Are you a military mom on this Memorial Day? A mom of someone in the military? A wife of someone in the military? Was your mom in the military? Are you a mom and part of our armed services?
Having a connection to the military, particularly if you are a mom/wife/partner of someone serving, someone lost in battle or are serving yourself, can add another level of complexity to your mental health. Let’s focus on moms who serve and moms who are home, parenting alone while their partner is deployed or training. Both are equally hard in their own ways.
Imagine having a partner, but functioning as a single mother for periods of the time. Sometimes long periods of time. From conception, through pregnancy, delivery and raising your baby, everything is done a little differently. It can be quite anxiety provoking to attempt to conceive on a schedule you have no control over. Imagine spending your pregnancy without your partner, experiencing the ups and downs alone. Imagine packing a laptop in your hospital bag and extra batteries to make sure your partner can witness your baby’s birth. Imagine traversing parenthood part of the time on your own and part of the time with a partner. Each step is unique and not necessarily subject to the typical pregnancy or postpartum advice.
An abstract of a research study “Associations of Post Partum Depression with Spousal Military Deployment and Isolation.” created by Jeffrey H. Millegan, M.D. NMCSD Mental Health; Daniel Robrecht, M.D.; Lynn Leventis, M.D.; Crescitelli Jo, R.N.; and Robert McLay, M.D., Ph.D., notes that the risk of postpartum depression to military wives is 2.31 times greater.
Often the stigma is greater and women whose partners are in the military are more accustomed to doing things on their own, being strong and not having the support that other women may have available. Often military families move around and the moms are faced with rebuilding their social and support systems while trying to settle into a new home and potentially help their children settle into new schools. And with all the moving, it is almost impossible to be near family or get regular family support or assistance.
Military moms on bases have to contend with increased anxiety and stress related to noise and disturbances disrupting the all too valuable nap time or bedtime for their babies. Military wives can experience almost constant anxiety about when they will next get to talk to their partner during deployment. When will they get to share about the newest development of the pregnancy or baby’s development. When will they share good or bad news?
There are endless ways that having a partner in the military can effect the mental health of a mom during pregnancy and that all important postpartum time.
And what about the moms who serve themselves? Again, complications from the onset. This time, you are the one away, unable to see your partner on a regular schedule in order to attempt conception. Though now you also have to consider how pregnancy will impact your role in the military. Women make up about 15% of the military. There are limits to what you can and are allowed to do when pregnant. And there are expectations after the baby is born. Many women struggle with returning to work outside the home after baby is born. Many take 6-12 weeks maternity leave before having to return to work. But imagine if returning to work possibly meant being sent out of the country for months at a time. Leave your children or leave your career completely. This is the dilemma for many military servicewomen.
And if you are not faced with deployment or the decision of career vs. children, you will undoubtedly be challenged in many other ways. Breastfeeding, pumping, witnessing first milestones for your child. These are challenges for many working mothers. But there are unique factors if you serve. There are unique expectations and restrictions on your schedule and your ability to stop and pump or leave work early. Time off is closely monitored and requires extensive approval. The regular stresses of being a mom are amplified by the unique structure of your job.
Experiencing a PMAD can be shocking to one’s system. It can make you question your abilities as a mom and in your workplace. It can cause you to have difficulty thinking and functioning. It is hard enough to manage these symptoms when you are not in a high stress environment. Being away from baby can be anxiety provoking enough when you know you’ll see her that evening. Managing this anxiety for months at a time can be strickening. How does one establish an identity as mom and bond with their baby when they are in a completely different country? How does a mom manage her emotions in an environment prided on strength and courage?
On this Memorial Day, let’s remember that many service men and women have been lost over the years. And let’s remember their partners and children, their parents and siblings. Let’s remember that those men and women would not be serving us without great sacrifice of their own and their families.
If you are in the military or a military mom, and need support, please go to: http://www.postpartum.net/get-help/psi-support-for-military-families/