Network for parents and carers
MAASTRICHT. How do you combine studying with having children? It’s a familiar question, laughs Dutch Iris te Boome from the Netherlands. She’s a sixth-year Medicine student at Maastricht University who decided to become a mother at a young age. Never for a moment did she consider quitting her studies over it. Marie Rys from Germany, a master’s student at the Faculty of Law, has a son who is nearly two years old. The pregnancy was unplanned, but she has found her way by now. Her study adviser was a great help in that, she says. Observant interviewed these two twenty-something mums in advance of the launch of a new network for parents and carers at UM this Thursday.
Master’s student of European Law and Market Integration
“To her, this was a chance to see her grandchild”
Marie Rys from Germany has already had quite a day, and it’s only just nine a.m. this Thursday morning. The bus didn’t come – “they’re probably having problems due to the lockdown in our city” – so she had to take her son Samuel (nearly 2) to day care on foot, sometimes carrying him. It took her an hour. “I took a public transport bike to get back.” She needs a moment to catch her breath.
Rys (25) lives in Leverkusen, north of Cologne. It would take her more than two hours just to get to Maastricht to attend a lecture or tutorial. And then she would still have to get back. “I shouldn’t say it, but the coronavirus crisis is a blessing to me in that regard.” She can attend all her classes via Zoom. “It helps me so much.”
She met her son’s father when she was in the second year of her studies. “I met him at a festival in Germany.” Rys got pregnant soon after. It was unplanned.
She cannot stress enough how much support and advice she received from the Law programme’s study adviser. “She told me this didn’t have to mean the end of my studies.” Her parents were also there for her from the very beginning. “My mother was actually very happy with the news. She has an eye condition and is gradually going blind. To her, this was a chance to see her grandchild. Besides, my parents had me quite late in life; they were glad for me that I would be a young mother.”
Samuel’s father has been out of the picture since this spring. “He duped me. I found out by accident, through someone else, that he already has a wife and children.” She moved to Leverkusen to be closer to her parents. She lives in an apartment with her son.
After giving birth, Rys mainly focused on writing her bachelor’s thesis. Because she had previously been enrolled in a law programme in Great Britain, Maastricht fortunately exempted her from elective courses in her third year. “I was able to write while he slept next to me. That’s impossible now that he’s nearly two years old and can walk and go exploring.”
Samuel goes to day care five days per week. “The faculty requires at least 48 hours of self-study, so I have no choice.” Rys also works several hours per week for an organisation providing legal advice to people with “fewer resources. I have flexible working arrangements. I just have to work a minimum number of hours per year. That’s why I work more in the summer than in the winter.”
Rys is aware of the fact that she is one of very few students who is also a young parent. “I’m an alien”, she laughs. But she never felt alone. “I met a fellow German student with an Erasmus+ scholarship. She got pregnant when I was five months.”
She was also never on the receiving end of stares or curious questions from other students. “I was lucky: I didn’t start to show until I was eight months pregnant.” Does she have any dreams she won’t be able to follow now that she has Samuel in her life? “No, certainly not. I’ll just have to adjust them a bit. I think there’s a lot you can do while raising a child. For example, I’ll want to travel the world again and I’ll be taking Samuel with me.” She has not yet made any definite plans for the future. “I dream of doing a PhD at Maastricht University, but I might also stay with the organisation I currently work for.”
Iris te Boome
Sixth-year student of Medicine
“Is it ever really the right time?”
“I always knew I wanted to be a young mother.” Iris te Boome didn’t necessarily want to get pregnant while she was doing her clinical rotations, but “what happens happens. After all, is it ever really the right time? Is it better when you’re a junior doctor or should you wait even longer?” Their family situation was quite solid: her partner is a permanent employee and a little older than her. They decided to go it. Their son is nearly eighteen months old by now.
How did she do it, studying and having a baby? It’s a question that often came up, she laughs. In fact, she was enrolled in two study programmes when she became pregnant: Medicine and a bachelor’s degree in classical music at music school. Even though she was taking the latter relatively easy, she eventually reached a point where she had no choice but to quit. “I involved the Medicine programme’s study adviser early in my pregnancy, at the beginning of my second trimester, in November 2018. I asked him to plan my clinical rotations with me. I felt like everything needed to be well planned. And he was such a good conversation partner.”
“I was scheduled to start a new clinical rotation eight weeks before my due date. I considered doing it – I wanted to, but my study adviser wondered aloud why I would want to. He asked me whether it really mattered if it took me a month longer to finish my studies. Looking back, I’m glad he pointed that out to me. I stopped when I was about 33 weeks pregnant. It was perfect. I still had time to get everything ready for the baby at home. I was also lucky because I had already completed all major clinical rotations. The only ones left were General Practice, a semiarts rotation [a last clinical rotation after all compulsory clinical rotations], which I am currently doing, and my research. And my ‘pregnancy leave’ coincided with a holiday break.”
Te Boome never had second thoughts about her pregnancy – not for a moment. She also never considered quitting Medicine. “Why would I not be able to finish my studies while raising a child?”
She now works four rather than five days per week (her son goes to day care four days per week, her husband works full-time), which is “allowed in special circumstances”. Because of this, it will take her a little longer to finish her studies, “a few months”.
She is enjoying her current semiarts rotation in Surgery; she thinks she would like to pursue a career “in this direction”. No, it won’t be easy, but “I think you should do things that give you energy. I could choose a different job and work fewer hours, but what if that doesn’t make me happy? And as long as we can make it work as a family, I don’t see the problem. Also, I have plenty of female examples at Maastricht University Medical Center+.”
Network for parents and carers
A year ago, UM was the first university in the Netherlands to receive a certificate for family-friendly universities (now known as the UM Cares project). The university believes that it is high time to pay more attention to students and staff with caring responsibilities. Its new network for parents and carers is all about practical and emotional peer-to-peer support. It will also serve as a sounding board for the UM Cares project, led by Natasja Reslow of the Diversity Office.
The network will be launched on Thursday 12 November at 12 noon. The online programme, largely in English, includes a keynote speech on combining work or studies with caring responsibilities and a keynote speech on achieving a work-life balance. The speeches will be given by staff from the department of Social Medicine and followed by a number of workshops in Dutch and English. For more information, please see https://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/events/launching-um-network-parents-carers