Support network: From left, Melissa Looby, with Tori, baby TJ, mom Lauren, sister Jennifer and her boyfriend Keishawn. *Photo supplied
Support network: From left, Melissa Looby, with Tori, baby TJ, mom Lauren, sister Jennifer and her boyfriend Keishawn. *Photo supplied

FRIDAY, JULY 13: There are times in every student’s life when adversity can test your dedication and commitment, but with a bit of support you can usually pull through.

Someone who knows all about having a support network is Melissa Looby, who faced one of the toughest challenges to her studies when she gave birth to a premature baby.

Miss Looby was in the second year of her Certificate in Law course at the (University of) Kent Law School / Bermuda College when TJ (Tori Junior) arrived three months early.

What followed was a family dilemma as not only she, but her sister Jennifer and mother Lauren considered whether they would have to give up their studies.

Transition

At the time of the birth, in February 2011, Jennifer was also studying for her Certificate in Law while mom Lauren Furbert was working towards her Associate degree in Liberal Arts.

What followed was a testament to the power of a support network in times of crisis.

Miss Looby, 24, explained: “I was supposed to have Tori the week after my exams (in May) but he ended up coming in February. I had him at 26 weeks, three months early.”

TJ was admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Izaak Walton Killam (IWK) Health Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which meant Miss Looby had to consider giving up her course to be with him.

Her mother and sister were also faced with a dilemma.

“My sister and I were supposed to sit exams and my mom was also in school,” said Miss Looby.

She was also working full-time as a circulation assistant at the Bermuda National Library Youth Services, while Ms Furbert worked in education at the Department of Health.

“We were at the point where we had to decide, were we going  to quit school to focus on a premature baby and take care of my child?,” said Miss Looby.

“We had to be gone overseas for at least two months. We decided to pack all our books and study in Canada while we were out there.

“It meant taking our books and sitting by TJ’s incubator to read and study.

“My sister was out there for two weeks and my mom was there for a month while he was in neonatal intensive care.

“My lecturers, magistrates Archibald Warner and Juan Wolfe,  were also very helpful. They let me e-mail coursework and give a presentation on Skype.

“Lawyer Marc Daniels, Dr (Ameenah) Ahad, the coordinator of the Kent programme, and Reverend Maria Seaman from Shekinah Worship Centre, who granted me a scholarship for the past year, were also very supportive.

“It was a big transition, learning how to deal with a premature baby on top of studying and everyday life.

“We got TJ out of hospital and home to Bermuda the week before I had to sit my exams. My boyfriend Tori’s family were also very supportive, in that if I needed to study they would help.

“My sister and I weren’t expecting to pass all of our exams, we just thought we would try to do the best we could, but when we got the results we had passed them all. It was very emotional.

“It just brought it home, how supportive family can be, and about sticking together.”

Since last summer Miss Looby and her sister, a 22-year-old legal researcher at Supreme Court, have now completed the first year of their LLB law degree.

They are now about to enter their final year, while their mom has been accepted to the University of London and is pursuing a career in teaching.

TJ, now aged 16 months, is also doing well.

“He’s wonderful,” said Miss Looby. “He’s still small but he hasn’t had half the complications they expected for a child born as prematurely as he was.

“What this experience has shown me is that a lot of people had opinions about whether I should sacrifice my degree to stop and take care of my child.

“I learned that you have to decide for yourself what is right for you.

“A lot of the time people won’t understand the decision you make, but only you can decide this.

“If I hadn’t taken the exams when I did, it would have added another year on to my degree.

“I think it was about not giving in to the idea of what you should typically do in that situation, but about understanding how important an education is.

“For me it also showed me how much I really wanted the degree and a career in law. That made me more committed to making sure it got done.

“Nicole Stoneham, the magistrate at Family Court, also inspired me. She once told me about just getting things done, regardless of what’s thrown at you in life.

“This really helped me to focus when I had TJ prematurely. It was very helpful.”

Miss Looby is now considering a career in family law.