Heidi Davis woke up Feb. 22 and sent a group text to her classmates in Carl Sandburg College’s practical nursing program.
“It’s baby time, everybody!”
Just a week later, she was back in the classroom with them after giving birth to her son Levi.
“He was born on a Wednesday,” Davis said, “and I was at school the next Wednesday, taking a test.”
For Davis, who will graduate from Sandburg on May 18 with her licensed practical nursing (LPN) certificate, the motivation she needed to finish the program came from the son she carried along the way and the two young children she already had at home, 3-year-old son Braxton and 2-year-old daughter Ava.
“I just want them to reach all their goals in life, and that's why I keep pushing for mine,” said Davis, 24, of Roseville. “I want them to be able to know my mom did it pregnant, tired, big. ‘My mom did it. I can do it.’”
Davis’ dream of going into nursing sparked after her dad was diagnosed with colon cancer when she was in eighth grade. One of the nurses who cared for him had what Davis described as “a special heart,” and she wanted to make a similar difference for others. While a student at Monmouth-Roseville High School, she earned her nursing assistant (CNA) certification through the Galesburg Area Vocational Center. She started taking classes at Sandburg after graduating from Monmouth-Roseville in 2017.
Last spring Davis learned she’d been accepted into Sandburg’s LPN program for the 2022-23 academic year. Not long after, she also learned she was expecting her third child. Tackling nursing school while caring for two toddlers would have been challenging enough. Adding a newborn into the mix — in the middle of the spring semester, no less — only enhanced the degree of difficulty.
“It was a huge scare to me,” Davis said. “I was like, oh my god, what am I going to do? But I didn't want to back out. I was like, I'm just going to keep going.”
She started to have doubts about being able to complete the program when she realized the homework load. She arranged appointments for herself and her kids around her class schedule. Dinner, baths and bedtimes took precedence over being able to study at home. Sometimes she’d try to sneak in some textbook time at home as Braxton and Ava flung balls around the room. Only once they went to sleep could she finally focus on schoolwork.
“I wanted to have a career in something where my kids could look up to me,” Davis said. “Nursing has always been my dream. Even though it was a lot, my kids pushed me to keep going.”
And at Sandburg, she knew she could rely on instructor Stacy Bainter when negative thoughts started to creep in.
“She was the one person that was always like, ‘You can do this; you can do this,’” Davis said. “When I needed somebody to talk to, Stacy was the person I went to talk to because she always had that pep talk for me. She just gives you that little mom talk.”
As Levi’s due date approached, Davis’ classmates in the LPN program threw her a surprise baby shower. They loaded her up with diapers, clothes, a bathtub and a playpen with a bassinet. Her instructors even joined together to give her a new car seat.
“I literally could have left that day, had the baby and had everything I needed,” Davis said. “It's amazing how much support you do have that you don't know you have. They’re not my class. It’s my family.”
Once Levi was born, Davis didn’t want to miss much class time and fall behind on schoolwork. She was back to classes and clinicals in only a week, quickly trying to develop a new routine. Her mom, Darla, helped watch the kids at home. Often on the way to Sandburg, Davis passed her boyfriend, Devin Welsh, a third-shift employee at John Deere, going in the opposite direction as he came home from work in Davenport, Iowa.
Stacked with the stress of leaving her newborn, her two other kids, finishing school and trying to keep things at home in order, Davis said she broke down and cried while driving to class that first week back. But as the first person in her family to go to college, she had the mindset that turning back was not an option.
“The baths and the dinners and the constant messes and the laundry — oh, god, the laundry — everything just kept piling up,” Davis said. “I would get overwhelmed, but then I was like, just take it one step at a time.”
That next step will be walking across the stage as a Sandburg graduate.
Davis said she eventually plans to go back to school and become a registered nurse, but not before some well-deserved time away from the classroom and with her family. While she knows her children are too young to comprehend the magnitude of their mother’s accomplishment right now, she can’t wait for them to look back one day at pictures of her in her cap and gown and fully realize what she went through to have that moment.
“Nursing school helped me find out who I was,” Davis said. “It made me be a better person. It made me be a better mom, making sure my kids have someone who is an important person, because every nurse is an important person. I hope I make them proud one day. That's my goal.”