Students navigate pregnancy at Queen’s

Tales of pregnancy, abortion and miscarriage

Approximately 61 per cent of Canadian women will have an unplanned pregnancy in their lifetime.

Starting a family, experiencing a miscarriage or getting an abortion are stressful and exhausting experiences for a woman at any stage of her life — but especially so for a young university student.

In their lifetime, approximately 61 per cent of Canadian women will experience an unintended pregnancy according to a recent survey by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC). The highest rate of unwanted pregnancies occurs in women between the ages of 20-24 and as many as 40 per cent of pregnancies are unintentional, according to the SOGC.

To learn more about how students respond to this news, The Journal spoke to three female students who experienced pregnancy on Queen’s campus within the last four years. 

These stories reflect the challenges pregnant students face within the University environment and the stigma that surrounds their journeys. 

For Jamie*, she first believed something was unusual during Orientation Week of her second year. Her period was late and early symptoms had begun to appear. 

After taking a test, it was confirmed — she was pregnant. She later found out she conceived over the summer and was already a month along. 

“I felt very conflicted and confused,” Jamie told The Journal. “It’s the kind of thing that you think won’t ever happen to you. You think you were careful but then you remember that one time you weren’t as careful.” 

On top of trying to find a support system, balancing school with the knowledge of being pregnant posed a challenge for Jamie. Her solution was to continually remind herself she had options and that her university career wasn’t coming to an end. Deciding whether to have the child or not ultimately became dependent on her personal beliefs. 

“I decided I was going to have the baby,” she recalled. 

However just two weeks later, Jamie had a miscarriage. 

“I was confused and hurt,” she said. “It was physically painful and I felt that I had to rest for a couple of days after the fact.” 

Following the miscarriage, Jamie sought counselling services at Queen’s. “It wasn’t that I needed help, but just an open ear and someone who was non-judgemental to hear my experiences.”  

Student Wellness Services, located in the LaSalle building, offer counselling services to students on campus. For all students, there’s no additional cost to book an appointment.

Students seeking more confidential counselling can also reach out to helplines, found through the Student Wellness Services websites. 

For pregnant students concerned about on-campus resources for parents, such as areas to breastfeed and community-building programs, the School of Nursing-based Child Friendly Campus Initiative seeks to alleviate parenting obstacles on campus and provide a link to resources through their website. 

Breastfeeding rooms are located in the Ban Righ Centre, the Queen’s School of Nursing and the SGPS Family Room in the John Deutsch University Centre (JDUC) featuring comfortable seating and sanitization facilities. The Ban Righ Centre also provides a space for mature women to build a community with other pregnant parents or families and seek assistance through a needs-based bursary for mature women alongside women’s wellness sessions.

While Queen’s offers a range of counselling services, the University also has policies in place to accommodate students that chose to raise a family. 

When Maria* found out she was pregnant in first year, she sought Queen’s services that allowed her to continue her degree and her pregnancy.

“[The pregnancy] wasn’t planned, but my husband and I knew we weren’t being cautious enough,” she added. 

After sharing their thoughts and confiding in each other, Maria and her husband decided they would have the child together. 

As a distance-studies student, she chose to seek medical care and resources in her community, but found she was isolated from Queen’s even more so than before. The 265 kilometers that separated her from campus seemed to grow as her pregnancy progressed and questions of continuing education became more prominent. 

“A benefit I discovered later on was that sometimes the advisory committee makes trips to Toronto to meet with distance students,” Maria noted. “I didn’t use this during my time, but really liked the idea.” 

With her due date approaching, Maria reached out to her instructors explaining her situation and felt it was important to be proactive, accessing time management and counselling resources to prepare herself for the months to follow.

Maria had a healthy, successful birth later that school year.

“I want to be able to help [my child] with after-school assignments and homework,” she concluded. “I pushed myself because getting an education isn’t just for me, it’s for my child.”

For some, having a child during their educational career isn’t viable. Factors such as financial resources and a desire to finish school can affect a woman’s decision to start a family or seek an abortion. 

There was no doubt for Hayley* when she found out she was pregnant — she would be getting an abortion. 

A second-year student at the time, her first fears crept in alongside some early-pregnancy symptoms. She recalled using the pregnancy test as a precaution, convinced it wouldn’t be positive. Hayley took the home test in her partner’s apartment after sharing her concerns with him. 

“They say it takes like 2-3 minutes for the test,” she said. “But it was almost immediate.” 

Emotional and terrified, Hayley began reaching out to health services that day. She visited a clinic and got a doctor’s note confirming she was pregnant, and then contacted the KGH Women’s Clinic in Kingston. 

“I had no conception of what this process was going to be like. I wanted it to be over within like five days. [Abortion] doesn’t work like that,” she said. “You have to be seven weeks along to go through with the ultrasound, and then the surgical procedure.” 

Although now available through physicians and prescribed at no charge, women in Ontario at this time didn’t have access to the abortion pill Mifegymiso.

Hayley recalled that the weeks building up to her appointment were difficult for several reasons. Her motivation to go to class had significantly declined and she was experiencing severe morning sickness as well as trying to hide her situation from her housemates as best she could.

Three weeks later, Hayley had her ultrasound.

“What I want to stress about this is that the people at KGH are really helpful. I had a good experience,” she said. “The woman who did my ultrasound made me feel really comfortable.” 

A couple days later, Hayley received a call from the Clinic and scheduled an appointment for a surgical abortion within the next five days. 

For Ontario residents with OHIP and health coverage, surgical and Mifegymiso abortions remain free of charge. Abortions typically cost between $450-1000 depending on the clinic or hospital performing the procedure for non-residents or individuals without health coverage. 

Hayley’s biggest concern following the procedure was the stigma she felt often surrounded the topic of abortion. 

“I knew it was my own fault, and I was afraid I wasn’t going to get any sympathy for the situation I was in,” she said. “And I did feel like I would be judged.” 

The Journal also sat down with a physician from the CDK Family Medicine and Walk-In Clinic located on Princess Street. “We often break the news to students that they’re pregnant, usually if they’ve come in for nausea or breast tenderness, they don’t even know they’re pregnant,” they said. 

 “The first thing I would recommend is setting up a family physician,” they added. “Before meeting with professors, try and map out what the rest of the school year is going to look like for you with your doctor. This includes continued healthcare and scheduling assessments.” 

Students can access physicians through Queen’s Student Wellness Services or contact their family physicians for continued care into their third trimester, from where they will be referred to obstetrician care at the KGH Women’s Clinic. 

 “There is a lot of stigma surrounding pregnancy at this young age,” they remarked. “But I really recommend finding someone to talk to. Talk to your doctor, but also your housemates or your friends and family. That’s really important.” 

 

*All names have been changed to protect their identities.

Corrections

For uninsured students, the article originally said that Student Wellness Services cost $123.13 for a half-hour counselling session. The article has been updated to note that there's no charge for any counselling services for all students.

The Journal regrets the error.

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