I was a little bit of a rookie when it came to the whole pregnancy-on-base thing. I assumed being pregnant in the military (not as an actual servicemember! Just as an everyday, normal spouse!) would be basically the equivalent of civilian pregnancy, but with free prenatals.
Like I said ... Rookie.
If I had only known better.
10 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Getting Pregnant On BaseAre you over 20? If you are, you are an old, old mother. Seriously, I can't tell you how many times the words "advanced maternal age" were thrown around before I even hit 20 weeks. First of all, y'all, I'm 31. Second, women have babies into their forties All. The. Time. Third, technically I'm four years from actually having to worry about real "advanced maternal age" anyway. (Woe is me if we're still procreating on base at that point. Just go ahead and give me a walker. I'm Old Mother Hubbard to you.) Here I thought our 30's were the new 20's (lie to me), but no. I'm 31. When it comes to an obstetrics office on a military base, I might as well be 64.
YOU WILL BREASTFEED. All caps. I joke about the lactivists on a regular basis - breast is best being a common enough refrain through all of pregnancy no matter where you are that you have to know, from conception forward, that you're going to be pushed to breastfeed - but oh my word. I was not prepared. The extent to which breastfeeding is pushed in military hospitals (Naval hospitals, at least) makes you think that Enfamil must be spiked with Stupid and your child might actually experience severe, life-alterting, failure-to-thrive inducing harm from a little Similac. Rest assured: your child will be fine. If you drink the kool-aid (as I have, breast is best!), your nipples might not.
For all the LCs reading this: We are breastfeeding. I swear.
Tricare is still Tricare. That whole You Will Breastfeed! mantra? It really comes crashing down around you when you're a working mom on a limited income. Babies are expensive by themselves, but say you're totally committed to breastfeeding. Say you want to make sure your baby has that milk at the ready when you have to go to work. Say you actually want to do what the hospital has been saying this whole time. That requires the magical, post-partum instrument of medieval bovine torture known as the breast pump. And if you're a full time employee, you're going to need a double-electric one. Most civilian insurances cover the breast pump FOR FREE. Tricare? Tricare laughs in your face. Good luck bumming one off a civilian cousin.
Don't even ask about doulas.*
There's a Class for That! Baby budgeting! Baby diapers! Baby shopping lists! Baby PT, baby birthing, baby birthing pain management, baby lactation, baby baby baby... there is a class for EVERYTHING. There is literally a class you are asked to take during your pregnancy to learn about pregnancy with other pregnant couples BEFORE YOU HAVE HIT TWELVE WEEKS. That's before you have (a) found your pregnancy to be viable and (b) decided to go public. Hi, I'm all for learning. But you know what? I'm all for protecting my right to decide that before I've even learned if we're really having a baby I don't have to announce to the world that I'm pregnant. Call me silly. Or private. Whatever.
Meanwhile, I would have actually attended a class that taught us the name of all the providers along with their pictures, but that wasn't offered. Get on it, Naval Hospitals.
Privacy Is A Joke Anyway I really did nurse this idea that I was going to tell people we were pregnant when we knew things were all good. We lost a baby last Spring, and I just wasn't ready to announce a maybe to the world until we were through the first trimester. But hahaha! That's so funny. When you are required to attend a baby class (or as I called it, "morning sickness for beginners") that goes on the schedule and your husband gets off work to attend, surprise! Everyone knows you're pregnant. You might as well tell your mom.
It Really Is Hard On a really serious note, guys, having a baby is hard work. I can't tell you how many times I heard the whole "oh, welcome to the military, he's deployed and you're having a baby! Haha, no big deal," thing. Which always ends up coming across as "please, I pushed out ten children and he was gone the whole time and the last three were triplets and happened in a blizzard and technically I delivered myself and by the way you clearly suck at this."
I'm not perfect. And I'm not great at the whole "stiff upper lip" thing. And some days, just being pregnant was enough for me. Missing my husband was one thing too many every single day. Worrying that he wouldn't make it home for the birth on top of that? Look, I'm really sorry your spouse wasn't there. That doesn't make it any easier for me that mine might not be here, too. Hoping your spouse will be at the birth of your child isn't out of this world selfish, even when a lot of your peers weren't as lucky.
You Might Be The Only One Saying That, Though The way everyone else had all those triplets while their husbands were gone for five years walking in a blizzard uphill and that's all just run-of-the-mill, it can be pretty lonely being the one person saying hey, this is kind of hard. And I'm not rocking this. And I might need a little help.
When you feel like you're the only one who wasn't born with a system of steel and like you're maybe sucking at this whole baby and military life thing, remember you're not alone. Seriously, I'm here too. I don't think it's a laughing matter, I don't think it can be laughed off, and I don't see any merit in laughing at you when you say man, I don't want to have my baby by myself. That sounds scary to me.
Because you know what? That sounds scary to me, too. And if we're going to have to face our fears (thank you, Defense Department), we might as well at least name them and know what we're dealing with. I don't want a position in the "Gave Birth Alone" club. I really don't. It might be beyond my control, but honesty surely isn't.
And the Helpful Helpers Don't Always Help In point of truth, there's not a lot about having a baby that isn't straight up hard. The same is also true for military life. Both are immeasurable in their goodness, but still! Hard! You know what's also hard? Getting help.
At least, that's what I found. For a lot of reasons that mostly boil down to my son's tongue-tie, we exclusively pump. First of all, I fell into that whole breast-is-best thing hook, line, and sinker. Second of all, my kiddo can't nurse effectively. Breast pump to the rescue! (Formula could quite possibly be the saner decision, but we'll put that on hold for now.) I have talked to a handful of lactation consultants at two different bases. The most detailed answer I received to any of my pumping-based questions? "I don't do pumpers."
Excuse me? You, lactivist, want me to exclusively breastfeed my child. I, working mom trying to do just that, also want my child to consume exclusively breastmilk. I have basic questions about things like flange size. And pumping speeds. And like... am I doing it right? Not "doing pumpers" doesn't exactly help either of us.
Maybe that doesn't seem like a big deal to you. But when you're a new mom and trying to feed your kid and sleeping in two-hour spurts and eight hours from family with not a ton of friends in your area? Having a lactation consultant whose whole job is to help you refuse to do just that is kind of awful.
So is reaching out to the social workers on base about balancing it all and anxiety and worries and I'm really new at this and I'm not sure I'm handling it all and can someone help please? ... And hearing absolutely nothing back.
In the civilian world, you pay for your care. With that dollar, get a really loud say. In the military world? You put a ma'am on the end of that sentence.
But that isn't to say that being prego in the military is the pits. While it has its pitfalls, it also has its saving graces.
Because No One Else Will Ever Be More Compassionate CO's trying to get the husband home in time (as my husband's did - successfully!). Bosses, neighbors, friends who aren't deployed and don't mind coming over and prying your somehow-stuck shed door open in exchange for some really crappy beer, members of your community who will bend over backwards for you even when you are terrible at going to FRG meetings and never remember the lingo and still aren't entirely sure you know the difference between a CO and an XO in real life. Your military world? It'll be right there. And when it says "How are you doing?" it won't just be about the baby. It'll be about the baby, deployment, reintegration, the whole nine.
And there's no one else who can relate to that, no matter how hard they try.
Which Is Fine, Because Military Newborn Shots Are The Cutest Anyway I can't help it. I might not have decked out our kiddo in military regalia, but I can't stop looking at all the pictures of babies who are cammied out. Little patriots! Total swoon! Normal babies don't muster this kind of cute. And there's nothing more adorable than a daddy-meets-baby homecoming. Even when you know how much that mom had to go through to get to that moment.
What about you? Would you rather be military-pregnant or civilian-pregnant? Do you think you're better off one way or another?
*Seriously, don't ask about doulas.