So Close, Yet So Far (Anticipation of the Homecoming and Readjustment Period)

This has been an interesting month for my military family members: a few have had their spouses return, a few will be saying goodbye to their spouses soon, and a few have learned what their next duty assignments are. You know who has had none of those things happen? ME!!!! During the last deployment, January was the longest, most anti-climatic month of my life, and that sure hasn’t changed during this deployment.

During the past few weeks of phone conversations, my husband has said, “Well, I have some good news…” and my heart beats excitedly. Are we moving to Hawaii? Florida? D.C.? South Carolina? Staying where we are? But the news is always the same: “We are going to be home (insert an amount of dates here) early!” and my heart sinks. I know you must be thinking that I’m not looking forward to his return, or that I don’t care he’s gone, and both of those statements couldn’t be further from the truth. If you’ve gone through any deployment, you know how those dates change, and usually not for the better. I have had my guard up this entire deployment, and I will not let it down now.

When my husband was set to leave, I had the date on my calendar for weeks. I had made plans for my best military friend to come over with coffee after I dropped him off to have something to look forward to. At 5:30 that morning, we said our goodbyes, I tearfully took pictures of him holding our infant daughter in the darkness, and drove home blasting Michael Buble’s Christmas cd (even though it was essentially still summer, and 75 degrees outside). Denial. My friend came over and we were watching the dogs and kids play when my cell phone rang. My husband was not leaving until the next day. I picked him up, we had a lovely day at home together, but I didn’t sleep a wink that night. The following morning, we dropped him off again, and I watched a dad saying goodbye to his three daughters. The oldest (and only one who knew what was actually happening) was screaming, crying, and refusing to let go. She had already said goodbye to her father once, and now she was going through it again. My husband jokingly said, “You know what we should do? We should high-five and walk away. Make everyone think that this is nothing for us.” So that’s what we did. :) Left the baby sleeping in her car seat this time, a quick hug, kiss, and a high-five, then I got in my car and started my trip home with Buble again.

I’m a fairly independent person. I don’t mind being on my own, as long as my life is organized and I have direction. So, although they suck, deployments don’t make me an unhappy person. I cross the days off (if you have a copy of Daddy’s Deployed, you already know that), and I carry on. (I promise this circles back around to my point of why I won’t allow myself to be excited about my husband’s potentially early return!) During the previous deployment, I had cried maybe twice during the first six months that he was gone. I was on a rigid schedule: up at 0445 to workout, work by 0600 to do any prep work, teach all day, home by 1600, walk the dog, dinner, tv/read, bed by 2045 (that’s 8:45 right? I’m losing my military time skills). The days flew by. So when it was May and my countdown was getting close to single digits, I allowed myself to get excited, to anticipate his return. Big mistake. The jets broke down the first day. And then the next day, and the day after that…you can see where this is going. So every day, for a week, I went to bed thinking that my husband was returning the next day, only to wake up to a message saying that something else had broken down and he was delayed another day. By the fourth day of madness, I had cried more than I had in the previous four years. My husband called my mother to fly out to be with me; I think anticipating that if he did ever make it home, it would be to changed locks, or a note that I had flown the coop (I wanted to!).

On the sixth day, he called with good news. The tanker that was escorting them back had to go on, and he was going back on it. He assured me that there was no chance of him being delayed again. I was thrilled. My mom and I went to the grocery store to stock up on his favorite items (the previous four days I was living with my depression like Howard Hughes lived…only I actually showered, trimmed my fingernails, and used the bathroom), when he called. The tanker broke down. The tanker’s maintenance crew was broken down at the previous stop, and he was not coming home. Really the only thing I remember after that is my cell phone crashing to the ground, and my mother rushing me home.

Of course, my husband did eventually return home. It was at 0450 one morning, and I got there about an hour later, after I woke up and received word that he was back.

Hopefully my husband reads this post and understands why I can’t allow myself to be as excited as he is that he “will” be home early. This deployment I have a child that I have to be positive for; no breakdowns allowed! :)

A friend of mine recently went through a similar situation (only much, much worse!). Her husband had been gone for about nine months when he was finally set to return. His carrier was heading back to the states when a crisis occurred overseas. The carrier changed direction and was deployed “until further notice.” Not only did my friend not break down, she kept her son on his daily schedule, kept herself on her schedule, and remained positive. A great role model for me. There is a picture of her son excitedly holding a son that said, “Move over! I’ve waited 360 days for this hug!” that will forever make me smile.

Then there’s the actual preparation for the day they return. You have to plan your outfit and hair based on the weather, you have to do the same for any children you have, make accommodations for family members that might be coming in, order a sign, hang the sign, get the house ready, and so forth. Not to mention the mental preparation for it all.

Like I said, I’m a pretty independent person. I actually like being in control of everything: garbage, mail, meals, shopping, bills, tv, etc. The first day my husband was back was eerily as if it was the day after he left (had he not left). We picked up right where we left off. There was no adjustment period, or so I thought. It was about a week later when I started yelling at him for leaving every light on that I realized maybe it wasn’t going as smoothly as I had thought. It was really hard for me to give him back his share of responsibilities. It took awhile for me to let go, and I am sure that it will be the same way this time as well.

Harder still will be allowing him to parent. When he left our daughter hadn’t even begun crawling yet. Now, several months later, she’s talking, eating bite-size food, crawling, and walking. She’s her own person now. If anyone has any suggestions on good way to get back to co-parenting well, please comment below. I have a friend whose husband watched her parent for a week, noted the words she used, and then started stepping in after he understood what worked, versus what didn’t. To me, that makes complete sense.

Fear not, readers. You will know exactly what it’s like when he does return (which isn’t for a few months yet).

Here’s hoping everyone has a safe, and happy week.

As always, if you have any comments, please share them!

 

Oh Baby! (Pregnancy During Deployment)

I hope you all had a great, relaxing holiday! (Is it bad that I smiled at that because, let’s be honest, holidays are never relaxing!)

A fellow spouse suggested I post about being pregnant while “Daddy” is deployed, and I thought it was a great idea. Shallowly, I thought she meant physically, about being, in her case, nine months pregnant when her husband returned from his deployment. I immediately started spouting off thoughts on fitness and how everyone (or maybe just me?) uses deployments as a time to get into shape as a nice surprise for their husband’s return (and then you go through a deployment with a child and realize it’s really hard to work out like you did when you were without child!). She quickly corrected me that what she actually meant was going through the entire pregnancy schedule without the support of her husband.

I started writing this blog over a week ago. I would never want to toot my own horn, but in college I used to crack open a bottle of wine and write my papers after a glass or two…it was never very challenging to me. Statistics on the other hand, I may have had to take a few stabs at. ;) So to have to admit that this blog has taken longer than a few hours is upsetting. I realized this morning that since I have not been “there,” I couldn’t write this entry and have it be what it needs to be. I contacted a few of my closest friends who have been there, one within the past two months, and they will be telling you their stories. They aren’t all happy, funny experiences; this is the most difficult time to be apart. I told them that the only thing I needed was for them to be honest. I want to thank them for taking time out of their busy schedules to write their stories for you to read.

Story 1: Karen
I think every military wife can say they know someone who has given birth while their spouse was on deployment. That being said, when I found out (surprise!) I was expecting my second child two weeks before my husband was set to deploy to a combat zone, things changed fast. My first thoughts were: “What the hell am I going to do? Who is going to watch my daughter for all my doctor appointments? What if there’s a complication?” Questions, question, questions. The advice I got from my father was “just take it day by day.” I remember sarcastically thinking, yeah, thanks dad, pretty understanding. As the deployment continued, it was the best advice I got. What seemed like simple words turnd out to be exactly what I needed to hear, and remember. I just kept moving day to day, knowing we were one day closer to my due date, and my husband’s homecoming. I was blessed with great family support and a close friend whom I trusted to watch my daughter in the event of an emergency.

Keeping my husband involved throughout the pregnancy wasn’t as difficult as I had initially thought. I sent him a picture of my growing belly with every care package. (Editor’s note: what an awesome idea!!) At my 20 week ultrasound, the technician wrote down the sex of the baby and stapled the envelope shut. Although I was so, so tempted to open the envelope, I waited until my husband called and we opened it “together.” It was one of the most special memories of the pregnancy.

My husband arrived back home 12 days before our son was born. I’m forever grateful to my dear friend for watching our daughter during my labor and delivery. The biggest thing I took away from being pregnant while my husband was deployed was that I needed help. The best thing I did for my daughter and my family was to accept the kindness of others who were willing to help.

Story 2: Sarah
My husband and I always knew we wanted a big family filled with beautiful girls! We were so blessed to have two beautiful daughters and we knew we wanted more. But we were currently not living under the same roof. Hell, we lived in different time zones. My husband had left Florida for the RAG in Washington in Feb of 2009, but my oldest was still in school. So we stayed behind in Florida, expecting to meet up when the school year was over. We soon learned that he would leave the west coast to come back to the east coast in just a year’s time, again in the middle of the school term, and deploy from North Carolina. So my girls and I headed to Massachusetts, where both my husband and I grew up. I was going back to grad school, he was finishing the RAG, and deploying, so we figured we’d tough it out, and then get our little family back together and give our girls what stability we could by not uprooting them time and time again, while we both accomplished some of our goals. We thought we had it figured out!

Then, a year later, and to our surprise I found out I was pregnant! How’s that for a monkey wrench? I wanted to wait another year but God had different plans. :)

Im not going to lie. The day I realized, “Holy crap, could I be pregnant?” and took the test, only to find out God has a huge sense of humor, I cried. I cried and cried. I called dear friends before I even called my husband because I didn’t want him to hear my reaction. I wanted more children so badly! So why was I crying? Well, my husband and I had already been told he would deploy in Oct of 2010. It was March. I was due 9 months later, on Nov 10th. Damn that February vacation trip to see my husband in Washington!

Once I got myself together, realizing that it was up to me to get my husband through this, I called him, reassured him, told him: “I know it wasn’t the plan, but its such a blessing, we can be excited about this and, yes its okay to be sad.” I’ll never forget some of the reactions I got to my pregnancy- the one that made me want to dive across space between me and another was definitely the “at least your husband was around for the first two.” Or “I don’t know how you’re going to do it! You already have a 7 year old and a two year old,” “I could never do that”…and the comments went on and on.

So the next nine months went by with me and the oldest two in Mass, my husband moving from Washington to North Carolina, and preparing for his upcoming deployment while I got bigger (and crankier? Maybe- I plead the fifth here). People kept asking me if I was excited, the end was nearing, and to be honest, I wasn’t. Not because I didn’t want to meet our third daughter (YIPPEE! A silver lining, that came with even more annoying comments of: “Didn’t you want a boy?” “Don’t you want to give your husband a son?” Definitely exercised some restraint there; next time, though, I’ll make sure I fill out the order form). I wasn’t like most women, dying for the end of my pregnancy, because I knew the closer my due date came the sooner the deployment date came. Baby Girl #3 was due on November 10th, but due to previous complications, I was scheduled for a c-section on November 3, two weeks after my husband’s scheduled departure day. I hoped upon hope that by some miracle she would want to come out before he left and meet her daddy.

Finally the day came. It was time to take my older girls and make the drive to North Carolina to see their daddy off. Thirteen hours in the car at 38 weeks pregnant! I figured the worst that could happen would be I’d go into labor and he’d meet her. That was a chance I was willing to take. ;) But she stayed snug as a bug! Figures. Little did I know, that was just the beginning of the most stubborn child I had ever given birth to!

Two weeks went by before November 3rd came. I went in for my c-section. Our plan was to skype in the operating room. I had my laptop, the doctor was on board. My husband was waiting with his internet connection all set up. But of course, I wasn’t near a military base, and we found out the hard way that there were no skype capabilities at my hospital. Well, sometimes you just have to roll with it. A few hours later my 3rd beautiful girl was born! 7lbs 1ounce. 19.5 inches long with beautiful dark hair, she was perfect! But nameless. How could I name her when my husband hadn’t seen her? I have never gone through the range of emotions I had on that day. It is so hard to describe how you can feel so much happiness….and sadness in one moment. How you can feel so blessed and so alone all at once.

The next day, a nurse took pity on me and was able to bring her laptop in and use her personal skype account, and wifi, so that my husband could his 3rd daughter for the first time. That nurse felt like my savior that day! My own personal hero. And baby girl got her name. Leia Liberty.

I knew it would be a long 7 months, but in my heart, I also knew that as long as 7 months would be for me, it would feel twice as long for my husband. To go 7 months knowing your child has entered the world and is changing every day and you haven’t met her yet is …well…crazy. So I documented everything I could, I sent videos, and pictures, knowing it was never enough. I sat on skype holding Leia every time he called. I kept her in the room everytime we were on the phone to hear his voice. I kept a picture of her dad by her bed.

I had no idea what I was in store for.

Only 4 weeks in and I had to call an ambulance because it was winter, she was so sick she couldn’t breathe, and it was the middle of the night. She cried non-stop every day, and all night. I couldn’t soothe her, I thought I was failing, and I knew I wasn’t giving my other two girls what they needed. Thanksgiving went by, Christmas, one daughter turned 3, the other turned 8, and still Leia cried. She didn’t just cry, she screamed and wailed and I took her to doctor after doctor, and no one knew what was wrong. It snowed by the foot every day, and there I was, recovering from a c-section, shoveling piles of snow in my free time so I could get out the driveway.

Then my 3 year old got sick. Her blood work was all wrong she slept all night and over 4 hours a day and she was losing weight and was pale. Then the doctor said the most horrific thing: “We have tested her for everything else, and we need to test her for leukemia.”

In the meantime Leia was breaking out in hives everyday and was finally tested for allergies. We had to put her under at 6 months for upper and lower GI testing before I was told she was allergic to dairy and soy. Okay, well, I could work with that. After some big diet changes Leia became a much kinder child! My 3year old got her test results 6 weeks later and we were blessed again: no leukemia. We still had to find out what was going on, but big relief there.

Did I mention, I had one other daughter? Well I do. She turned 8 during all this. And was a great reminder to me that we still had to do all the other things in life. Dance practice, horse-back riding, church, homework, lunch together, the park etc. Life had to be lived, and even when everything else was upside down, I wouldn’t allow her to stop living hers. Some of my relationships definitely suffered during this time period in my life; some got stronger. I learned who had my back and who didn’t. Who was there without my even asking. And my relationship with my husband was the strongest it had ever been. We took time to talk, because it was all we could do. In the middle of the day or the middle of the night (no one was sleeping anyway!) we put everything else away and we talked and reconnected. We talked about our kids, our life together our futures. We worried about the girls, prayed for good test results, and we shared old dreams and new dreams.

Finally, it was March! 7 months was up and it was time for my husband to meet his daughter and reunite with our older two. We drove to NC and we were so excited. Then everyday, for an entire week, they were delayed! Of course! I remember at one point, praying to God and just reminding myself- God, I have prayed over and over for You to bring my husband home safely to us and I am going to believe with all my heart that your are answering my prayers with these delays.

And then the call came, 4 am, he was HOME! He was at the hangar and he was waiting for us to come get him. And I packed those girls in the car and I drove there as fast as I could and he was in the parking lot waiting to greet us. And Leia at 7 months old, left my arms and went to her dad without a tear or cry or fear in the world. And all of a sudden, those 7 months melted away and all the pain and heartache and sadness was gone and my heart was whole and filled with bliss and I was wholeheartedly BLESSED. All that time on skype with her dad and Leia knew exactly who he was. And they may have lost 7 months togther, and maybe we’ll miss some more time, he has deployed since then, he deployed before then, who knows whats in the future, but God brought him home to us and we will have a lifetime together.

Editor’s note: Sarah’s husband kept a journal while he was deployed. Here are a few excerpts that go along with Sarah’s story…

03 Nov- My third daughter is being born today and I have  decided to journal this deployment. I’ve been here for two weeks  already.

I arrived in country just after 3 o’clock in the afternoon local on 22 Oct 2010.I looked up at the mountains and couldn’t believe I’m here again 5 yrs  later. IDF

I was going back gathering my thoughts and starting this  journal and we were attacked at this very moment. I heard a loud pop followed by a whistle. And then another. I heard the 2 impacts. They were very loud. I would estimate that they landed inside of  1000 yrds. The impacts shook the  ground. I grabbed my flak and helmet and  ran outside to hear 2 more pops and whistles.I ran back inside and Maj Smith asked “What the f–k was that?” I said “IDF, Sir.” I went back outside to organize the guard  force. They were just standing outside  the bunker not knowing what to do. I told  them “Well, take some cover, don’t just stand out in the open.” I sent 2 patrols toward the road to cover our  rear. Another Marine and I went to guard  the South barrier. The rest guarded that  main gate to our camp. It was pretty  uneventful after that.

Continuing catching you up to speed, the very night we  landed here, we got our first IDF attack.I was setting up my room and subconsciously heard 3 impacts in the  distance. I didn’t pay much attention to  them because last time I was here 5 yrs ago, you could hear helos out at the  ranges and I guess that’s what I let myself believe them to be. Carlson said, “Dude, stop, that’s IDF I  think.” We didn’t hear any horns or  anything so we just carried on. About 3  minutes later, the guard force started blowing whistles and Capt Darcy came in  our hooch and said, “Hey guys, hit the bunkers, we just got IDFed.” We spent about 20 min in the bunkers. I didn’t want to do that again, so I pretty  much decided that from now on, I will assist the guard force. And after today, seeing the lack of idea of  what to do from them, it’s probably best that I continue to do that.

As for today, 03  Nov 2010, it was my day on the rotation to fly, but I told Afta that  I would not be able to focus on the mission due to Sarah having surgery to deliver  our 3rd beautiful girl into the world. Cole flew with my crew instead. I went to medical expecting to be able to skype soon after she came  out. Apparently, the hospital said they  have a wifi, but they block webcams. I  don’t see how that’s possible and I’m sure not gonna take the time to explain  why, but anyway, I sat in the medical hooch because I was sure that was the  quietest place to skype for an hour and 45 min, just waiting. Finally, I was able to call Sarah, not a video  call though, but anyway, she told me that our little girl was here and that she  was perfect. She also told me that she  was in a recovery room and was doing fine also. We talked back and fourth for a while before  deciding on her name. I wasn’t all that  excited about Leia before because it reminded me too much of Star Wars. But after I decided to look it up, I felt a  lot better about the name, in fact, I love it.The origin is Assyrian, which is Mesopotamia and  Babalon in the Old Testament times, modern day Iraq. It means Ruler. I choose Liberty for her middle name to  signify the time that she was born; I was here liberating the Afghanis from the  Taliban. Leia Liberty was born  at 1147 on 03 Nov 2010 at  UMass Memorial. She was 7 lbs and an oz  and 19 inches.

21 Dec 2010- Happy  birthday to our second daughter!  I flew a flag  for her today.  It was my longest  mission.  It wasn’t a 9.2 like one of the other guys, but it was my longest so far at a 6.0.  We worked with some allies today.  It was pretty routine. 

25 Dec 2010- Merry  Christmas.  Things shuffled around a  bit and now I’m not flying.  Chow in  the chow hall was good for the holiday.  We ate together as a shop for lunch.  I was glad to have skype to see the  girls open their presents.  It was  almost like I was there.  It was  nice to be able to do that.  Other  than that, not much is different today.

1 May 2011
- Well,  this is it.  All I need to do is  wake up and get the jets airborne tomorrow.  I only have 2 bags to my name out  here.  I can’t wait to see my girls  again and meet a baby girl!  It sure  went by fast.  I can’t believe it’s  been 6 months.  (Later)  While we were gearing up for the flight  out of dodge, we found out that Osama Bin Laden is dead.  That was a good way to leave  theater.  I wish we could have had  some kind of direct role in that, but alas.  We’re going home.

10 May  2011- This is so frustrating.  I thought I would have been home 4 days ago cuddling a new baby and the  rest of my beautiful girls, to include my unbelievable wife.  But I’m still stuck in Europe.  We’re just sitting  here.  We sat so long, that now the tanker broke.  Awesome, huh?  Hopefully, we’ll get home  tomorrow.

11 May  2011- Well, finally made it to the USA.  After yesterday, being told I will  definitely be on a jet home whether 3 or 5 launched, I still ended up, somehow  on the tanker to McGuire AFB today.  I leave here, luckily enough, on a contracted jet directly to our base.  I’ll finally meet my baby  and see the rest of my girls at 0600 tomorrow.  I’m glad that my trip home, which is  supposed to be a glorious experience, just became my worst  nightmare!

12 May  2011
- Finally, after the most hellacious travel, I met my baby  Leia.  She is so cute!  She came right to me without crying and  it didn’t take her long to smile at me.  I could see her confusion though, from being used to seeing me on the  computer and now there I was right in front of her.  Our second was too cute.  She never really expressed feelings so  well before, but now she says how much she loves me and missed me.  She’s such a big girl.  Our oldest impresses me with her  maturity.  When I’d call to tell her  I wasn’t going to be the home next day she’d say it’s ok.  No whining or anything.  She’s been so helpful.  And my lovely, beautiful wife was  perfect as always.  I’m so glad to  be home.