This time of year, as kids begin to head back to school, I’m reminded of my own educational journey. I faced my share of setbacks, but I’m proud of all I achieved.
Living with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy (LGMD) is a challenge, but it didn’t stop me from enrolling in college right out of high school, as I was eager to be independent at 18. After trying to balance school and work, I resorted to what paid the bills. However, after two years near the bottom rung of the corporate ladder, it was clear a college degree would hasten the climb. So I picked up the books, rekindled my love for school and headed back to campus to pursue a degree.
In my last semester, while earning enough credits to get me two associate degrees and transfer to a university, I was blessed with news that I was pregnant. But this also presented another potential challenge: How would I attempt this crazy juggling act of being a mother with a progressive muscular condition continuing an education?
To be a full-time mom or to continue with college? This was the question I faced at the age of 26. I was enthusiastic, but I was also aware of the physical challenges that being pregnant and having increasing mobility issues could present. I had no doubt that I could raise a child, but could I aid in the development of another while I enhanced my development as well?
Putting those thoughts aside, I finished up my semester and graduated with my AA just in the nick of time to bring my daughter into the world. I took one semester off to savor motherhood, a new phase of my life that taught me new lessons, tested me in myriad ways and gave me a whole new wealth of knowledge. Realizing that my future now directly affected another, I turned my attention to getting my BA and applied to a university close to home, which would allow me to stay close to my support system to enhance my chances of success in college. Unfortunately, I learned I was one credit short of the transfer requirement. So I enrolled in an online hybrid class that met on campus once a week for an hour.
What initially felt like yet another setback turned out to allow me additional time with my baby, which worked better for us, as nursing was a priority. I even incorporated my daughter into my studies. Reading aloud to her helped me remember what I read and encouraged her speech and language development. I did homework during her naps and incorporated learning while we played. With some more tricks and the support of family, we got through our first part-time college semester together. After that, I reapplied to the university and was elated to be accepted.
The financial aid I received to continue my education required full-time enrollment. But those years also coincided with my daughter’s development stages of improved locomotion and cognition strides, which meant increased ability to get into mischief and need for attention, demanding more of my time. With careful planning, we found what worked for us. The university had its own children’s center on campus, and when a rare spot opened up my daughter began her own educational journey in early preschool.
After two years I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in psychology and my little one graduated onto kindergarten, all on the same day. Achieving that goal was such an accomplishment for me because there had been many roadblocks that seemed like dead ends. But I rerouted and allowed myself time to find another way. I refused to let my daughter see me give up.
It is my responsibility to be a good example for her, and my experience will allow me to push my girl further in life without excuses. I am a big believer in the importance of education to increase quality of life. I am fortunate to have found a way to become a mom and a scholar. If anyone else is wondering if getting an education while living with a neuromuscular disease and raising a family is possible, I hope they consider their situation, review their options and find resources that will help. Remember not to let doubt hold you back from becoming all that you want to be. Just do what works for you. I challenged myself, worked hard, and it’s paying off. Now for the next goal: grad school.
Pearl Burgin is a loving mom and San Diego State University student. She has a B.S. in psychology and aspires to attain a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling so she can serve the uniquely abled community by empowering their dreams. She is living with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy and is a newer wheelchair user and says she’s “lovin’ it!” She also serves on MDA’s National Community Advisory Committee.
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