Some student mothers bear the financial responsibilities of parenting with little help.

Studying has always been challenging for most university students. With the readings, tests, assignments and exams, having a baby on top of all that, means you have to work twice as hard while exposing yourself to financial responsibilities.

Wits University provides assistance for pregnant students by making deadlines and exam schedules flexible.

The university’s pregnancy policy states that: “Students should not be unduly hampered in their studies due to pregnancy and the policy seeks to address the challenges that pregnant students may experience due to pregnancy.”

Regardless of the above provisions, student mothers say they bear the financial burden of raising a child.

Third-year BA general student and mother of a three-year-old daughter, Hlengiwe Dube (21), told Wits Vuvuzela that it has not been easy parenting while studying.

Dube used to do promotions to get more money to add to her NSFAS allowance (R2000 every second month) and R420 government grant to provide for herself and the child.

“She is now older so I don’t buy diapers or things like that. What I do is combine [my allowance] with the grant and buy [what] she needs. I make sure I have my transport money first. I don’t buy clothes every month. I save until June and buy winter clothes, then I save again for December and buy summer clothes,” said Dube.

Whenever she is on campus the child remains with her mother in Protea Glen, Soweto which relieves her of paying for day care.

When it comes to the father of her baby, Dube said “I haven’t been receiving much help from him financially or physically.” However, the paternal grandfather put the baby on his medical aid scheme.

      Figure 1: A bar graph representing prices of baby products at Pick n Pay from the starting to the highest price.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Graphic: Rose Clemence Shayo

A BA honours student in African Literature, who wished to remain anonymous, lives with her daughter in Midrand and uses her stipend from Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) and Postgraduate Merit Awards to support herself and her three-year-old daughter.

The MMUF recipient has no family in South Africa as both her parents have passed away and her mother’s side of the family is from Botswana.

They share parental duties and financial responsibilities with the father, who is an engineer and a PhD student at the University of Johannesburg.

“It is balanced between myself and the father. We spend about R 5000 collectively. Her father fetches her in the morning, takes her to school and picks her up. When I come back he brings her,” she said, adding that the father also pays the child’s medical aid.

“I am unable to do other things that are of interest to me. I want to put myself first… but I can’t and when I do that I feel bad. I feel like I’m not being a good mom [if] I put myself first,” said the 29-year-old.

Parent-infant psychotherapist Dr Katherine Bain told Wits Vuvuzela that, “With sufficient financial and emotional support from the child’s father and/or extended family, many student mothers manage to balance the demands of academic study and child care really well. However, when there is insufficient support, student mothers can become overwhelmed with competing demands and both academic work and the parent-child relationship can suffer.”

Dr Bain encourages student mothers to “resist the urge to buy into the narrative of ‘supermom’, which puts pressure on women to be successful in all spheres of life”.

Success is still possible, just at a slower, more reasonable pace, which allows time for rest. It may also help to remember that it is quality over quantity – while children do need regular contact with their caregivers, it is the quality of this contact, not the quantity that counts more,” she said.

Mpume Mbongwa, a 34-year-old married mother of two, told Wits Vuvuzela that a baby under the age of one uses about two packets of 52 nappies per month if they do not suffer from diarrhea.

From two years and above they will use 120 nappies. A total cost for a baby in a month, including crèche, is more than R3000.