Campus & Community

Pregnancy forum delivers the goods

6 min read

Pregnancy resources:

  • Financial Aid: Contact Matt DeGreeff at (617) 495-1581.
  • Child care: The Office of Work and Family is available to help students as well as faculty. Several babysitting co-ops and various daycare services are available in the area. The services are expensive, however, making them inaccessible to any but the wealthiest students.
  • Counseling: UHS Mental Health Services and peer groups such as Room 13.
  • Off-campus resources: Daybreak, located on 3 Park St., Boston, third floor. 24-hour hotline: (617) 742-9170. Daybreak provides free pregnancy testing and counseling, and will assist in connecting students with financial support that they can receive from the government and charitable organizations. The organization also has programs to provide temporary free housing and has lists of child care services. Daybreak can also help with financial aid for purchasing baby clothing and supplies as well as maternity clothing. Daybreak will also help with establishing paternity and obtaining child support.
  • Medical resources: UHS provides free, confidential pregnancy tests, and student insurance covers prenatal care but does not cover dependents.
  • National Hotlines:Birthright: (800) 550-4900Carenet: (800) 395-HELPCatholic Charities: (800) CARE-002Nurturing Network: (800) TNN-4-MOM

Almost two years ago, senior Marta Szabo found out she was pregnant just weeks before her spring exams, and although Szabo is now successfully juggling classes and diapers, she said it hasn’t been easy. So with the hope of making the experience of unexpected pregnancy easier for future students, Szabo joined a group of six other panelists at a Pregnancy Resource Forum held at the Quincy House Feb. 7 to investigate what resources pregnant students have.

It was hard, Szabo said, to be a pregnant student on campus, but she was determined not to give up her education, so she looked for resources at the University. It turns out that Harvard has a lot of valuable pregnancy resources, Szabo said, but it took her a long time to find out about them because they’re not centralized.

“There are resources at Harvard and it is doable, but if this forum does anything tonight, I hope it centralizes all the resources on campus,” Szabo said.

The forum was sponsored by Harvard Right to Life and mediated by Serrin Foster, executive director of the prolife group Feminists for Life, but Foster was quick to set the ground rules for the forum, telling the crowd of male and female students that it was not an abortion debate.

“We’re just looking at what options a woman has if she decides to keep the child,” Foster said. “When a woman is pregnant in college it seems to be an overwhelming thing.”

Assistant Director of Financial Aid Matt DeGreeff concurred, saying that only about 10 undergraduate students in five years have come to his office for financial counseling on how they can get their degrees while raising a child.

With an undergraduate class of about 6,400 students, DeGreeff said this low number could mean two things. Either there are few pregnant students trying to get their degrees at Harvard, or those pregnant students who need financial help are not coming to his office.

Most pregnancy help on campus begins with a free, confidential pregnancy test at the University Health Services (UHS), said Deborah Cohen, head of pregnancy counseling at UHS. If the student is pregnant, she is referred for counseling, but with psychological, peer, and financial aid counseling available both on and off campus, Foster stressed the importance of a central resource that gives students a chance to review all their counseling options.

If the student decides she wants to try parenting as an undergraduate, the biggest financial hurdle will be the rising costs of day care and housing in Boston, said DeGreef. Apartment prices in the area are notoriously high, but for undergraduates working on their degrees, they are especially daunting.

Assistant Dean Karen Avery said that pregnant students may stay on campus, but once the child is born, they have to find housing outside the dorms. While agreeing that a college dorm is no place to raise a family, Foster encouraged panelists to find ways to help these students locate affordable housing, pointing out that at Georgetown University, special housing was made available for new mothers.

Harvard students are given help, asserted DeGreef, with a combination of loans and scholarships to help with housing and day-care costs. DeGreef’s office also helps pregnant students obtain government funding if they are eligible. The student is then assisted in working out a reasonable budget for herself.

DeGreeff said he has been able to help all the women who have come into his office. Ironically, the hardest people to help are the upper- and middle-class students who are receiving little or no financial aid. These students are not eligible for most government aid, he said, so they must get help from their parents.

In addition to Harvard’s services, students can also find help off campus, said president of the Daybreak Crisis Pregnancy Center Cathi Woods. Daybreak offers a 24-hour crisis line so women have someone to talk to no matter when they find out they are pregnant.

Daybreak also offers follow-up counseling before and after the women decide how they want to deal with the pregnancy, Woods said. For students or working women who are having a hard time finding housing, Daybreak also offers free temporary housing.

Woods said many students come to Daybreak for counseling because they like the idea of going to a third party. Woods added that the forum helped her know what services Harvard offers.

“With so many colleges around, it’s hard to keep track of what everyone offers,” she said. “But now we have an idea of what Harvard offers so when someone comes to us from Harvard, we can let them know.”

Foster has hosted pregnancy resource forums at other universities across the country including the University of California, Berkeley; Swarthmore; Notre Dame; Georgetown University; the University of Chicago; the University of Kansas; and Kent State.

After seeing what those colleges offered, Foster said she was impressed with Harvard’s services. “I especially liked what Matt [DeGreeff] was saying about putting together a budget for students,” Foster said. “I didn’t hear that at other schools.”

Foster said the next step is for Harvard officials to document and centralize their services so all students know what the school offers. Melissa Moschella ’02, the president of Harvard Right to Life who helped organize the event, said she will work on putting all the information in a pamphlet and posting it on the Right to Life Web site.