Harvard Assists Student Mothers

UNDERGRADUATE MOMS SECOND IN A TWO-PART SERIES

The idea of becoming a single mother frightened Anna N. Payanzo '00 enough, but the news also came at the worst time.

Payanzo had just decided to begin the Harvard career she had postponed two years earlier, but she felt certain that the University would be less than thrilled when she showed up in September five months pregnant.

"I'd thought I'd have to sue the school because they would throw me out or else make my life really difficult," she says.

Prospects seemed just as dim for Gina M. Ocon '98-'00, who found out she was pregnant while already enrolled at Harvard. Balancing life as an undergraduate and a mother seemed so impossible that Ocon says she felt she would have to give up the Harvard degree she had always dreamed of or have an abortion.

"I was told that girls get pregnant here everyday and that 99 percent of them get abortions," Ocon says. "It shocked me. It didn't click until almost a year, when Bailey had already been born and I was planning my return to Harvard, as to what that meant. There are so many financial and psychological disincentives to being a parent here."

But while motherhood at Harvard may be a rare phenomenon, Ocon and Payanzo soon learned that they had more than just two options. With the help of the administration, the Financial Aid Office, the Housing Office and support services across campus, both women realized that raising a child and earning a degree weren't incompatible.

Financial Burdens

While balancing classes and their children is a challenging enough task for undergraduate mothers like Ocon and Payanzo, both women also find themselves in a juggling act when it comes to finding the financial and emotional resources they need in order to succeed.

Ocon finds herself bogged down by bills on a monthly basis.

Rent at Peabody Terrace is $905 every month, and the monthly bill from the Bigelow Cooperative Day Care Center comes to $1,169, half of which is covered by Tommasso Maggiore--the father of her daughter, Bailey M. Maggiore--under a court order.

Maggiore also pays $214 every month in child support. But when Ocon estimates her monthly grocery bill to be almost $150, that monthly check from California covers only a small portion of her expenses.

Ocon must also take into account the $150 pager bill she receives every month; she was required to buy a pager when she enrolled Bailey in day care. And numerous cross-country phone calls to her family in Lakewood, Calif., add to Ocon's costs as well. Ocon estimates that her phone bill every month comes to $150.

There is also the added expense of the $50 Ocon pays in utilities every month, as well as thousands of dollars in annual health insurance costs.

But as staggering as these costs may be for a single mother who qualified for full financial aid as an undergraduate even before she had a daughter, Ocon has found that through the help of Harvard and other local resources, she has been able to manage.

"Harvard comes up with a lump sum comprising scholarships, loans and grants," Ocon says. "I get whatever money is left over [from educational expenses] to apply to my living expenses."