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Student Moms Juggle Schoolwork, Parenting

UNDERGRADUATE MOMS FIRST IN A TWO-PART SERIES

By Georgia N. Alexakis and Lori I. Diamond, CRIMSON STAFF WRITERSs

The carriage Gina M. Ocon '98-'00 steers is too wide to fit into the narrow aisle of the shuttle bus that stops in front of Mather House at 8:20 a.m. on its way to the Science Center every morning.

Weighed down by a bookbag packed so tightly that she is forced to wedge her statistics textbook under her arm, Ocon's five-foot, two-inch frame firmly grasps the carriage's top and with one quick tug manages to detach it from the body.

On good days, a sympathetic Mather House resident may notice Ocon struggling and hoist the carriage onto the shuttle for her. But on nights when she is the only passenger on the bus to Peabody Terrace, Ocon has been known to ask the shuttle bus driver to leave his seat behind the wheel and help her.

Muttering underneath his breath that helping Ocon isn't part of his job, the driver disassembles the carriage while Ocon, 22, cradles her almost 18-month old daughter, Bailey M. Maggiore.

"It was cold and snowing. I just told him that there was no way I was walking my daughter home in that kind of weather," Ocon says, recalling one particularly frigid November evening.

A few weeks ago Ocon gave up her battle with the morning shuttle. She now walks the 15-minute route that takes her from her two-bed-room apartment to the Bigelow Cooperative Day Care Center, one block short of Radcliffe Yard, by 9 a.m. every weekday morning.

On the other side of campus, in an apartment building less than a five-minute walk from the Science Center, Anna N. Payanzo, '00 wakes up as early as 6 a.m. some mornings to nurse her son Dylan T. Payanzo, who is just shy of his first birthday. If Dylan has a good night--a rare occasion--Payanzo might be able to sleep until 8 a.m.

That task taken care of, Payanzo squeezes in a few extra hours of sleep before heading off to her first class, leaving Dylan, the son she has affectionately nicknamed Blue Bear, to have breakfast with his grandmother, Jane S. Payanzo.

Such is the routine that Payanzo has followed since last December when she moved off-campus, delivered Dylan and took her finals--all within a month. By February, Payanzo was shopping classes and preparing for second semester, like any other first-year.

Life isn't easy for these undergraduates. There are nights when midterms are approaching and an ear infection keeps Bailey awake and crying and Ocon exhausted. There are times when Payanzo can't even bring herself to leave the house; she wants to do everything possible to ease the pain Dylan feels when he's teething.

But then again, Ocon can't stop smiling when an overall-clad, smiling toddler sporting red patent leather shoes hugs her at the end of the day. And Payanzo has taken her role as a parent quite seriously. She won't even use baby-talk around Dylan for fear that she will stifle his intellectual development.

Neither Ocon nor Payanzo has chosen an easy path to a Harvard degree, but both are optimistic that they can succeed where few thought they could.

24/7

A quick stop by her mailbox--where she complains about the number of bills that arrive weekly--is the only pause Ocon takes in an evening full of scheduled activities.

Dinner must be on the stove by 6 p.m., Bailey must be in bed by 8 p.m. and Ocon has until 11 p.m. to wade her way through Karl Marx or Adam Smith for her sophomore social studies tutorial.

"I need to get six or seven hours of sleep each night because I have to stay healthy for Bailey," Ocon says.

Weekends are reserved for buying groceries, running errands, doing laundry and cooking enough food for the next six days. On Friday nights Ocon will put on some jazz, draw up a bubble bath and spend the rest of the evening playing with Bailey.

But in households structured around the inconsistent needs of young children, nothing runs like clockwork.

"My schedule is not down. It'll never be down," Ocon says. "So much that I do is just survival. It's frustrating because you spend your whole life figuring out how to get from point A to point B."

Point A was somewhere in middle school, when Ocon played court during recess as the Harvard-educated prosecuting attorney.

Point B is now, with Ocon scrambling for extensions, babysitters and sleep--the flip side of life as an undergraduate, whose main extracurricular activity is a bouncing, pale-blond toddler, with rice-cake crumbs streaked across her chin.

The journey that took Payanzo from living as a free spirit on a cross-country adventure to being a Harvard undergraduate raising a child is also a story about connecting two very distinct points.

When Payanzo deferred admission for two years to make her trip, little did she know a constant companion would hinder the spontaneity of her college career.

"It's not like you could go to your room and say 'whatever', like high school," she says. "At times I feel like I can't do it. Why is my life so not my life?"

At times Payanzo's tight schedule has forced her to take Dylan to classes. Payanzo recalls that Dylan was well-behaved in French section, except for that one day when he burst out laughing and couldn't stop for the rest of the hour.

Even on a simple errand like a trip to Byerly Hall, Dylan tags along.

After delivering a form to the Financial Aid Office, they take a short break to practice "feet moving." With a smirk on his face. Dylan shows off his walking (and climbing) skills on a table by the elevator outside the third-floor office. He doesn't even stumble.

Getting ready to go back into the cold, Payanzo has trouble fitting Dylan's mop of unruly black hair into his blue knit hat. She and Dylan's father, Conrad T. Yazzie, frequently fight over whether his hair should be cut. Yazzie wants to braid it when it gets longer.

Motherhood, with all its complications and considerations, was the last thing on the minds of both Ocon and Payanzo back in high school when college meant independence.

Harvard Bound

Admission to Harvard was a dream-come-true for Ocon, a Lakewood, Calif., native who dreamed of attending Harvard Law School even before junior high.

When the time came for her to apply to colleges as a senior at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, Ocon seriously considered only Ivy League institutions.

"I was pretty arrogant," Ocon says. "My back-up schools were Duke and Notre Dame."

Ocon also applied to and was accepted by three of the nation's military academies. But when her eyesight deteriorated and Ocon learned she would never be able to fly fighter jets, she came to Harvard expecting to concentrate in government and prepared to make the most of what she felt would be the experience of a life-time.

"Let's just say I was a little overstimulated as a freshman," Ocon says. "I had to know everyone in my class. I spent more time on extracurriculars than my school-work."

Within a semester, the Thayer Hall resident had coxed for men's heavyweight crew, completed the Harvard bartending course and won the "Outstanding Speaker Award" in a first-year event sponsored by Harvard Model Senate. Weekends were often spent in New York, going to West Point balls with her then-boyfriend.

Ocon's enthusiasm continued well into her sophomore year. She was playing rugby, was excited about her social studies tutorial and was adjusting to life in Eliot House. But around the middle of October Ocon found herself missing classes, too tired to pull herself out of bed.

"When I found out I was pregnant, my world changed," Ocon says, her face growing flushed with the memory of a clinic nurse confirming her worst fear in October of her sophomore year.

"I laughed--an insane laugh--out of shock. I kept thinking that this just couldn't be true," she adds.

Initial denial was Payanzo's method of coping as well. She had deferred admission to Harvard in the spring of 1994 because she needed a break from the pressure of deadlines and duties. An unexpected pregnancy and the baby she decided to keep were evidently not going to give her that.

Originally from Congo (formerly Zaire), Payanzo went to high school in Williamsport, a small town in Pennsylvania.

"I questioned the ultimate value of pursuing a linear track of learning, feeling that self-education might prove less limiting and more applicable," Payanzo says of her decision to defer.

Her travels during the next two years took her to Idaho, Northern California, New York, Missouri, and finally Phoenix, Ariz., where she decided to settle down and work for a year. Her mother met her there, and together they moved in with her mother's friend from college.

It was in Phoenix where Payanzo met Yazzie, introduced to her by a mutual friend. The two soon started dating.

In April, Payanzo decided that she would finally accept Harvard's admission offer and come to Cambridge in the fall of 1996. Around the same time, she also started to suspect that she might be pregnant. But she didn't take her symptoms too seriously.

When they persisted into August, she told Yazzie that she might be pregnant, but kept the information from her mother. Both Payanzo and Yazzie tried to postpone thinking about the pregnancy for as long as possible.

"I sort of ignored the fact that I was pregnant," Payanzo says, although by that time little else could explain her symptoms. To be on the safe side, she quit smoking and started exercising.

Ignoring her pregnancy was not an option for Ocon, who was immersed in the life of a typical undergraduate when she learned she was two months pregnant.

Within the course of the next month, Ocon withdrew from classes, started seeing a therapist and turned to her family and roommates for support.

"I was sleeping around the clock," says Ocon. "Sometimes I would get up in the morning and stagger into the dining hall to grab a bagel. I put on more weight in that month and a half than I did during the rest of my pregnancy."

While at school the news circulated among only the tightest of Ocon's circles--her roommates. Her family also knew within hours.

"I was the first one she told when she found out. She actually e-mailed me the news. I called her, and we talked," S. Sara Ocon, Gina's younger sister, writes in an e-mail from Duke University, where she is currently a junior majoring in chemistry. "She was pretty sure from the beginning that she wanted to have the baby, which I supported completely."

Ocon's parents, who divorced when she was four, had different reactions.

"My mom cried and cried. She had been a single mom when my parents divorced and knew exactly what I had gotten myself into," Ocon says.

Ocon's father, Paul B. Ocon, says he feels he handled his daughter's phone call as well as could be expected.

"I was disappointed that she allowed it to happen to her at this time in her life," he said. "When I spoke to her first, we talked about her options: having the baby and quitting school, having an abortion, arranging an adoption."

"Whatever decision she made was going to have a profound effect on her life," he adds. "She needed to make her own decision."

Still, Ocon had one more person to consider: Bailey's father.

"It was a summer fling, but we were really enamored with each other," Ocon says of her relationship with Tommasso Maggiore, a high-school acquaintance to whom she was re-introduced the summer after her first year at Harvard.

"That summer was all fun and games. He completely pampered me. When I told him I was pregnant, he was so excited," Ocon says. "He was a 20-year-old male, and he said, 'This is great. I want a family.'"

Assured by Maggiore that they would return to Cambridge as a family the following fall, Ocon flew home after Thanks-giving break and prepared to begin a new life as a wife and mother.

At a similar time in her pregnancy, Payanzo was not as sure of her plans.

Only upon her arrival on campus had Payanzo begun to consider the consequences of her pregnancy. Having ended on an uncertain note with Yazzie, he did not factor into her plans.

"When I came here, I was thinking that I would either have to raise the kid on my own, leave school and find some way to get by, or not have the baby," she says.

An abortion seemed like the most reasonable choice. Payanzo consulted a University Health Services (UHS) counselor, who referred her to a women's clinic in Boston. Payanzo made an appointment but didn't really want to go through with it, she says.

"I felt like I had to [have an abortion] to be responsible but I felt like I was being told what to do. I just couldn't do it," she says. "[I wanted] to be able to feel that I had asserted myself in my life."

In the end what Payanzo wanted didn't matter. When she finally had an ultra-sound to prepare for an abortion, she was told she was too far along in her pregnancy to have an abortion. Instead, she started making plans for the rest of her pregnancy and the expected baby.

Although she says the support she received from UHS was encouraging, Payanzo still waited until Thanksgiving to tell her mother and friends she was pregnant, worried about their reactions.

"I truly expected to have to battle my way through opinions, negativity and stereotypes," she says.

But Payanzo was pleasantly surprised by the response, particularly her mother's.

Not angry at her daughter for hiding her pregnancy for so long, Payanzo's mother says she approves of her daughter's decision to have the child and attend Harvard.

"Whatever she decided I would have accepted," her mother says. "I'm glad she had the baby. I think what she did was good."

The reactions from Payanzo's peers were just as encouraging.

"The first words people said were congratulations," she says. "People were really accommodating."

As the date approached, several of her entryway-mates in Canaday Hall even threw her a baby shower. Although she was accidentally sent the e-mail about the "surprise" shower, she says it made her happy to know that her floormates cared.

Determined To Wear Crimson

The transition from Harvard undergraduate to single mother was a bit bumpier for Ocon. The months that followed her return to southern California sent her on a rollercoaster ride of the unexpected: the joys of motherhood, a bitter breakup and a custody battle that made national headlines.

Born on June 17, 1996 after 14 hours of labor, Bailey--named after Bailey's Irish Cream--lived with both parents before Ocon realized that her determination to return to Harvard was incompatible with Maggiore's "live in the moment" attitude.

Ocon moved out of their apartment for a few days, escaping to her mother's house. It was there that Ocon was served the papers filed by Maggiore, demanding custody of Bailey and charging that she had threatened to leave the state with his daughter.

"My first tendency was to nail this guy to the wall. But I didn't want to say anything that would go on the record about him that could hurt Bailey later," Ocon says, recalling those days when she was living on welfare and independently researching legal precedents for her case.

The custody battle that ensued pitted Ocon's right to an education against Maggiore's right as a father to see his daughter more often than a 3,000-mile cross country flight would typically allow.

"Tom's not the jerk that the newspapers made him out to be. He had every legal and moral right to think that it was in Bailey's interest to stay with him," Paul Ocon says. "But I don't think he was really mature enough to handle the responsibilities of being a father."

Long Beach, Calif., family law commissioner John Chemeleski agreed with Ocon's father, ruling that Ocon be allowed to return to Harvard--where a full scholarship offer was still valid--accompanied by Bailey. With her old classmates now planning senior theses and preparing for fall recruiting, Ocon returned to Cambridge in early August this year.

Payanzo, on the other hand, never missed a beat. In November, Yazzie had decided to move to Cambridge and help her raise the baby. The first day of winter break, on Payanzo's 20th birthday, the two moved into their apartment on Irving Street.

Moving in with Yazzie and awaiting Dylan's birth, Payanzo and Yazzie grew closer than they had ever been before.

"It went from being an almost casual, yet thoroughly committed, temporary relationship to suddenly being an indefinite and intricate, very close living-together situation," she says.

On Jan. 10, just three weeks after Payanzo and Yazzie moved into their apartment, Payanzo gave birth to Dylan. Her mother came to Cambridge for the delivery.

Payanzo didn't have much time to recuperate from her pregnancy. Weeks after the delivery, she started her second-semester courses.

Point of No Return

No matter how much Ocon and Payanzo tried to return to their normal college lives, being a mother changed more than just their time commitments.

"When I talk to my TFs, I refer to the other people in my section as 'the kids.' I guess it's the mother in me," Ocon says.

This October, while "the kids" were studying for midterms, Ocon was taking care of Bailey, who was diagnosed with an ear infection and the flu. After spending four straight sleepless nights with her daughter, Ocon was driven in tears to the Bureau of Study Counsel for guidance.

"There are nights when I have insomnia where I can't sleep because of the stress," Ocon says. "Being a single parent is a scary concept that I don't think a lot of people understand."

"Someone depends on you for their very existence. It's terrifying when I feel like I'm falling but I know that I can't. If I fall, my daughter comes down with me," she adds.

So Ocon is forced to turn to others for help. Another family in Peabody Terrace watches Bailey Saturday afternoons when Ocon needs to study, and her next-door neighbor always makes sure to check if she's run short of anything before he heads to the grocery store.

Bailey spent the weekend with relatives that live just outside of Boston so that Ocon could write her first graded tutorial paper on John Stuart Mill.

"I'm never going to get straight As here--I'll be amazed if I get one A," Ocon says. "There are times when I have to put down my books for my own sanity. I need to spend time with my daughter."

No moment is wasted around Bailey. Classical music filters through the apartment; Ocon is a great believer in the music's ability to raise her daughter's I.Q. Standing over the stove stirring a pot of baked beans, Bailey's new-found craving, Ocon bends over for an impromptu vocabulary lesson.

"Mmmm...you like baked beans, don't you?" Ocon coos to the high chair-strapped, squirming toddler. "Beans," she repeats.

Giggling uncontrollably, Bailey flings her cup to the floor. So much for the joy of learning.

Popping half an animal cracker elephant into her own mouth, Ocon gives Bailey the other half and launches into baby talk, interrupting an otherwise articulate sentence.

"When I come home, I'm not talking to my friends. I'm talking to Bailey, and it's all about ga-ga-goo-goo," Ocon says.

Even with Bailey visiting her father in California, Ocon had trouble re-adjusting to typical undergraduate life.

"[Eating in the dining halls again] made me feel the loneliness of the no-man's-land that I live in when I am trapped in between a student's life and a parent's life," Ocon says.

For both women, it's the little things that have changed that are most noticeable. Papers take twice as long to write; invitations to parties have to be turned down. Motherhood means a break with the past, both academically and socially.

Payanzo studies during the middle of the night--typically from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.--while Dylan sleeps. But Payanzo, an anthropology concentrator, is also taking more difficult classes this semester and works five to six hours a week at the Derek Bok Learning Center for Teaching and Learning. No longer a complacent newborn, Dylan will no longer listen patiently as Payanzo reads her French homework to him. Instead, he tears out the pages from her African history textbook.

When Payanzo tells her teaching fellows about Dylan, she is never sure how they will respond.

"I ended up having to miss a section from a religion class to finish up a lab for my bio class," she says. "I sent an e-mail telling my religion TF, 'This would be a really good opportunity to let you know some of the time juggling I'm going through--not that I'm asking for special treatment."

The teaching fellow was very understanding.

"He was like 'It's really good for me to know so I can understand some of the pressures you deal with," she says. "It didn't have to do with grades. He saw me as a human being."

Although Payanzo's teaching fellow for Historical Study A-21: "Modern Africa from 1850," Hazel W. Mukuna, also does not treat Payanzo differently than other students, she says that she is sensitive to her situation.

"If I granted her an extension, it wouldn't come out that it was because she has a baby," she says. "It would come out that it was because she has too many things going on this week."

But Payanzo says she once had a teaching fellow who ignored the fact she has a child.

"He just gave me no response," she recalls. "He doesn't want to see his students other than as a student in his class."

Still, Payanzo gets by in her classes.

"I would say she manages pretty well," says Mukuna. "When I grade her papers she does like other good students in class. She never asked for an extension."

Payanzo largely attributes her ability to manage to family and friends.

With the support of Yazzie, who works as a drafter in the Boston area to provide for the family financially, Payanzo never had to enroll Dylan in day care. Paid babysitters and friends also lend a hand. This semester, Payanzo has extra assistance: her mother, who now lives with her. Jane Payanzo helps watch Dylan and cooks for the family.

Still, Dylan's demands were enough to convince Payanzo to drop her pre-medical classes. And Payanzo infrequently has time to socialize.

"I rarely have any idea what's going on on campus" Payanzo says. "People ask you what you did this weekend. I say I was home with Dylan and did things around the house."

And even with the advantage of a previous semester of experience of life at Harvard as a mother, Payanzo still worries that it will take her several more semesters before she is satisfied with her performance in this dual role.

"I was getting ready to go to class and I was sitting on the bed hanging out with Dylan and I was like 'It would be really nice to do this all day," she says. "[Full-time mothers'] lives just must be much more full."

Still, Ocon and Payanzo say they have no regrets.

"I got partying out of my system," Payanzo says, of the changes that came with motherhood. "It's just something that gets phased out. I wouldn't say I grew out of it but at some level I did."

Ocon, once known as one of the liveliest people in Thayer Hall, celebrated a quiet birthday Monday with a few former roommates who dropped by her apartment with a cake and gifts.

"I would never ever give this up for the anything else," Ocon says. "I've gotten past that stage of trying to figure out who I am--staying up until 3 a.m. eating pizza with a bunch of people that I'm not even sure I like but that I want to fit in with."

"All I get from doing that is bags under my eyes after only three hours of sleep," Ocon adds.

Looking Ahead

But with no clear-cut guidelines, Ocon is largely on her own as she juggles the details of her hectic schedule.

In the beginning of the semester, Ocon picked Bailey up from day care at 3:30 p.m. and occasionally volunteered her time in the classroom. Now enrolled full-time, Bailey reunites with her mother two hours later to give Ocon more time to fit in her classes, studying, and the 10-hour-a-week work schedule she maintains at Widener Library's human resources department.

Ocon plans to use reading period to look into other forms of day care; if she's lucky Bailey will be given a spot in the day-care center that Peabody Terrace operates next to her laundry room.

Convinced that the workload that comes with the social studies sophomore tutorial is "ridiculous for single parents," Ocon is looking into a more strategic course selection. Ocon's lowest grade during midterms may have been a B-, but her three courses this semester left her staring blankly at a computer screen, trying to remember how to do endnotes. Switching concentrations remains yet another possibility.

"This semester has been trial and error, my trial by fire," Ocon says. "Every day I try new things as I try to figure out what works. There are so many variables--it all depends on Bailey's mood or even things like the weather."

"Subconsciously, I knew this was going to happen, but it doesn't make it any easier," Ocon says.

Her confidence wavers for just that one instant though, before the same Gina that fought for the right to earn a Harvard degree re-emerges.

"I've come a long way. I've established myself here. My daughter is thriving and happy," Ocon says. "Maybe it's difficult, but I'm plugging away. That's something I can be proud of."

Listening to Ocon speak, one can hear a little bit of Payanzo as well. The two women have never met but they share more than just the same challenge; they share the same hope for the future.

"Being a mother and Harvard can work," Payanzo says, recounting those days when an abortion seemed like the only option. "It takes a lot of effort, but it can be done. It's so rewarding."

TODAY: Both Gina M. Ocon '98-'00 and Anna N. Payanzo '00 manage to be both full-time mothers and students. Part one tracks their lives at Haravrd and traces their paths to college.

MONDAY: What resources does the College provide undergraduate mothers? Part two explores the aid Harvard offers undergraduate mothers and compares it with that of other colleges.William B. DecherdREADING TO HER CHILD: To fit in quality time with her child, Payanzo would read her French exercises to Dylan...until he started tearing the pages out of her textbooks.

On the other side of campus, in an apartment building less than a five-minute walk from the Science Center, Anna N. Payanzo, '00 wakes up as early as 6 a.m. some mornings to nurse her son Dylan T. Payanzo, who is just shy of his first birthday. If Dylan has a good night--a rare occasion--Payanzo might be able to sleep until 8 a.m.

That task taken care of, Payanzo squeezes in a few extra hours of sleep before heading off to her first class, leaving Dylan, the son she has affectionately nicknamed Blue Bear, to have breakfast with his grandmother, Jane S. Payanzo.

Such is the routine that Payanzo has followed since last December when she moved off-campus, delivered Dylan and took her finals--all within a month. By February, Payanzo was shopping classes and preparing for second semester, like any other first-year.

Life isn't easy for these undergraduates. There are nights when midterms are approaching and an ear infection keeps Bailey awake and crying and Ocon exhausted. There are times when Payanzo can't even bring herself to leave the house; she wants to do everything possible to ease the pain Dylan feels when he's teething.

But then again, Ocon can't stop smiling when an overall-clad, smiling toddler sporting red patent leather shoes hugs her at the end of the day. And Payanzo has taken her role as a parent quite seriously. She won't even use baby-talk around Dylan for fear that she will stifle his intellectual development.

Neither Ocon nor Payanzo has chosen an easy path to a Harvard degree, but both are optimistic that they can succeed where few thought they could.

24/7

A quick stop by her mailbox--where she complains about the number of bills that arrive weekly--is the only pause Ocon takes in an evening full of scheduled activities.

Dinner must be on the stove by 6 p.m., Bailey must be in bed by 8 p.m. and Ocon has until 11 p.m. to wade her way through Karl Marx or Adam Smith for her sophomore social studies tutorial.

"I need to get six or seven hours of sleep each night because I have to stay healthy for Bailey," Ocon says.

Weekends are reserved for buying groceries, running errands, doing laundry and cooking enough food for the next six days. On Friday nights Ocon will put on some jazz, draw up a bubble bath and spend the rest of the evening playing with Bailey.

But in households structured around the inconsistent needs of young children, nothing runs like clockwork.

"My schedule is not down. It'll never be down," Ocon says. "So much that I do is just survival. It's frustrating because you spend your whole life figuring out how to get from point A to point B."

Point A was somewhere in middle school, when Ocon played court during recess as the Harvard-educated prosecuting attorney.

Point B is now, with Ocon scrambling for extensions, babysitters and sleep--the flip side of life as an undergraduate, whose main extracurricular activity is a bouncing, pale-blond toddler, with rice-cake crumbs streaked across her chin.

The journey that took Payanzo from living as a free spirit on a cross-country adventure to being a Harvard undergraduate raising a child is also a story about connecting two very distinct points.

When Payanzo deferred admission for two years to make her trip, little did she know a constant companion would hinder the spontaneity of her college career.

"It's not like you could go to your room and say 'whatever', like high school," she says. "At times I feel like I can't do it. Why is my life so not my life?"

At times Payanzo's tight schedule has forced her to take Dylan to classes. Payanzo recalls that Dylan was well-behaved in French section, except for that one day when he burst out laughing and couldn't stop for the rest of the hour.

Even on a simple errand like a trip to Byerly Hall, Dylan tags along.

After delivering a form to the Financial Aid Office, they take a short break to practice "feet moving." With a smirk on his face. Dylan shows off his walking (and climbing) skills on a table by the elevator outside the third-floor office. He doesn't even stumble.

Getting ready to go back into the cold, Payanzo has trouble fitting Dylan's mop of unruly black hair into his blue knit hat. She and Dylan's father, Conrad T. Yazzie, frequently fight over whether his hair should be cut. Yazzie wants to braid it when it gets longer.

Motherhood, with all its complications and considerations, was the last thing on the minds of both Ocon and Payanzo back in high school when college meant independence.

Harvard Bound

Admission to Harvard was a dream-come-true for Ocon, a Lakewood, Calif., native who dreamed of attending Harvard Law School even before junior high.

When the time came for her to apply to colleges as a senior at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, Ocon seriously considered only Ivy League institutions.

"I was pretty arrogant," Ocon says. "My back-up schools were Duke and Notre Dame."

Ocon also applied to and was accepted by three of the nation's military academies. But when her eyesight deteriorated and Ocon learned she would never be able to fly fighter jets, she came to Harvard expecting to concentrate in government and prepared to make the most of what she felt would be the experience of a life-time.

"Let's just say I was a little overstimulated as a freshman," Ocon says. "I had to know everyone in my class. I spent more time on extracurriculars than my school-work."

Within a semester, the Thayer Hall resident had coxed for men's heavyweight crew, completed the Harvard bartending course and won the "Outstanding Speaker Award" in a first-year event sponsored by Harvard Model Senate. Weekends were often spent in New York, going to West Point balls with her then-boyfriend.

Ocon's enthusiasm continued well into her sophomore year. She was playing rugby, was excited about her social studies tutorial and was adjusting to life in Eliot House. But around the middle of October Ocon found herself missing classes, too tired to pull herself out of bed.

"When I found out I was pregnant, my world changed," Ocon says, her face growing flushed with the memory of a clinic nurse confirming her worst fear in October of her sophomore year.

"I laughed--an insane laugh--out of shock. I kept thinking that this just couldn't be true," she adds.

Initial denial was Payanzo's method of coping as well. She had deferred admission to Harvard in the spring of 1994 because she needed a break from the pressure of deadlines and duties. An unexpected pregnancy and the baby she decided to keep were evidently not going to give her that.

Originally from Congo (formerly Zaire), Payanzo went to high school in Williamsport, a small town in Pennsylvania.

"I questioned the ultimate value of pursuing a linear track of learning, feeling that self-education might prove less limiting and more applicable," Payanzo says of her decision to defer.

Her travels during the next two years took her to Idaho, Northern California, New York, Missouri, and finally Phoenix, Ariz., where she decided to settle down and work for a year. Her mother met her there, and together they moved in with her mother's friend from college.

It was in Phoenix where Payanzo met Yazzie, introduced to her by a mutual friend. The two soon started dating.

In April, Payanzo decided that she would finally accept Harvard's admission offer and come to Cambridge in the fall of 1996. Around the same time, she also started to suspect that she might be pregnant. But she didn't take her symptoms too seriously.

When they persisted into August, she told Yazzie that she might be pregnant, but kept the information from her mother. Both Payanzo and Yazzie tried to postpone thinking about the pregnancy for as long as possible.

"I sort of ignored the fact that I was pregnant," Payanzo says, although by that time little else could explain her symptoms. To be on the safe side, she quit smoking and started exercising.

Ignoring her pregnancy was not an option for Ocon, who was immersed in the life of a typical undergraduate when she learned she was two months pregnant.

Within the course of the next month, Ocon withdrew from classes, started seeing a therapist and turned to her family and roommates for support.

"I was sleeping around the clock," says Ocon. "Sometimes I would get up in the morning and stagger into the dining hall to grab a bagel. I put on more weight in that month and a half than I did during the rest of my pregnancy."

While at school the news circulated among only the tightest of Ocon's circles--her roommates. Her family also knew within hours.

"I was the first one she told when she found out. She actually e-mailed me the news. I called her, and we talked," S. Sara Ocon, Gina's younger sister, writes in an e-mail from Duke University, where she is currently a junior majoring in chemistry. "She was pretty sure from the beginning that she wanted to have the baby, which I supported completely."

Ocon's parents, who divorced when she was four, had different reactions.

"My mom cried and cried. She had been a single mom when my parents divorced and knew exactly what I had gotten myself into," Ocon says.

Ocon's father, Paul B. Ocon, says he feels he handled his daughter's phone call as well as could be expected.

"I was disappointed that she allowed it to happen to her at this time in her life," he said. "When I spoke to her first, we talked about her options: having the baby and quitting school, having an abortion, arranging an adoption."

"Whatever decision she made was going to have a profound effect on her life," he adds. "She needed to make her own decision."

Still, Ocon had one more person to consider: Bailey's father.

"It was a summer fling, but we were really enamored with each other," Ocon says of her relationship with Tommasso Maggiore, a high-school acquaintance to whom she was re-introduced the summer after her first year at Harvard.

"That summer was all fun and games. He completely pampered me. When I told him I was pregnant, he was so excited," Ocon says. "He was a 20-year-old male, and he said, 'This is great. I want a family.'"

Assured by Maggiore that they would return to Cambridge as a family the following fall, Ocon flew home after Thanks-giving break and prepared to begin a new life as a wife and mother.

At a similar time in her pregnancy, Payanzo was not as sure of her plans.

Only upon her arrival on campus had Payanzo begun to consider the consequences of her pregnancy. Having ended on an uncertain note with Yazzie, he did not factor into her plans.

"When I came here, I was thinking that I would either have to raise the kid on my own, leave school and find some way to get by, or not have the baby," she says.

An abortion seemed like the most reasonable choice. Payanzo consulted a University Health Services (UHS) counselor, who referred her to a women's clinic in Boston. Payanzo made an appointment but didn't really want to go through with it, she says.

"I felt like I had to [have an abortion] to be responsible but I felt like I was being told what to do. I just couldn't do it," she says. "[I wanted] to be able to feel that I had asserted myself in my life."

In the end what Payanzo wanted didn't matter. When she finally had an ultra-sound to prepare for an abortion, she was told she was too far along in her pregnancy to have an abortion. Instead, she started making plans for the rest of her pregnancy and the expected baby.

Although she says the support she received from UHS was encouraging, Payanzo still waited until Thanksgiving to tell her mother and friends she was pregnant, worried about their reactions.

"I truly expected to have to battle my way through opinions, negativity and stereotypes," she says.

But Payanzo was pleasantly surprised by the response, particularly her mother's.

Not angry at her daughter for hiding her pregnancy for so long, Payanzo's mother says she approves of her daughter's decision to have the child and attend Harvard.

"Whatever she decided I would have accepted," her mother says. "I'm glad she had the baby. I think what she did was good."

The reactions from Payanzo's peers were just as encouraging.

"The first words people said were congratulations," she says. "People were really accommodating."

As the date approached, several of her entryway-mates in Canaday Hall even threw her a baby shower. Although she was accidentally sent the e-mail about the "surprise" shower, she says it made her happy to know that her floormates cared.

Determined To Wear Crimson

The transition from Harvard undergraduate to single mother was a bit bumpier for Ocon. The months that followed her return to southern California sent her on a rollercoaster ride of the unexpected: the joys of motherhood, a bitter breakup and a custody battle that made national headlines.

Born on June 17, 1996 after 14 hours of labor, Bailey--named after Bailey's Irish Cream--lived with both parents before Ocon realized that her determination to return to Harvard was incompatible with Maggiore's "live in the moment" attitude.

Ocon moved out of their apartment for a few days, escaping to her mother's house. It was there that Ocon was served the papers filed by Maggiore, demanding custody of Bailey and charging that she had threatened to leave the state with his daughter.

"My first tendency was to nail this guy to the wall. But I didn't want to say anything that would go on the record about him that could hurt Bailey later," Ocon says, recalling those days when she was living on welfare and independently researching legal precedents for her case.

The custody battle that ensued pitted Ocon's right to an education against Maggiore's right as a father to see his daughter more often than a 3,000-mile cross country flight would typically allow.

"Tom's not the jerk that the newspapers made him out to be. He had every legal and moral right to think that it was in Bailey's interest to stay with him," Paul Ocon says. "But I don't think he was really mature enough to handle the responsibilities of being a father."

Long Beach, Calif., family law commissioner John Chemeleski agreed with Ocon's father, ruling that Ocon be allowed to return to Harvard--where a full scholarship offer was still valid--accompanied by Bailey. With her old classmates now planning senior theses and preparing for fall recruiting, Ocon returned to Cambridge in early August this year.

Payanzo, on the other hand, never missed a beat. In November, Yazzie had decided to move to Cambridge and help her raise the baby. The first day of winter break, on Payanzo's 20th birthday, the two moved into their apartment on Irving Street.

Moving in with Yazzie and awaiting Dylan's birth, Payanzo and Yazzie grew closer than they had ever been before.

"It went from being an almost casual, yet thoroughly committed, temporary relationship to suddenly being an indefinite and intricate, very close living-together situation," she says.

On Jan. 10, just three weeks after Payanzo and Yazzie moved into their apartment, Payanzo gave birth to Dylan. Her mother came to Cambridge for the delivery.

Payanzo didn't have much time to recuperate from her pregnancy. Weeks after the delivery, she started her second-semester courses.

Point of No Return

No matter how much Ocon and Payanzo tried to return to their normal college lives, being a mother changed more than just their time commitments.

"When I talk to my TFs, I refer to the other people in my section as 'the kids.' I guess it's the mother in me," Ocon says.

This October, while "the kids" were studying for midterms, Ocon was taking care of Bailey, who was diagnosed with an ear infection and the flu. After spending four straight sleepless nights with her daughter, Ocon was driven in tears to the Bureau of Study Counsel for guidance.

"There are nights when I have insomnia where I can't sleep because of the stress," Ocon says. "Being a single parent is a scary concept that I don't think a lot of people understand."

"Someone depends on you for their very existence. It's terrifying when I feel like I'm falling but I know that I can't. If I fall, my daughter comes down with me," she adds.

So Ocon is forced to turn to others for help. Another family in Peabody Terrace watches Bailey Saturday afternoons when Ocon needs to study, and her next-door neighbor always makes sure to check if she's run short of anything before he heads to the grocery store.

Bailey spent the weekend with relatives that live just outside of Boston so that Ocon could write her first graded tutorial paper on John Stuart Mill.

"I'm never going to get straight As here--I'll be amazed if I get one A," Ocon says. "There are times when I have to put down my books for my own sanity. I need to spend time with my daughter."

No moment is wasted around Bailey. Classical music filters through the apartment; Ocon is a great believer in the music's ability to raise her daughter's I.Q. Standing over the stove stirring a pot of baked beans, Bailey's new-found craving, Ocon bends over for an impromptu vocabulary lesson.

"Mmmm...you like baked beans, don't you?" Ocon coos to the high chair-strapped, squirming toddler. "Beans," she repeats.

Giggling uncontrollably, Bailey flings her cup to the floor. So much for the joy of learning.

Popping half an animal cracker elephant into her own mouth, Ocon gives Bailey the other half and launches into baby talk, interrupting an otherwise articulate sentence.

"When I come home, I'm not talking to my friends. I'm talking to Bailey, and it's all about ga-ga-goo-goo," Ocon says.

Even with Bailey visiting her father in California, Ocon had trouble re-adjusting to typical undergraduate life.

"[Eating in the dining halls again] made me feel the loneliness of the no-man's-land that I live in when I am trapped in between a student's life and a parent's life," Ocon says.

For both women, it's the little things that have changed that are most noticeable. Papers take twice as long to write; invitations to parties have to be turned down. Motherhood means a break with the past, both academically and socially.

Payanzo studies during the middle of the night--typically from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.--while Dylan sleeps. But Payanzo, an anthropology concentrator, is also taking more difficult classes this semester and works five to six hours a week at the Derek Bok Learning Center for Teaching and Learning. No longer a complacent newborn, Dylan will no longer listen patiently as Payanzo reads her French homework to him. Instead, he tears out the pages from her African history textbook.

When Payanzo tells her teaching fellows about Dylan, she is never sure how they will respond.

"I ended up having to miss a section from a religion class to finish up a lab for my bio class," she says. "I sent an e-mail telling my religion TF, 'This would be a really good opportunity to let you know some of the time juggling I'm going through--not that I'm asking for special treatment."

The teaching fellow was very understanding.

"He was like 'It's really good for me to know so I can understand some of the pressures you deal with," she says. "It didn't have to do with grades. He saw me as a human being."

Although Payanzo's teaching fellow for Historical Study A-21: "Modern Africa from 1850," Hazel W. Mukuna, also does not treat Payanzo differently than other students, she says that she is sensitive to her situation.

"If I granted her an extension, it wouldn't come out that it was because she has a baby," she says. "It would come out that it was because she has too many things going on this week."

But Payanzo says she once had a teaching fellow who ignored the fact she has a child.

"He just gave me no response," she recalls. "He doesn't want to see his students other than as a student in his class."

Still, Payanzo gets by in her classes.

"I would say she manages pretty well," says Mukuna. "When I grade her papers she does like other good students in class. She never asked for an extension."

Payanzo largely attributes her ability to manage to family and friends.

With the support of Yazzie, who works as a drafter in the Boston area to provide for the family financially, Payanzo never had to enroll Dylan in day care. Paid babysitters and friends also lend a hand. This semester, Payanzo has extra assistance: her mother, who now lives with her. Jane Payanzo helps watch Dylan and cooks for the family.

Still, Dylan's demands were enough to convince Payanzo to drop her pre-medical classes. And Payanzo infrequently has time to socialize.

"I rarely have any idea what's going on on campus" Payanzo says. "People ask you what you did this weekend. I say I was home with Dylan and did things around the house."

And even with the advantage of a previous semester of experience of life at Harvard as a mother, Payanzo still worries that it will take her several more semesters before she is satisfied with her performance in this dual role.

"I was getting ready to go to class and I was sitting on the bed hanging out with Dylan and I was like 'It would be really nice to do this all day," she says. "[Full-time mothers'] lives just must be much more full."

Still, Ocon and Payanzo say they have no regrets.

"I got partying out of my system," Payanzo says, of the changes that came with motherhood. "It's just something that gets phased out. I wouldn't say I grew out of it but at some level I did."

Ocon, once known as one of the liveliest people in Thayer Hall, celebrated a quiet birthday Monday with a few former roommates who dropped by her apartment with a cake and gifts.

"I would never ever give this up for the anything else," Ocon says. "I've gotten past that stage of trying to figure out who I am--staying up until 3 a.m. eating pizza with a bunch of people that I'm not even sure I like but that I want to fit in with."

"All I get from doing that is bags under my eyes after only three hours of sleep," Ocon adds.

Looking Ahead

But with no clear-cut guidelines, Ocon is largely on her own as she juggles the details of her hectic schedule.

In the beginning of the semester, Ocon picked Bailey up from day care at 3:30 p.m. and occasionally volunteered her time in the classroom. Now enrolled full-time, Bailey reunites with her mother two hours later to give Ocon more time to fit in her classes, studying, and the 10-hour-a-week work schedule she maintains at Widener Library's human resources department.

Ocon plans to use reading period to look into other forms of day care; if she's lucky Bailey will be given a spot in the day-care center that Peabody Terrace operates next to her laundry room.

Convinced that the workload that comes with the social studies sophomore tutorial is "ridiculous for single parents," Ocon is looking into a more strategic course selection. Ocon's lowest grade during midterms may have been a B-, but her three courses this semester left her staring blankly at a computer screen, trying to remember how to do endnotes. Switching concentrations remains yet another possibility.

"This semester has been trial and error, my trial by fire," Ocon says. "Every day I try new things as I try to figure out what works. There are so many variables--it all depends on Bailey's mood or even things like the weather."

"Subconsciously, I knew this was going to happen, but it doesn't make it any easier," Ocon says.

Her confidence wavers for just that one instant though, before the same Gina that fought for the right to earn a Harvard degree re-emerges.

"I've come a long way. I've established myself here. My daughter is thriving and happy," Ocon says. "Maybe it's difficult, but I'm plugging away. That's something I can be proud of."

Listening to Ocon speak, one can hear a little bit of Payanzo as well. The two women have never met but they share more than just the same challenge; they share the same hope for the future.

"Being a mother and Harvard can work," Payanzo says, recounting those days when an abortion seemed like the only option. "It takes a lot of effort, but it can be done. It's so rewarding."

TODAY: Both Gina M. Ocon '98-'00 and Anna N. Payanzo '00 manage to be both full-time mothers and students. Part one tracks their lives at Haravrd and traces their paths to college.

MONDAY: What resources does the College provide undergraduate mothers? Part two explores the aid Harvard offers undergraduate mothers and compares it with that of other colleges.William B. DecherdREADING TO HER CHILD: To fit in quality time with her child, Payanzo would read her French exercises to Dylan...until he started tearing the pages out of her textbooks.

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