Posted: February 12, 2018 at 4:43 pm

This is the third part to a series on pregnancy and parenthood at West Virginia University. View part one here and part two here.

By Caity Coyne and Jennifer Skinner

Jeffrey Whittaker and his fiance, Emily Malcomb, are raising their 3-month-old son while Whittaker is in college.

December — for most college seniors — is filled with final exams, internship interviews and counting the days until the end of the semester. For Jeffrey Whittaker, though, this is only half the story.

In September, Jeffrey became a father. The months since have been an exploration of this new life, as it blends into the life he’s already built around him with Emily Malcomb, his fiance and 3-month-old Owen’s mother.

“Parenting — it’s hard, but it’s not as hard as I think we’ve always heard. You know, like in those kind of dramatic tellings you see in TV shows and movies?” Whittaker, a Beckley native, said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, or experienced you are, if your heart is in the right place.”

A supported calling

Every day, Whittaker, an economics student at WVU, goes to class and studies. Some days he works as a tutor for WVU Athletics.

For Whittaker and Malcomb, parenthood came a bit unexpectedly, but they both feel, despite the change in their life plans, they are exactly where they are supposed to be.

“I wouldn’t change this at all; I couldn’t imagine it any other way,” Whittaker said, rocking a crying Owen in their Morgantown home. “People may think this isn’t ‘normal,’ but is there ever really a ‘normal’? ‘Normal’ is things changing.”

Whittaker was planning to propose to Malcomb in January, and then they found out about the pregnancy.

Whittaker’s and Malcomb’s son Owen was born in September 2017.

“I was shocked, and a little scared,” Emily Malcomb, from Charleston, said. “Obviously, I didn’t know what to do or where to go. Neither of us did.”

The two West Virginians say they consider themselves blessed for the family support they receive. Their parents both accepted the pregnancy with open arms when the couple shared the news, not too long after they found out themselves.

Some weekends, a grandmother will come to stay, giving the couple time to themselves to recuperate.

“We truly wouldn’t be able to do this without them, support-wise but just also mentality-wise,” Whittaker said.

“It’s hard to do the little things sometimes — to get up, and go to the store, to go do something,” Malcomb added on. “They get that, and I think they like to help.”

Malcomb stays home with Owen, something she’s grateful for, and is afraid of having to let go when he gets older — “It’s crazy to think about. If I had a job, I’d probably be back at work by now, and he’s just still so small. I don’t think I could do that,” she said. “[Taking time off school] actually kind of made this better in some ways.”

“I think I still have a little bit more freedom,” Whittaker said. “I try to pick up the slack for what I can’t do, like feeding, you know?”

Malcomb rolled her eyes and scoffed — “You do a lot. Whenever I’m up, you’re probably up.”

Giving birth in September, Malcomb opted to take the fall semester off to focus on the end of her pregnancy and the beginning of parenthood. Before her break, she was a part of the Benedum Program, a five-year education program for students interested in gaining their masters in teaching.

Malcomb isn’t sure she’ll be returning to the program, but is confident she wants to return to school, after next semester. Around the same time, Whittaker, who will be graduating in May 2018, plans to pursue his Masters of Business Administration and Masters of Public Health in a two-year program.

While the couple is unsure of where they will take those next steps, they agree the most important thing they can do is be happy — for both them, and their son.

“That’s more the calling for both of us,” Whittaker said. “There’s no use having all the money in the world if you can’t enjoy it.”

Dorm room sweethearts

Whittaker and Malcomb met four years ago, during their freshman year, sharing a floor in Honors Hall.

“She lived right across from me — we practically lived together then,” Whittaker laughed. “I’d open my door, and there she’d be.”

Whittaker, right, and Malcomb goof around together with their baby son in their apartment.

The pair were best friends for two years before they pursued a romantic relationship, but to hear tell it, it was one of the most natural things in the world.

“We already knew each other so well, there wasn’t any of that awkward getting-to-know-you [stage], you know?” Whittaker said.

Emily, sitting on the couch beside him, looks up as he cradles Owen.

“We were inseparable for two years before that … not much has changed about that,” she said.

For the two young parents, communication is key. They believe the base of their relationship — a strong, tested friendship — helped develop this, and they hope it’s something they can impress on Owen as he grows.

“It’s about talking. You have to talk and say what you’re really feeling about something,” Whittaker said. “Find a solution — find a middle ground.”

The young parents club

While Malcomb and Whittaker love their lives, they said parenting in such a college-oriented area can sometimes be lonely.

“None of our friends are at this point yet,” Whittaker said, noting a few serious relationships but no other babies. “They all accept us and support us, and they come by and visit — it’s great, they love Owen — but none of them are quite here.”

The couple took breastfeeding and birthing classes with other parents-to-be, but found themselves, consistently, the youngest in the groups.

With no one outside of family to talk with about the pregnancy or parenting, Whittaker said he and Malcomb joked about starting a “young parents club” to meet other people in similar circumstances.

This, they agreed, could be one place West Virginia University could step in and help other students who find themselves in the same place Whittaker and Malcomb were this last year.

Malcomb is taking this school year off to stay at home with 3-month-old Owen.

“Resources are essential,” Whittaker said. “Even if it was just a support group, something to let people know they aren’t alone and it’s okay that they’re nervous and confused. Something they can reach out to if they need it.”

The young parents said they are, in a way, grateful for the unexpected way their lives unfolded, especially since parenthood was something they knew they’d pursue, perhaps just not at this time.

“Sure, it’s a few years before we were expecting, but that’s alright. Now, I get more time with him. Our parents get more time with him. I wouldn’t trade that for anything,” Whittaker said, smiling down at Owen, and stroking Malcomb’s hair. “It is — it’s difficult — but the reward infinitely outweighs that.”