Montoya Major, 23, uprooted her entire life to move to Florida for a dual-degree program at Nova Southeastern University. Hours away from her family, friends, and any other physical support system, she knew the program would be difficult — but she never expected that she'd become pregnant just five months into it.
"My initial thought, when I found out I was pregnant, was, 'What am I going to do with a child?'" she told TODAY Parents. "I was living in Florida, away from all my family and friends. Having kids was never a thought of mine. I wanted to pursue my degree and establish a career. I knew that now, my entire thought process would have to be re-evaluated, and I needed to figure out what to do next."
After her first ultrasound, Major discovered another surprise: She was pregnant with twins.
"I cried," said Major, who was the only student in the program to become pregnant during the course of it. "I cried like there was no tomorrow. I didn't know what I was going to do with one baby, and now two!"
Immediately, she made a plan: She laid out everything from what would happen when she gave birth to who would watch them while she was in class. She knew things would be difficult, but manageable — but when she met with her program director, he advised her to take time off and return the following year.
"I was appalled and quite shocked," she said. "I never had the thought of completely dropping from the program."
The director gave her another option: She could take two or three weeks off after the birth of her children, but she would still be responsible for her standard workload, and no accommodations would be made otherwise. Major chose neither option, and returned to class just days after her Cesarean section.
"During that semester, I had one day that I was required to be in class from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and like any new mom, I did not want to be away from my babies," she explained. "I physically felt and looked terrible. I had body aches and incision pain, not to mention the lack of sleep."
Every other aspect of her life was affected, too. A month after giving birth, a roommate in her off-campus apartment complained about the babies crying, and she almost had to move out.
"Worrying about where to live with two babies was not something I wanted added to the list of other things going on in my life at the time," she said.
While there were no rules about children living in the complex, Major moved once her lease ended. Anxiety and stress set in.
"It honestly seemed as though everywhere I turned, there was another situation trying to stop me," she said. "I felt alone and extremely exhausted. When the girls were sick, I had to miss days to care for them. When I simply just needed a break or to do schoolwork, I didn't have that."
She received support from afar, though, leaning on family and friends in her Alabama hometown.
"They always encouraged me when I felt like I was ready to quit," she said. "My dad is the reason I wanted to pursue my masters (degree) and was there pushing me, every day, to finish. If I needed to vent to anyone about how I wanted to quit, I had friends and family telling me it would all be worth it in the end."
On July 20, she shared a celebratory post on social media, announcing that she was almost done with her program.
"I persisted, I finished," she wrote. "I have achieved not one but TWO degrees with the help of my beautiful daughters, for if it was not for them I would have never pushed myself to finish."
Her commencement will be held in mid-August. Major will add two degrees — a bachelors in cardiovascular sonography and a masters in health science, to the bachelors in biology that she already holds.
"I honestly believe that I will cry, walking across that stage," she said. "This has been a long and tough road, and I will cry tears of joy that I officially made it."