College offers services for pregnant students

by Sam Rauschenfels | 4/20/11 10:00pm

Although the College will continue to offer assistance to pregnant undergraduate and graduate students, budget cuts proposed by state officials and federal legislators may affect the "convenience" of care for some pregnant students, Dick's House family nurse practitioner Elizabeth Morse said in an interview with The Dartmouth. While Dick's House treated five full-term undergraduate pregnancies last year, that number may not represent all the undergraduate pregnancies, since some women choose not to visit Dick's House when pregnant, according to Morse.

While the majority of pregnant students who visit Dick's House decide to terminate their pregnancies, women have three options after confirmation of their pregnancy to keep the baby and raise it, to give the baby up for adoption or to undergo an abortion, Morse said. Patients who wish to terminate their pregnancies are referred to Planned Parenthood in West Lebanon, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center or the Concord Feminist Health Center, Morse said.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Pence Amendment which would eliminate all federal funding for Planned Parenthood on Feb. 18, The Dartmouth previously reported. The legislation is part of a proposition to eliminate over $300 million in federal funds provided to family planning organizations. A reduction in Planned Parenthood's funds would limit its ability to offer services, and students at the College would be directly affected, Morse said. The New Hampshire budget, proposed by the state House on April 15, also threatens to reduce family planning and support programs, The Dartmouth previously reported.

Pregnant students are provided with expedited access to counseling through Dick's House's Counseling and Human Development department due to the immediate need for support, Morse said.

If a student decides to continue the pregnancy, Dick's House will work with student deans, the Office of Residential Life, Student Accessibility Services and the Pregnancy and Parenting Resources Clearinghouse within the Center for Women and Gender Studies to support the student, according to Morse.

Johanna Evans '10 said she received "no formal help" from the College when she became pregnant during her sophomore Summer, and instead chose to handle everything independently.

Since Evans participated in the theater department's foreign study program in London after learning of her pregnancy, she received the majority of her pre-natal care overseas. Evans said she talked to her professors about her situation and made arrangements to finish her finals before she delivered her son.

"Individual professors were very helpful," Evans said in an interview with The Dartmouth.

Being pregnant significantly impacted her social life once she returned to campus, Evans said. Although she had never been a "heavy drinker" during her freshman and sophomore years, Evans said she had to find alternative social activities during and after her pregnancy.

"[My pregnancy] allowed me to channel my social energies in different places," Evans said, who increased her involvement in the Dartmouth Film Society and directed several plays on campus while pregnant.

Evans said she did not feel comfortable taking her son to certain public places like the Hopkins Center and instead mostly brought him to Alpha Theta co-ed fraternity, of which she was a member. Evans said that although people did not make derogatory comments directly to her, she experienced some discrimination from other students because she was a parent.

"People just assumed that I'd dropped off the map, that I was no longer academically viable," Evans said.

Now a graduate student, Evans said she believes society should re-evaluate attitudes towards student-parents. Evans said she disagrees with the idea that a person's "life is over" when they become a parent.

"I haven't had to give up my career, I haven't had to give up the friendships that I have," she said. "I don't feel that you have to sacrifice everything for your child."

Susan Aaluk '12, who came to Dartmouth with a three-year-old son, said the College was welcoming and accommodating to her needs as a parent.

"I've had an amazing experience," Aaluk said. "For me, the Dartmouth student community has been incredibly welcoming."

Upon Aaluk's matriculation, the College provided Aaluk on-campus housing in a two-bedroom apartment near the East Wheelock residence cluster, the cost of which was billed to her student account and covered partially by her financial aid package. Aaluk said she originally planned for her son to live with her during the school year, but she soon lost primary custody of her son to her ex-husband.

Aaluk said she was surprised when she was accepted to the College and was allowed to defer her matriculation for one year to deal with child custody issues. Both faculty and administrators have been supportive and helpful in regard to her situation ever since, she said.

Aaluk said she would not have been able to navigate the custody battle as well as she did without the support of the Dartmouth community. She cited the theater department and Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Students Lisa Thum as being particularly supportive.

After returning to court several times, Aaluk said she was granted custody of her son from May through August each year. During that time, her son lived with her while she attended school. Aaluk's son stays with his father in Alaska during the remainder of the year, she said.

"I feel like this is one of the healthiest places for me to be as a mother, even if I'm not with my son for part of the year," Aaluk said.

While Aaluk said her experiences might differ from those of other student mothers because she had her son before she arrived at the College, Aaluk said she believes Dartmouth is more supportive of students with children than other institutions.

"I'm taking my son on the theater foreign study program, "Aaluk said. "This could only happen at Dartmouth."

Aaluk said she has never felt judged as a mother at the College and that most people are simply curious about her experiences.

"My son comes in two weeks and three days," Aaluk said with a smile. "I have friends that are almost as excited as I am."

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