Meet Maureen Nicol.
New York based single mom to be, full-time PHD student and a doctoral fellow at Columbia University, and a freelance model. We sat down to hear Maureen’s authentic truth, her story, her advice, her love. We hope that this conversation either guides you before becoming a mom or inspires you as a mom to know that you aren’t alone. #MomToMom
Q: What is it like being a full-time student while also expecting your first child?
It’s been something else. The first trimester I was very sick, but I feel like I was more sick than most people, and also I was in transition from Texas to New York and to a new educational program. It was definitely a lot going on at one time. I honestly feel like I slept through the first trimester. It’s interesting because my school is a school of education, which you think would be more welcoming, but a lot of the women are a bit standoffish and not supportive. It’s just hard having to negotiate and fight for what really just seems fair. The issue is what happens when your only identity isn’t just a student? Like you’re about to be a mother you know? I think that is tough. A colleague I know is doing research on how mothers make it through the program. One professor even told her after she had a baby, “oh you had so much potential.” Things people say where you are like okay...c’mon why are we still having to navigate and deal with this in 2020?
Q: How do you intend to balance and/or harmonize the two worlds that are having a baby and fighting for the respect that you deserve within the educational space?
A few weeks ago it was my birthday, and I was thinking about my 34th year of life, and I think what this baby has taught me is that I need to submit to life. I need to be given into it - not in a way that is helpless, but submit to the opportunities, submit to the people who want to show up for you, just submitting to the options that come my way which means it can be very scary in the sense of not knowing what is to come. I am not going to kill myself to finish a program, but I am also not going to lose time with my child. I am going to be real and honest and see what I need in the time and the moment. If I can’t sustain my life or provide for my child because I am a full-time student, I will go get a job somewhere and figure it out. I’m not trying to set myself up with insanely lofty goals. I just want to be happy and know that it is going to work out.
Q: What career are you looking to have after receiving your PHD?
I was trying to figure out where I want to go with this, and I decided I need a profession that combines education, equity work, creativity, and community organizing -- so what that could look like is being a director of a children’s museum or a position that is higher up that makes me feel connected to children and communities, but doesn’t make me feel like I have to compromise on my beliefs or my identity. I want to work with children and families in different ways.
Q: What has your journey as a single mother been like for you?
This whole journey it feels like I have been walking around and I have no skin on. Everyone is telling me to be vulnerable and open and to show every part of me, but it sort of makes life harder for me. I feel like I’ve been walking around naked, begging or asking for the things I deserve while trying to keep my heart soft. I think it’s preparing me, but it’s preparing me to still be hopeful because I think the beginning of this process kind of made me feel like I was losing hope in people, but now I have to train people how to treat me, and I am trying to see it that way verses losing hope in people sometimes.
Q: What was it like when you found out you were pregnant, and how has that experience been for you?
For two years I dated a man who I met when I lived in New Orleans. We decided to do long distance when I moved to Texas for school, but I kept seeing patterns of me doing a lot of the emotional work. I felt like it wasn’t working, so we went on a break for a while. We decided to start seeing each other again and met up in Los Angeles, and the few days we were together, we slept together… a few weeks later I found out I was pregnant. It still didn’t feel right with him, and I think he was thinking the baby would keep us together. I just couldn’t keep asking him for things that he didn’t have the emotional capacity to give me. He told me he would get better.
At the time I was living in Austin, and we drove together to NY so that he could help me get settled and move (literally a week after finding out I was pregnant). It was so interesting. Everything he was doing during that drive and when I got settled, I realized I really couldn’t do it anymore. Since then we haven’t been together, and he kind of colored my pregnancy in a lot of ways. I think he was so angry at me that he said very hurtful things to me that shifted from how happy he was when he first found out, to telling me I was morally wrong for keeping the baby etc. I didn’t feel attached to the baby because I felt like maybe I was making the wrong decision. Maybe I shouldn’t keep the baby, and should I really keep it alone.
Then by week 20 I really felt it. I was like I am doing this. This is a blessing. I am strong. He can have a choice to not be involved, but I can also have a choice to keep this child. Then I started talking to the baby more and feeling more connected. I made a baby registry and started seeking out resources for people in my position. Doulas of color, breastfeeding coaches - just trying to find the people that would answer my questions, so I wouldn’t feel so alone because I am in this new city by myself and pregnant.
I don’t want to say I am a super religious person because I am not, but I believe in things and maybe God, and I was in a very sad place at University of Texas, and I was in a sad place in my relationship, and I was far from family. But now I am in New York and my family lives 3 hours away in Maryland, and I feel like God just knew to give me a baby when I was in a happier place and closer to my family.
What does being a mom mean to you? Especially before even being a mom?
It’s really interesting. I think about it in the sense of the way my mom has mothered me, and now, even though I don’t have my baby in my hand, thinking about motherhood. I was really sad on Valentine’s Day, but then my baby started kicking, and I realized that I am not alone. My mom always calls me to check in, and I think she does it because she knows she always has a friend and always has someone. For me it’s this idea of creating someone and knowing that you don’t have to be alone anymore, and I think that is really special. Randomly I was parking my car in a valet the other day and this guy said, “Have you checked out this bar?,” and I was like, “I can’t drink right now, I’m pregnant.” And then he started talking about when his mom gave birth, and that she said it was like having her best friend. Then he told me, “I feel like your baby is going to think that too, cause you just seem so kind.” It was just this beautiful moment, and idea of always having a friend hopefully. That’s what I hope to find as a mom.
Q: Do you have any fears around bringing this baby into the world?
It’s weird because I don’t want to say they are necessarily fears, but the “fears” that I think about manifest in logistical day to day things. Everyone says the lack of sleep is going to be crazy or breastfeeding is wild. I just want to know if it’s all true, and if it’s going to be my experience. Am I really going to be so sleep deprived I don’t remember my name? And then there’s these little things like how I have a dog. What if my baby is sleeping and I need to walk my dog, and I just started crying not knowing what the answer to that is. It is kind of this idea of can I do this?
It’s hard too because people are quite judgmental. If I had a dollar for every time in one day people say, “you’re going to breastfeed right?” Those questions really bother me because yes I will breastfeed, and yes I want that connection with my baby, but also, why are you asking me things about my body? I don’t like this idea of my body being a space of question and judgment for everyone, and how I choose to respond to that then impacts how they see me as a mom.
Q: Is there any advice that you’re looking to receive from a community of moms or that you have learned from your experience?
I am curious how moms re-center their friendships or create new ones around this space or this new journey, because what I’m finding is that I am the first of my friendship group who is having a baby. I am curious how people have managed to keep their friends, how to treat them with loving boundaries, and also how my friends can be there for me? I just want to find people with similar journey’s –– which is the first thing people told me to do. Find mom groups. I also want to know how mom’s figure out how to be completely loving to their kids and there for them and be present, without compromising who they are as women and what they want to be like. What kind of work does that take? Yes I am a mother, but I am also other things.
All photography done by Daniela Buvat, check her out here!
We are going to continue posting more of these authentic stories, so like, comment, and share to your friends! If you know someone that you think would be a good fit for these interviews, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can tell their story and keep creating a #MomToMomMovement.
all the babies.