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Gavin Wyatt Steenburgen, born on October 18, 2011, is the son of Rebecca Richardson and Jared Steenburgen. With the joy of their new bundle, Rebecca and Jared celebrate Gavin’s first Easter. (Photo by Rebecca Richardson)

Column by Rebecca Richardson

Motherhood can be described as two words: Unconditional love.

The kinship relation between an offspring and the mother is treasured for a lifetime. From the moment I got the news of my pregnancy to the instant my son Gavin was placed in my arms, I knew that this is what I was made for.

I’ve contemplated how I can feel an instant love for someone I’ve never met, never laid my eyes on, and never had a mutual conversation with. It can’t be explained to a new mother, it can’t be researched by a professor, and no rocket scientist has a manual for motherhood. It’s a feeling of overwhelming joy and triumph that not many can say they’ve experienced in one lifetime.

Don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t always been sunshine and rainbows. No book can prepare you for what to expect when your baby finally arrives. Complete and utter shock surged through my body, intense anxiety to follow, and an uncanny ability to multitask. I pride myself on being an exceptional multitasker, but when Gavin came around I kicked into overtime.

Now my meter is running low and I don’t have extra quarters to put back in. I should have known constant exhaustion would be a factor but they don’t mention that while the baby-making process begins. It’s all fun and games until that little stick shows two little blue lines.

I’ve had my share of frustration and agony. I’ve persevered through the pain and restless nights with no sleep for the instant gratitude I get when he grins ear to ear at me.

My assistant manager, who I worked with in Jackson, Tennessee, has a 2 year old and she was attending school in Memphis at the time I became pregnant.

“When Alli gets sick, all she wants is her mama,” Jennifer said. She smiled and continued, “I feel so needed.”

The constant fear of not knowing how to handle an ear ache or sudden spit up, makes it hard to keep calm and not dart to the computer researching every last bit of information from an insect bite to any other medical issue. Being a mother means three things to me:

1. Putting yourself last, and your child first.

2. Never letting any harm come to your child.

3. Never settling for second best.

I believe God gave every woman the sense of stability and the maternal instinct to protect their young for a reason, which led me to my decision to go back to school.

Proud father Jared Steenburgen shares the joy of being a parent, and a little fun dressing Gavin for Easter. (Photo by Rebecca Richardson)

Deciding to continue my education and to get my degree was an obvious YES to the ever-present question, “Can I do this?” I have known many women who have conquered the odds with overwhelming obstacles and I look to them with great inspiration.

There are at least 10 women I know attending Missouri Valley College who have children. Those are the ones I know. There are probably more. The single mom statistics in the United States reveal that there are almost 13.7 million single parents as of November 2009. These single parents are responsible for providing for around 21.8 million children. Out of this figure, an estimated 26 percent are of age 21.

One of my friends named Amanda, from my earlier years in school, who is a single parent, said, “You take one look at them and you know you want better for them, as they would want the same for you.” She sighed and uttered, “It does not a matter how long it takes you to finish but the effort you put forth to make a better life for yourself and your family.”

Those are my words to live by, as I try to overcome the odds of going to school, taking care of my son, and continuing to work part-time.

My course load is exciting to take on, and I love a challenge. My teachers are understanding and considerate of my circumstance. Without the support of my teachers, I know this would be an even more difficult experience coming back to school.

Competing to be an exceptional student comes as a challenge to most, but showing up underclassmen is a far greater reward when you know you’re one of the top students in the class.

Being called a “student” again feels surreal.  I feel like I have many titles now: a mother, a fiancée, an assistant manager, all rolled into one big ball.  Proving that I can participate and exceed and still keep up with motherly tasks is a wonderful feeling.

I understand, as a college student juggling sports, a job, (work-study doesn’t count) and school can be challenging. When it comes to decision-making, partying and socializing make it to the top of most students’ list. A life-altering decision may be “should I take my chances at the Café today,” or “Should I go to that party that I know is going to get busted, or study for a test coming up.” All debilitating questions, I agree. It can be difficult to weigh the odds.

But adding a child to the mix smashes all the urges to party. That’s when the voice of reason comes to say, “You have a job to do. Now do it!”

Finding the right baby-sitter, now that’s a life-altering decision. Not to mention finding the right brand of diapers, that could take months to master.

A job itself is taxing on the body emotionally and physically. Exerting yourself to please your boss and trying keep up the pace with your other co-workers is debilitating when you have a hip problem, a lower lumbar issue, and, to top it off, the hormones are still racing through your body that can send you in a downward spiral in an instant. I can honestly say now that is not a top priority in my life and they can stick it where the sun doesn’t shine!

I think the two most underpaid and unappreciated jobs are being a teacher and being a mother. I’ve made many mistakes thus far but this is one I wouldn’t change. I love every minute and I cherish the time I get to be a mom and continue to better myself.

I’ve grown to appreciate and respect mothers everywhere who are raising their families and continuing their education. I feel blessed for the opportunity to finish what I started 2 years ago at Missouri Valley, and to continue my journey with Gavin.

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