Balancing motherhood and higher education

A student’s brave journey towards motherhood proves difficult but not impossible

Laura Thevaos, Staff Writer

Trigger warning: sexual assault

Jackie is a senior community health major at UTSA and she works two jobs. In addition, she is a single mom. Her son Joaquin was born April 24, 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic. Raising a son during a pandemic and as a college student was far from easy, but Jackie explained why she did it despite the trauma she faced —  sharing the highlights as well as the difficulties. 

Jackie’s parents immigrated from El Salvador to the U.S. before she was born and raised in Houston. Jackie grew up in a strict and religious household led by her mother. When Jackie learned she was pregnant, one of her greatest fears was her mother’s reaction since their relationship had always been rocky. Jackie and her mother’s relationship first started to decline when Jackie was in middle school. 

“I think when I was around twelve, I had my first boyfriend, but also around that same year is when I was first sexually assaulted by a boy in a band with me,” Jackie said. “That’s why I was not in a band anymore, and never wanted to play an instrument ever in my life. After my mom learned I had a boyfriend without telling her, we had complete distrust in each other.” 

For the rest of Jackie’s middle school and high school years, she was in other relationships, but many of them were unhealthy. In 2018, she decided to come to UTSA for college. 

During the summer of 2019, Jackie went home. She had a friend who said he was Christian and he invited her to his church. She thought he was trustworthy and started to spend time with him as a friend, as she was dating someone else at the time. This “friend” wanted a relationship, but Jackie didn’t. This so-called friend didn’t really care about her. After telling him she wasn’t interested, he sexually assaulted her. In August of 2019 — her sophomore year of college — Jackie found out she was pregnant. 

“My first thought was, ‘I have to get an abortion. I am not ready for this. I’m a sophomore in college — my mom would kick me out and I don’t have the money to take care of a baby.’” 

She knew immediately what the results of this would be: she would have no place to live if her mom kicked her out and no money to support the baby. Additionally, she never wanted to have kids. 

“I didn’t know if I wanted this, but the more I kept hearing other people’s stories of them keeping a child and how it worked out, I decided to keep him and to give him up for adoption. That first semester I was super depressed. I failed three out of my five classes and slept 18 hours a day. Then, there would be moments when I was in my dorm room and I felt the baby kicking, and I was like, ‘At least I am not alone.’” 

Later that semester she had a boyfriend who pressured her into having an abortion; he said that he would pay for it. “I said it was my decision and I told him ‘I think I am going to keep it.’” She ended up breaking up with him. 

As the pregnancy progressed, Jackie realized she would get attached to the baby and so she decided, regardless of the difficulties, to keep Joaquin as her own. 

Jackie’s mom and family soon learned of the pregnancy when she went home to visit, but their reaction wasn’t what Jackie expected. They wanted her to keep the baby too. Jackie says that even though her relationship with her family is still not great, they have helped her through the experience. 

“The next semester, I actually got out of bed and started to clean my room. The friend I was hanging out with said I was doing that ‘mama bird thing.’ I wasn’t that sad anymore. I had isolated myself too much. That semester I started to get involved with friends who cared about me.” 

After a long labor with only her mother allowed in the room, Joaquin was born. 

“He’s so funny — we take naps together. He has a personality and laughs randomly. Like when other people laugh, he likes to join in too. He loves to watch Mickey Mouse and Octonauts. He’s really spoiled,” Jackie says, laughing. She has pictures of Joaquin taped all around her room. 

When asked what it is like to be a mother, despite her first reaction of not wanting children, Jackie recalls four months into the pregnancy she started to get attached to Joaquin and now they are “besties.” Now she knows how to hold a baby and change diapers. Her greatest challenge is raising him to be a good person, but she has realized that is not too difficult. She feels she needs to treat him like a friend and to be herself: by her choosing what is right, he will also learn too. 

After spending a year in Houston with Joaquin, Jackie came back to UTSA in 2021 to finish her degree. Joaquin is in Houston right now with her family. She is working towards getting a car and having the money to bring Joaquin here to San Antonio with her. 

Since Joaquin lives in Houston with her family, she doesn’t have the day-to-day responsibility of taking care of him, but it is the separation that is difficult for her. She only sees him once in a while when her family Facetimes her; she is doing her best to have him come live with her in San Antonio. 

When asked to share advice for women who are in the same or similar circumstances as she was — either who have an unplanned pregnancy or who have been raped — Jackie stated:

“Although it’s hard, don’t isolate yourself. You need other people’s help.” To women thinking of keeping their baby, Jackie states, “It takes a village to raise a child. This is a time when you need people and community. People I barely knew gave me money to buy groceries and gave me a lot of great advice during my pregnancy.” 

Jackie also said going to counseling helped her a lot, but, because of the trauma, she cannot really remember most of her pregnancy. Jackie talks about where she is now, over a year later. 

“I am genuinely happy now and I’m provided for. I was at my lowest and had no hope, I didn’t think life could get better. Even though Joaquin is far away, I love him and would do anything for him. I feel like it is going to be ok. He has a place to live. He has a crib. Even when me and my family are not on the best terms, we can come together to take care of Joaquin. Even though it wasn’t the best circumstances, it was not his fault. He is just a baby.” 

Jackie’s decision to keep Joaquin seemed impossible to her in the beginning, but every concern and need Jackie had has been met. While this is not the case for every woman, Jackie doesn’t have any regret in choosing to have Joaquin, despite the trauma she went through. Now he is her “bestie” and one of the most important parts of her life.