Moms wear many hats, one of mine just happens to be camouflage. Navigating through the struggles of motherhood in uniform.
It’s tough being a mom, there is no denying that. There is a lot of pressure put on a mom early on; breastfeed or bottle-feed, pacifier or cry it out, co-sleep or crib, etc. As we progress in motherhood, we find that there isn’t a single right answer for any of the decisions or challenges that we face. Although this pressure doesn’t discriminate and touches every mom in some way or another, it hits in a unique way for those mothers who are in the military.
Along with the stresses being pregnant for the first time brings, I also had the stress of knowing that I was stunting my dream of an Army career by following my dream of being a mom. When pregnant, Army soldiers are limited on much of what they can do, to include attending schools required for promotion. To be clear, this is not meant to be a punishment, it is for the safety of the Soldier and unborn child. Regardless, it leaves us with the decision to take a back seat on our career or take an honorable discharge.
Now let’s talk about what happens when we do return to work in the military. Baby weight and getting into shape is an issue for most moms (a big old F you to those who didn’t struggle with this…just kidding, good for you girl!). This is more than just a social and personal pressure for us military moms; it is a job requirement.
Personally, I struggled with this after the birth of my son. I was a first-time mom, and at 31, older than your average new mom. It is expected, with no complications or concerns, for a new mom to be able to take and pass the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) within 180 days of giving birth. That’s 2 minutes of push-ups, 2 minutes of sit-ups, and a 2-mile run. I had a hard enough time doing any sit-ups without feeling like my entire uterus was going to fall out of my body in a very horror movie type scene, nonetheless managing to do them for 2 minutes straight. I had gone my entire pregnancy following doctor’s orders of not lifting more than 10 pounds, and although that cumbersome infant car seat seems to weigh a thousand pounds by the time you walk from your car to the Target door, I was not used to lifting much weight even after birth. Now, you are telling me I have to be able to lift my entire body (plus the extra 30 pounds I still have from pregnancy) off the ground in something that at least resembles a proper push-up??
And my weight?? Don’t even get my started. The Army has height and weight standards that are part of passing the APFT. Like most, I struggled to lose that extra weight. The fact that reaching and maintaining a certain weight and physical fitness standard that seemed so far out of my reach put more pressure on me than you could imagine. Now, don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely possible. As much as I struggled, I had the drive knowing I was doing it for a cause that I was passionate about. For those times I couldn’t find that motivation, I was fortunate enough to have an amazing support system to guide me to it.
Now, raise your hand if you suffered postpartum depression… Yeah, according to the Cleveland Clinic, as many as 50 to 75 percent of new mothers experience the baby blues. It’s safe to say that those numbers include some military members. I currently work in the medical field with the Army and know first-hand how far we have come as an organization when it comes to mental health. The identification, treatment, and overall handling of mental health problems has improved tenfold over that last decade. With that being said, the sad truth is that there is still a stigma in the military surrounding mental health and asking for help. It is very hard opening up to a doctor who is in the military when you know that stigma is out there.
Just like the rest of moms out there, military moms don’t just shed the pressure of parenthood once the newborn stage is over. And again, here comes that unique weight that military moms carry. Can you imagine knowing that at any point you could be away from your child for a year or more? Outside of the obvious deployment scenario, there are many schools that members of the military must attend in order to advance in rank or move jobs. Some of these schools are both several months long across the country from where you leave your children.
You hear the stories about how hard it is on the mothers left to single parent while their husband is away (and believe me when I tell you that is hard, and the military spouses deserve all the credit for pulling it off), but you don’t often hear about the moms having to leave their kids for that time. Just try to imagine the mom guilt that comes with missing anywhere from a month to a years’ worth of your kids’ life. Birthdays, baseball games, school plays, first steps, first boyfriend or broken heart, lost teeth, etc.
There was one occasion when my husband (who is also in the military) and I both ended up at the same month-long school. While we could have rearranged this, we had a reliable support system that was able to step up so we could both knock this requirement out. It may have only been thirty days, but you couldn’t convince my sappy little mom heart that my kids were going to be okay without BOTH of their parents for the entire month. However, we did what all parents do and we put on our strong face and made it work for our family, and we managed to do it with only few meltdowns (it was me…I was the one melting down).
While describing being a military mom, I have pointed out one difficulty after another. I can imagine you are reading this and asking why?? If it is so hard, why not find another career?
Here is the thing. In addition to having unique problems, we also have equally unique benefits that come with being a military mom. My personal favorite example of this comes with any opportunity my kids get to tell someone (anyone) that their mom is a Soldier. My kids are proud of me. In addition to pride, they have also learned very young what sacrifice is and that there will always be someone there to watch over them because of this sacrifice.
You can imagine my relief when I realized that the time spent away and other stressors my career has burdened my kids with had not actually scarred them for life as I often imagine it has (like, laying on the couch paying someone way too much money to tell them all the issues they have and how they all relate back to their mother type scenarios taunt my dreams).
In reality, these experiences have had quite the opposite effect. The Army has inadvertently made my kids resilient. In some cases, I have seen more resiliency from them than I have in some grown adults. Additionally, my kids see me push, they see me day after day meeting the demands of the Army because its something I believe in. through these actions, I have shown them the value of hard work. Another personal favorite, being an Army Mom, I have shown my kids that they can be whatever they want in life, and that there isn’t anything they can’t accomplish.
At the end of the day, regardless of our profession, we moms share a lot of the same difficulties. The fact that we face these challenges every day and continue to be the best moms we know how only shows that all moms are bad-asses! If we look hard enough, we can find a good side to just about every challenge we face.
** my.clevelandclinic.org “Depression After the Birth of a Child or Pregnancy Loss”
Daniella Merrill is a mom and step mom of 3 so obnoxious you have to love them children and is married to an amazing man child of a husband. She is a full time Army Soldier who has always had a passion for storytelling and entertaining. While most writers would include their super successful blog sites or social media links at this point, Daniella is just starting to explore the option that she can maybe do more than just embarrass her kids or get a few chuckles out of her writing by posting it on her personal social media pages.