When our battalion received orders to deploy on short notice, we realized we had nearly 50 spouses who were pregnant and due to give birth while their Soldiers were deployed.
Since the Army went to nine-month deployments with no mid-tour leave, this basically eliminated the possibility of our Soldiers scheduling their mid-tour leave to be home for the birth. How could we help these young families?
As our FRG Leaders began talking to our pregnant spouses about their plans to handle this major life event without their husbands, we found an opportunity to leverage the support from all of our great agencies and programs that our Army provides.
We started the Pacemaker Pregnancy and New Parent Support Group. The group's mission basically centered around the idea of bringing this support to our spouses as opposed to just giving them a list of phone numbers.
We met monthly over lunch and facilitated guest speakers from ACS, New Parents Support, Madigan Medical Center, and local community organizations like Support America's Armed Forces (SAAF) and the USO.
Due to the high level of interest, this led to many friendships being formed, a dedicated Facebook site, play-dates at local parks, and a tight-knit support network of spouses who shared similar circumstances of having their Soldiers deployed, kids to raise, and the stresses of life as a pregnant military spouse.
More importantly, we found that our spouses felt like they were part of a great team and did not have to go through this challenging time alone. Our members were there for each other when it really counted, sometimes even attending the birth of each other's babies.
If you would like to put together a support group for pregnant spouses for your unit, we offer some of the steps that we followed in hope that it will help you:
We identified the need. When we found out our 800 member battalion had about 50 spouses who were scheduled to give birth while their soldier was deployed, we determined that a support group tailored specifically to address the needs/interests of our pregnant spouses seemed to be the best way to reach out to our them.
We reached out to FRG Leaders. We asked the FRG leaders to put together a list of the pregnant spouses in their company. We then sent an invitation by email to all the expecting moms.
We asked spouses to share their local info. Most of the spouses were comfortable with giving us the due date and which hospital they would be delivering at during the deployment. This also provided an added level of comfort for our commanders and deployed soldiers that someone would be checking in on their spouses during a time of uncertainty and added stress.
We supported spouse choices. Some spouses chose to go home to family and to have their child. We are strong believers that wherever you find support....seek it and enjoy it!
We established a predictable monthly program. Our main goal was to bring the programs to our group rather than just giving out the information in a flyer or a newsletter. We made each of our monthly meetings the same time/date every month (third Tuesday of every month at noon).
We provided childcare. Many of the expectant moms had other children. We worked with ACS to provide childcare vouchers for those who attended our meeting. Many of our Pacemaker Spouses brought their children with them, and that worked well, too.
We provided lunch. Senior spouses usually brought potluck to each event. This provided a positive environment where our group could socialize, learn, and just relax with each other.
They provided the spirit. We tried really hard to make the events as accommodating as possible. The program generally lasted from 12:00 to about 1:30, but most of the ladies would stay until 2:30 - 3:00 talking and socializing. Once they all got to know each other, it was great to see them pass on ideas, ask questions, and work through issues together as a team.
We coordinated with on-post support services. We met with our local ACS (Army Community Services) who had a New Parent Support Group. I was able to have their leads, Priscilla and Pamela, come and facilitate each of our monthly meetings.
We brainstormed about topics. We initially asked ACS to talk to the spouses about Resiliency, and then we then would bring in other agencies each month to discuss topics that were of specific interest to our pregnant spouses. For example, we had OB/GYN representatives from Madigan Army Medical Center talk to the ladies about their programs, their birthing processes/procedures, and also medications that you could use while being pregnant. We also had an organization called FOCUS come in and talk to our spouses about Stress Free Parenting, and we had the New Parent Support Program from ACS give classes on baby massage.
We welcomed interest from other helping organizations. When word got out to the community about this program, charitable groups took interested and also wanted to help. Organizations such as the USO, Support for America's Armed Forces (SAAF), and others provided food donations, made quilts, and put together "baby bundles" for each of our new babies which was a whole laundry basket full of very practical items that all mothers and new babies need. This was just one more level of support to our pregnant spouses that helped them feel like they were part of a strong team and that we were there for them if they needed anything.
We capitalized on success. Once the program was established and running well, we used the unit's monthly newsletters, established a Facebook page, and used word-of-mouth to let our families know about this program, about upcoming events, and about the availability of assistance if they needed. We found that our members were more likely to communicate by Facebook than in any other way.
Our unit commanders engaged. Our unit commanders also ensured that we properly thanked all who supported this program with their time, donations, and professional knowledge as this ultimately helped to foster more positive command climate throughout our unit during a difficult time of deployment and separation.
Since starting this program, other units here at Joint Base Lewis McChord have now also coordinated with the ACS to start similar programs.
The deployment is over now, but the bonds formed by this group due to their shared circumstances will be everlasting.
Amy Henderson is an Army spouse stationed at Joint Base Lewis McChord.