When sociology major Brittany Redfern steps foot on Main Campus at 11 a.m. every weekday, she said she is strictly in student mode. Like any other senior, she attends classes, works on finalizing her capstone project and counts down the days until graduation.
At 5 p.m., Redfern leaves and heads to Chestnut Hill to pick up her 2-and-a-half-year-old son from daycare before going back to their home in Fern Rock. That’s where she clocks in for her favorite job as John Brice Jr.’s mother.
“I found that splitting myself in two is the best balance for him,” Redfern said. “Once I get home and get my son home, I don’t turn on my laptop or open my books. I just worry about being a mom.”
But that doesn’t mean Redfern can’t multitask.
Even as she speaks, she simultaneously bounces her son on her lap, wipes ice cream off his face and plays an Elmo video on her iPhone to distract him from
boredom. When he accidentally knocks the phone out of her hand toward the asphalt, Redfern laughs with only the patience a mother can have and holds up the cracked and taped screen, showing this isn’t the first time it has happened.
“He’s 2 years old. This is just what being a mom is like,” Redfern said. “It’s all about adjusting. Adjustment is the biggest thing.”
Redfern became pregnant in her sophomore year at Temple. Instead of electing to take time off, Redfern pushed forward in scheduling her classes for Fall 2011 and emailed her professors to let them know about her pregnancy.
“My son was due around midterms,” Redfern said. “There was a lot of support from my professors. He was born about four weeks early and my humanities professor [Frank Leib] let me bring him to one exam. John was a newborn so he was quiet, but most people wouldn’t have let me do that.”
Redfern said that the support system at Temple was influential in her decision to stay on track with her degree.
“When I first got pregnant, I wasn’t in the best of situations,” Redfern said. “I wasn’t married, I was a full-time student and I didn’t have a regular job. I was choosing to go forward with my pregnancy knowing how accessible an abortion was, but realizing that there were resources that would help me be a successful mom and student.”
Some of her resources included her former adviser Rashidah Andrews and associate professor of sociology Mary Stricker.
“I changed my major to sociology and [Andrews] told me to talk to Stricker,” Redfern said. “When I went to her, I was honest and told her, ‘Mary, look, I have a son. I really want to graduate, but I can’t put in the extra hours for [classes] that I’m not passionate about.’ She really helped me pick my classes based off that.”
Stricker was also key in encouraging Redfern to explore something she was passionate about for her dissertation, which studied the rates of breastfeeding among low-income African-American women.
“I found that when I chose to breastfeed, the women of my culture and in my social circle treated it like some obsolete phenomenon,” Redfern said. “There is a disparity among low-income African-American women. It was almost as if what I was doing was the most foreign thing to them, when in reality it’s the most natural thing we could do.”
“In my community, [breastfeeding] is seen as not an option,” Redfern added. “People think they don’t have time for the pump. Breasts are too sexualized and formula seems much easier.”
Redfern said she has been invited to speak at children’s clinics, family shelters and different hospitals, including Pennsylvania Hospital where her son was born, to speak about the necessity of breastfeeding among African-American women.
“I want to show that not only is it possible for us to breastfeed, but we have to do it,” Redfern said. “We have the lowest rates of initiation, but we have the highest rates of childhood obesity, diabetes and other health concerns.”
Redfern said her dissertation study would not have been possible without her support system at Temple.
“There were times that I was embarrassed that I had a child or I was embarrassed when he was sick and I had to bring him to school,” Redfern said. “But my professors never judged me. They never got sick of my son getting pink eye or having to get shots.”
However, Redfern said she has encountered negative attitudes about her motherhood while attending school.
“I won’t say names, but I did have an adviser in the College of Liberal Arts that told me I wouldn’t be successful with a baby in school,” Redfern said. “Also, when I was applying to law school, there was an individual that I asked for a recommendation letter and they basically told me they wouldn’t write one because they didn’t see me as being a successful law student and mother.”
Despite this setback, Redfern was accepted to Widener University School of Law and will start classes in August. Redfern said the advisers at Widener were helpful in coordinating a schedule that allows her to keep her son in the same school and pick him up on time.
Redfern said there was no doubt that she would stay in school to pursue an education, and that her son helped her attain her goals.
“This motivation to set an example, to be a mother that my son could look up to kicked in,” Redfern said. “I was never a straight-A student until after I had John. Maybe it was reading the statistics about black males born in low-income families that don’t graduate, don’t go to college and repeat the cycle of poverty. That’s not what I want him to be.”
He’s the inspiration she said she needs looking forward to law school.
“Yes, I had my son very young,” Redfern added. “But just because you’re a young mom doesn’t mean your life stops.”
Jessica Smith can be reached at email@example.com.