“I don’t know how you do it,” is what people say. They’ve said it to me now, twice.
To clarify: what they mean by “you” is never “you, Lisa, specifically,” but a plural: you military wives. You women whose husbands are halfway-around-the-world-away-from-you, in a combat zone, on a ship, at an embassy, et cetera. What they mean by “it” is giving birth with him still so far gone.
I’ve had two babies now, and both them have been deployment babies. So I thought I’d take a moment to answer this “how you do it” question for the people who’ve been asking, even though they never pose it in the form of a question. More importantly, though, I thought I’d answer the question for all you military mamas-to-be out there, especially those of you who are staring down the barrel of both imminent deployment and due date. Because more than likely, like I was, you are asking in the form of a question: How in the world will I manage this without him?
Here are ten keys to having a baby while your husband is deployed.
1. Forget “normal.” Your life is not normal, in the civilian-marriage sense of the world. You are married to someone who deploys. You know that deployments last a long time and can come up on a marriage out of the blue. You understand that those “Look who’s jumping out of the Christmas cake to surprise his family with a two-week leave!” TV segments are exceedingly rare. What’s more, your husband might be the sort who rolls his eyes at that kind of thing. Frame your expectations based on what’s real: It would be fabulous if he could be there, but it’s not fair to expect so.
Most people are thinking about beginnings this week, but I’m behind the eight ball and still thinking about endings. I submit as evidence the fact that my “2014 in Review” is here post-calendar-turn instead of pre-.
So: endings. And Revelation 22, the chapter at the Bible’s ending. Earlier this week, I was stopped by verse 7 of the passage: “Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
Keep the words. When we encounter a phrase like this in Scripture, often we take it to mean “obey or else.” That’s because often our knee-jerk reaction in matters of Scripture is to treat it like a rulebook and a list of consequences for broken rules. We assume God’s ultimate word to us is about a hammer dropping. We fear that if we fail to toe the line, he’ll pulverize us.
One of the more illuminating moments in our marriage happened on the night when Nathan and I came to terms about The Leak. I don’t recall the particulars of our conversation anymore, but knowing me, I had likely cried and talked in circles for some time, trying to simultaneously figure out a point and make it. Knowing him, he had likely listened patiently and with a furrowed brow, putting forth a valiant mental effort to sift through what I was saying in order to hear what I actually meant.
We were talking about being busy and about the toll it was taking on things. That detail I do remember. Nathan had been working especially long hours: weekdays and -nights away from home on training exercises, weekends spent at his desk trying to keep up with everything that had piled on while he was away. Times like these are par for the course every so often with military life, but accepting that fact doesn’t necessarily make them easier. As is typical in our relationship, the feverish pace was leaving both of us beyond tired—but where his exhaustion was physical, mine was emotional. I felt like I couldn’t remember the last time we had invested together in our relationship, and I wasn’t sure I believed I could anticipate that changing anytime soon.
Our girl was born two months into my husband’s six-and-a-half-month deployment to Afghanistan. It was late afternoon there when she made her arrival, and his company was out on a mission. There had been a firefight, on account of which he hadn’t slept much and he needed to write and submit some reports to higher headquarters urgently. He didn’t have much access to civilian emails during that time. And the (typically reliable, typically lightning-fast) Red Cross message that a hospital nurse supposedly dispatched to him on my behalf never made it to the Middle East. The result of all this was that Nathan didn’t know about his daughter’s birth until two afternoons later, almost 48 hours after the fact.
Two a.m. local time, he finally called me. “I just found out,” was how our first parental conversation started. There was an uncharacteristic jitter in his voice, and it laid bare some of his feelings about the new and uncharted waters we were in. I could hear it instantly: he was curious, tentative, apologetic, proud, thrilled. But three minutes after I had answered the phone, duty called again, and he had to hang up. He hadn’t even had the chance to hear a Cliff’s Notes version of our first child’s delivery. Initially I was tempted to be upset about this: Wasn’t he at least entitled to a quick overview?
Then again, the more I thought about it, I wasn’t sure if anyone—certainly not I—could have properly remembered the events that had happened two days earlier.
My friend Karen* has just had surgery, and her husband is away. (This is not uncommon for military folk like us.) We have spent three days holed up at my place—she as the patient, me the attempted nurse—so she can begin to heal. Now she’s ready to be back on her feet and at home, but her cupboards are bare. So we go grocery shopping on the way over to her place. She chooses the food, I push the cart and lift the heavy things.
We arrive at a seasonal display in the produce department. Bags of cherries are stacked up in piles: a couple rows of deep red, a couple rows of red-yellow, then a couple more of red. It is at this point when Karen reaches out nonchalantly and grabs a single Ranier.
“I always taste-test these to make sure they’re good first,” she explains, popping it into her mouth. Her official assessment is a slight pucker.
My internal response to this cherry-pick is instantly surprising to me, for two reasons.