When thinking about cultural diversity many people do not immediately think about military culture. But this culture is real and it runs through every military family’s veins with their blood.
You’ll know a military family at a ball game.
The National Anthem is sung and Dad is standing at attention even when not in uniform. Mom has her hand over her heart. Their children are saluting or have their hands over their hearts. Watch their mouths. They know the words; word for word, even the three year old. The six year old knows every word to the Marine Corps Hymn; her daddy is a Marine, of course she knows them. But she also knows the hymn for each of the services, Navy, Army, Coast Guard and Air Force too!
You’ll go into their houses.
They have things.
Their family photos show a family, likely in red, white, and blue, smiling from a different town, different state, different country, different continent. Nearly every military family has a sign with where they have added a family member, a new pet, a new baby, a new house.
This sign simply states ‘Home is where the military sends us!’ And they mean it.
New friends, new schools, new jobs. Everything is new in the military yet the familiarity of culture and traditions remain the same. No matter where you are, some constants will greet you.
Your neighbor will be your new best friend. She will replace the ache In your heart of missing your best friend from your last duty station and you will replace the ache in hers from her friend moving from the very same house that you just moved into.
There is a familiarity of a base in a new town.
The same brands at the commissary.
The same types of things at the Exchange.
The flag with the star(s) posted on the front of every important building on base signifying what level General is on deck.
It is walking into the store on base with your husband, you see your friend’s husband — If they are in civvies, then they are friends, but if they are both in uniforms, one has earned the respect of a salute since he is an officer and the other is enlisted. There is no fraternization between officers and enlisted and that means as a spouse I can have my friends regardless of rank but my husband cannot be friends with their husband.
Military life is fickle.
There is a secret handshake and language of the military so to speak but the only way to be initiated is a sword pat to the butt, as a bride walks down the aisle, from the sword detail, following repeating her vows at her wedding. This wedding was crammed into the last three weeks before a deployment, because the service member couldn’t chance something happening during the deployment and his wife not being taken care of.
It is not uncommon for an entire pregnancy, including labor and several months postpartum to be spent physically alone while her husband is training or deployed.
A wife finds herself becoming a mother without her husband by her side because when the military calls, the service member goes.
The loyalty is first to the military, then to his wife.
The joke is often told that “If the military wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one.”
In room #204 of the military hospital you can see the strength this wife possesses when she brings life into this world and the first thing she does is introduce her sweet baby to her husband through an iPad screen.
You hear longing in his voice as it cracks when he whispers with tears in his eyes “Great job, baby, she looks just like you…”
In that moment the world stands still for everyone in the room as a family is intimately born despite the oceans and miles separating.
In Room #215 is another wife with half of her heart across the world hoping like hell that her husband is not only safe, but also ‘inside the wire’ so that she can have his support as she births their baby. She hopes like hell that the unreliable internet can hold on for just a few more moments so he can witness his son’s first breaths and cries.
She hopes even more that another service member hasn’t lost his or her life and that Forward Operating Base (FOB) that her husband is deployed to isn’t on ‘River City’ with no communications in or out so she can get his words of support when she needs it most—
‘You’ve got this baby! You’re so strong. Bring our son in this world!’
In Room #224 is a Gold Star wife who found out she was expecting just a few weeks after her husband left for his deployment followed only a month later by the dreadful news that her husband gave the ultimate sacrifice.
She roars through each surge as a strong and powerful woman while simultaneously releasing the emotion that has been tucked inside since she was handed that folded up flag.
She holds her husband’s tee shirt where his scent lingers and welcomes her baby into this world.
She wraps him in his daddy’s shirt and tells him how she will fiercely protect him and how much his daddy loves him.
These women do not know each other, though their lives are parallel and as the night progresses each is able to let the wall down and show that vulnerability to their doula or closest military spouse friends by their side. After all, no words are needed, they have been there and understand the ache of missing their spouse and the intensity of heading home with a newborn alone.
Though she may be physically alone, sleeping in her bed aching for him every single night, there is a bond so tight between them that is not easily broken. She wakes to feed the baby and checks her phone with the hope that he will have sent an email while underway or in a brief moment of downtime overseas.
Many times the calls and emails do not come and she puts on a fake smile, even for her husband, pulls herself up by the bootstraps and knows that the best way to handle this tough hand of cards she has been dealt, is head on.
Her family is not close by and her friends and neighbors become her family, and yet it is never the same.
Those friends would be there in a moment, but that moment rarely comes because a military spouse is full of pride and she will give you a gracious, “Thank you, but I have this!” and she does — but that doesn’t mean that it is without hidden struggle!
Pregnant military spouses are three times more likely to suffer from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders if their spouse is deployed than the general population and the number is thought to be higher because no one is around to help her detect the signs and symptoms.
She chalks the tears up to loneliness, she thinks the lack of appetite is due to spending every moment with her baby and simply forgetting to eat, she smiles only for her sweet baby, and she accepts that this is her new normal and hangs on to the hope that there are only 261 days left until her husband is in her arms again.
It is this moment in this military spouse’s life when a military doula is most beneficial. Of course she can have a baby without one, but a doula is someone that she can be real with.
Someone that feels safe so that she can let that wall of stoicism crumble and fall to the ground as soon as the door closes.
It is someone that she can cry with or share joys with when she cannot reach her husband and life is still happening at record speed, around her.
But for that moment, with her doula, she is the only one that matters.
She can be vulnerable and raw.
She can sob uncontrollably or sit quietly.
She can share her successes or dream about a different duty station.
She has someone by her side for the entire labor never feeling alone, without her husband by her side. She has that person that knows her birth wishes and has the iPad charged and ready to connect when the moment comes. She will have her own team rooting her on, supporting her, the exact way she needs.
Remember the pride piece above? It comes full circle. She rarely asks for help, having a postpartum doula supporting her following a birth, whether or not her partner is deployed, is invaluable.
Her doula can help break down those walls and allow her to rest in a way she has never felt comfortable resting before. Her doula can make sure that she is doing well emotionally with the grueling changes that this transition brings. Without having her husband home and family close by, a dark spot can loom for many new moms in military families.
Who will help her?
Who will help her find a way out of that hole if she puts on a fake smile and tells everyone she is okay? –Especially for her husband whom she doesn’t want to stress out while he is away carrying out dangerous missions. This is her doula’s most important role.
We are these military spouses and they are us.
We know these stories intimately, as many of us and our closest friends have lived through them. A doula with the familiarity of the culture of the military, makes the best choice for a military family during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period.
Photo credit: Abbeigh Blake