Motherhood 101

He loves to smile, he loves to dance and he likes going for walks, senior Natalie Napoleon said.

Napoleon is not describing her boyfriend or even her pet. She is talking about her baby, Laurence Sungmin Wi, born July 2, 2000.

He’s just the cutest baby there ever was, Napoleon said. He is my life.

Before Lars, Laurence’s nickname, Napoleon was a typical college student. She liked to spend time with friends and her boyfriend, Jung Wi. She was working toward an undergraduate degree in photography and had a job with National Geographic. Then she became pregnant last October.

A lot of people thought I just got fat, said Napoleon, 24.

When friends, co-workers and family found out Napoleon was pregnant, she said there were mixed reactions, especially because she was not married. Although Napoleon and Wi had been dating for six years, Napoleon’s mother was upset that she was pregnant and unmarried.

My mother was embarrassed, Napoleon said, She didn’t like to talk about it and most of my family didn’t know about Lars until after he was born.

Napoleon said she did not let people’s reactions about her baby affect her. She said it is more important for the baby to have two parents who love each other. Napoleon and Wi married shortly before Lars was born, and Napoleon said she has forgiven her mother for her behavior.

That’s just the way she is; it’s the way she grew up, Napoleon said. She really loves Lars. She goes shopping for him and is always taking pictures.

Lars is named after Napoleon’s father who passed away three years ago.

I really wish he could have been here to see Lars, she said.

Life is different for Napoleon now. She said she is getting used to the changes that come with being student and a mother, and she is learning to be more flexible in every aspect of her life.

There is no such thing as a normal day, Napoleon said.

It takes Napoleon at least 15 minutes to gather everything she must take with her when she leaves the house. She needs diapers, wipes, two changes of clothing for Lars in case he has an accident, medicine for Lars’ stomach aches, a blanket in case he gets cold, a hat in case it starts raining, a towel to wipe his mouth and her cell phone for emergencies.

Schoolwork has become a challenge, she said. Because Lars does not nap during the day, Napoleon waits until after he goes to sleep – at about 9:00 p.m. – before she can start doing any homework. Depending on how Lars is feeling, he wakes Napoleon up each day between four and seven in the morning.

Recently Napoleon brought Lars to a geology lab with a friend to study for one of her exams because her husband was working. Napoleon and her friend studied rocks in between changing diapers and playing with Lars, Napoleon said.

Napoleon said professors have responded well to her situation. They understand if she has to miss class because of her baby, she said.

Leaving school was not an option for Napoleon because she was determined to earn her degree. She said she did not want to risk dropping out and she did not want to blame anybody for her inability to complete her education.

Napoleon said motherhood also has changed her social life.

I can’t just drop everything and go out to a bar, she said.

Even going out to dinner is rare because Lars may start crying in the restaurant, Napoleon said. A night out often means ordering take-out, she said. Instead of looking forward to going out after class, Napoleon said she looks forward to seeing her son.

She does not see all of her friends anymore because some people are uncomfortable around Lars, Napoleon said.

They just don’t want to deal with a baby, she said.

Napoleon said she thinks some of the discomfort comes from her decision to breastfeed Lars. She said that some people become very uneasy when a woman exposes her breast, even if it is to feed a baby.

Perhaps one of the hardest sacrifices Napoleon and Wi have made is the time they lose with each other, they said. Wi stays home with the baby during the day while Napoleon attends class. When Napoleon returns home, Wi leaves for work.

We pass in the night, Napoleon joked.

Napoleon quit her job when Lars was born. The family lives off Wi’s income as a waiter. Napoleon said she was sad to leave her job, but the happiness Lars brings eases her loss.

Everyday activities are also affected by the responsibilities of motherhood, Napoleon said. Sometimes she has to skip a shower because Lars is not feeling well and needs her attention, she said.

My apartment is a mess, I have no time to do laundry, Napoleon said. A lot of things get pushed aside.

However, Lars has changed Napoleon’s life in a very positive way, the mother said.

He has taught me patience and perseverance, Napoleon said.

Originally Napoleon planned to become a photographer for National Geographic. She wanted to travel the world. Now she is looking for job options that will allow her to stay closer to Lars. She is currently working on a photography project featuring 10 photos that document Lars’ life. Napoleon also is writing a narrative in her English class about her experiences with Lars. She said she hopes to publish a book someday, both as a tribute to Lars and to help other women in her situation, Napoleon said.

Napoleon said she looks forward to graduation in May. She hopes either to reacquire her job with National Geographic or attend graduate school at GW. She also has great plans in store for Lars.

He can be a skier in the Olympics, a famous artist, she said, He can be anything he wants to be.

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