Alumni say prenatal, child care resources limited for pregnant VCU students

Samantha Nacman says her daughter, Kora, was a source of motivation in finishing her senior year of college. Photo by Vaila DeYoung

Hannah EasonNews Editor

When Samantha Nacman found out she was pregnant in May of last year, she searched online for resources dedicated to pregnant VCU students. She didn’t find much.

“I think it definitely makes it difficult for students,” Nacman said. “It makes it easier for students to drop out.”

The marketing major, who graduated in May, said her academic advisor sent her to someone else and was told about lactation rooms on campus and benefits she had at the Child Development Center.

“I feel like a lot of people didn’t really know how to react,” Nacman said. “They didn’t know if they should be supportive, or just let us do our own thing.”

While Student Health provides many sexual and reproductive health services — such as contraception, STI and STD screenings, Pap smears and pregnancy tests — it doesn’t offer prenatal care.

All full-time graduate and undergraduate students have to pay a $112 health fee, which covers visits to Student Health. But it does not cover some services, such as Pap smears, STI screenings and physical exams, which students have to pay for separately.

Medical Director of University Student Health Services Margaret Roberson said prenatal care is “not in their scope of practice.”

“We do not have any OB-GYN physicians on our staff,” Roberson said in a May interview. “We can provide primary care services for pregnant women, but we are not qualified to carry prenatal care.”

Roberson added that pregnant students are provided with a list of health providers, hospitals and health departments in the area.

University Student Health Services confirmed over the phone Tuesday that nothing has changed since May.

Photo by Vaila DeYoung

‘No support’

When Alycia Engrisch took a home pregnancy test during her freshman year in 2009, it came back positive. Then 19, she sought out one of her only resources, University Student Health Services, to guide her next steps.

Engrisch, who majored in biology when she was at VCU, says that after a second urine test at the clinic confirmed her pregnancy, she was only given resources for adoption and abortion by a nurse. She says no one gave her information on what to do if she wanted to raise her child and have a healthy pregnancy. The discouragement continued, she said, as her professors were unaccommodating and assumed she wasn’t coming back the next semester.

“There was no support from VCU,” she said.

“I felt like people looked down on me because I was pregnant,” Engrisch said. “None of my friends really wanted to associate with me because I couldn’t party and drink anymore.”

Engrisch, who now works as a registered nurse, continued her education at Bryant & Stratton College in New York. Her son, Delvin, was able to stay close to his mother through the school’s day care.

Among the resources available for parenting students are the two lactation rooms at Cabell Library, where mothers can nurse or pump breast milk, but fathers can’t use the space. The library website states the rooms are reserved for breastfeeding women and their babies, and fathers can bottle feed babies throughout the library building.

Pregnant on Campus, a site for pregnant and parenting college students, states that in the United States, 3.4 million undergraduate college students are mothers, and 1.4 million undergraduate college students are fathers. Forty-three percent of all undergraduate parenting students are single mothers, and in community colleges, parents make up 30% of the student body. 

Under the website’s resources for the VCU area, there are 55 Virginia adoption clinics listed, but no university-affiliated prenatal services are included.

Jenn Klee, a senior English major, said she recommends VCU offer free child care for students to encourage them to finish school, now that she is a mother of six children and back at VCU almost 20 years after getting pregnant in 2000. 

“I didn’t know who to talk to. I didn’t know anyone else who was pregnant or had kids and was doing school,” Klee said. “I didn’t have any friend who could relate.”

Klee says resources available at the university today, such as the Wellness Center’s Stall Street Journal, could have helped her substantially.

“VCU is a lot more communicative with students now,” said Klee, crediting The Well for addressing substance abuse and mental and reproductive health.

“I don’t regret that I had a kid, I don’t regret that I raised my children,” Klee said, “but I do regret that I threw my opportunity away without really taking the time to research and talk about it.”

The VCU Child Development Center, at 1128 Floyd Ave., offers child care to university affiliates for $1,150 per month, and charges $1,250 for people unaffiliated with the school. VCU Health Child Care at Lora M. Robins Family Learning Center determines tuition according to the child’s age, and offers assistance to Northside elementary schools, including Barack Obama, Linwood Holton, Ginter Park, G.W. Carver and Overby-Sheppard.

“For those students who do find themselves pregnant, and they do want to finish school, we need to find out how we can integrate child care to help students be more successful,” Klee said. 

“I can do this, and I can keep doing this, because it’s all for her.” — Samantha Nacman, on how her daughter motivated her to graduate. 

Nacman, who had her baby in December, says more financing resources should be available for pregnant students. At the time, her mother’s insurance did not cover her prenatal care.

“If I didn’t know that I could have Medicaid, I would’ve paid out of pocket to have this baby, and I would’ve been in debt for the rest of my life, on top of student debt,” Nacman said. “I’m grateful that we have those things in place in Virginia, but I do wish VCU offered some kind of support in that regard.”

Nacman says her daughter, Kora — who is now nine months old — inspired some of her speeches in her marketing and sales classes. Beyond that, she was one of the main reasons Nacman pushed through and finished school.

“I can do this, and I can keep doing this, because it’s all for her,” Nacman said.

 

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