even offered to deliver classwork to her home. She was, however, "blown away" by a female professor who asked why she "bothered" to stay in school and would not accept pregnancy as a legitimate medical condition that could hinder her performance.

"Out of all of [the professors] I thought she would be the most understanding," Schiller said.

Despite her full course load and the baby's impending arrival, Schiller said this semester has been a success.

"This is probably one of my best semesters," she said, proudly. "I'm running A's in all my classes."

According to Carnevale, if a student were to come to the center for pregnancy testing and return a positive result, doctors would offer counseling on four options: keeping the baby, putting the child into foster care until the mother completes school, putting the child up for adoption or terminating the pregnancy.

"We are not judgmental," said Carnevale. "We let the student make her own decision."

If the student chooses to continue her pregnancy, the university offers a multitude of services such as prenatal and maternity care under the Student Health Insurance Plan and counseling for her, her partner or her parents.

According to Ellen Christenson, director of Sub-Board I's Sexuality Education Center, a pregnant student may live in the residence halls until delivery, at which point SBI can assist her in finding affordable private housing.

"We don't want her to ever have to go through anything alone," said Christenson.

In the past, Christenson said, some male students have attempted to coerce their pregnant partners into terminating the pregnancies, a trend she is grateful to see fade.

"We see a pretty good number of males who try to be supportive and not try to get out of their responsibilities," she said.

After her pregnancy test came back positive, Schiller said she was frightened about what her fianc?(c)'s reaction might be.

"I sat in a spare room for 30 minutes figuring out how I was going to tell him," said Schiller. "Finally, I woke him up and said 'I think we need to buy more pregnancy tests.'"

Four positive tests later, her fianc?(c) became her husband. He is working on completing his master's degree and finding a well-paying job to support their child.

If the student decides to give up the newborn for adoption, Christenson said many couples seek to adopt children through the university and SBI can get pregnant students in touch with prospective parents. The parent or parents may set a list of characteristics she or they wish the future parents to have.

"You find me, tell me what you want and I will find you three couples that will match [the criteria]," said Christenson.

All prospective couples undergo screening by the Department of Social Services and Surrogate Court. Unlike adoption agencies, which charge thousands of dollars in fees, SBI provides its services to couples free of charge, advising them to invest their money into educational trust funds.

"Adoptive parents generally save up a lot of money for this since they've already spent a lot of money on fertility testing," Christenson explained.

Carnevale said it is difficult to determine the number of UB students who become pregnant while at UB because many on-campus locations offer pregnancy testing and many other women opt to use over-the-counter pregnancy tests at home instead.

She was not surprised by the SIEC statistics and said that in 98 percent of the cases, students opt for an abortion. However, she refutes the notion that students use abortion as an easy way out.

"We do not see women who come in here and automatically choose abortion," she said. "It's never a flip decision, there's always a difficult struggle."

Carnevale agreed, describing the young women as "very upset and concerned" but willing to open up and listen to their options.

Despite her excitement about giving birth to her first child, Schiller said the emotional and financial responsibilities are enormous.

"It's ridiculous how much money goes into having a baby," said Schiller.

According to Christenson, the major reasons pregnant students, most of whom are freshmen or sophomores, choose to terminate their pregnancies is because they do not wish to disappoint their parents, lack financial stability, are not in a committed relationship or do not think they "have the material to be good parents."

"You try to make sure they're making the right decision and they won't feel guilty about it later," said Christenson.