If only it were easy. If only we didn't have to go through the pain of "see you laters." If only we had a choice to say no and be around more. If only we didn't have to miss those memorable first moments and milestones.
My name is Kristine, US Army Retired, and this is my story as a military mama.
I joined the United States Army in December of 2012 and medically retired in November of 2018 due to health reasons and sustained injuries. In the midst of all the chaos, I was blessed to have given life to my beautiful little one, Mia Bella. My rock. But before she came into this world, I went through many hardships. I thought pregnancy would be smooth sailing and easy. But I thought wrong.
Before Mia Bella was born, I had two miscarriages. Every day I wish I could have done something to change what happened.
When I got pregnant for the first time I was so excited and happy for the good news. But a few weeks into the pregnancy, I started bleeding and had to go to the hospital. The second I walked into that ER I got this heavy feeling. My heart felt like a rock, as if my body was telling me to prepare and brace myself for what was to come when I went through those double doors. A nurse asked me what was wrong and I told her about the bleeding. She asked me how many weeks I was. I told her that I was 10 weeks pregnant. She left and I waited. About 10 minutes later the doctor came in and asked me how I was feeling, and I couldn’t say anything but that I was okay. She asked me how far along I was and whether this was my first pregnancy. I said yes, I'm a new mama, and that I had just come in for my 8 week appointment to hear the baby's heartbeat.
She grabbed the ultrasound machine and said let’s go ahead and check for baby's heartbeat once more to make sure nothing is wrong. She kept looking. And looking. Maybe the baby is hiding she said to ease my mind. She kept looking. A few minutes later, she said she would be right back.
At that moment, I knew something was wrong. I wanted to start crying but no tears fell.
I wanted to stop picturing the doctor telling me that I miscarried, that it was the ultrasound machine. I was making excuses to ignore that a miscarriage could be reality. She came back a few minutes later and told me that she reviewed my labs, and that she was so sorry that she couldn't find the heartbeat. I sat there for a few minutes having no words to say, not even noticing the tears running down my face. She was telling me that they were going to schedule me for a dilation and curettage (D&C). I sat in silence. All I could do was nod and say okay. Nothing more, nothing less.
I felt like I didn't have control over my body.
They scheduled me for a D&C the following day. At the time I was with my ex-husband and he was at work when I got the news. As I walked out of the emergency room, I was thinking to myself as I touched my belly, I have a baby in there, not growing, no heartbeat, just dead. How do you process that? How do you come to terms with that? And how was I supposed to tell my chain of command that I was no longer pregnant?
How would I face colleagues and tell them that I was no longer going to be a mother? How does someone face the world after this? I was so lost.
All I could think about were the words that doctor told me. I called my husband and told him that I lost the baby. He responded saying it’s okay, it will be alright, we can try again, and we will get through this. At this point I had nothing else to say, no words to express how I felt. I called my chain of command and told them what was going on and informed them of my procedure and that I would be out of work for a few days with my doctor’s note. They said I'm sorry for your loss. That same day work called me and told me that when I got back I’d be going to the field with my unit for training for two weeks. As I got off the phone with him I thought to myself that I had 4 days to mourn and recover and go back to work.
Days and days had passed and all I could think of was to keep moving forward. In the military, we have a responsibility to our unit and other units.
Things keep going with or without you and as long as you are capable, you are used to your best ability. In my case, I was tasked left to right, mission after mission. I had more hard days than easy days. I didn't have an appetite for weeks. Sometimes when I looked at myself, I'd break down and think why did this happen to me? Why me of all people? Why was I being punished? I secluded myself from family, from friends, from the things I loved to do, and let myself drown in my depression. All I did was get through the day and go home and repeat it each and every day. It was a hard time for me, but eventually as the Army likes to say, I had to suck it up and keep moving.
A few months later I got pregnant and was so happy that God gave me another chance to prove myself and be the mother I always wanted to be. But luck wasn't on my side once more. I tested positive and a few weeks later for my 8 week check up I got my blood work and ultrasound and my HCG levels were dropping.
I lost my second pregnancy.
At that point I was losing hope and thought the cards weren't aligning for me to have a child. The doctor told me that the stress on my body could have caused me to lose the baby again. She told me that my chances to have another baby or carrying to term were very risky and that I might not be able to have a child. Where do you go from there? I was so upset that I had no more tears to cry, no more words to say. I was beginning to ask myself, why am I not showing emotion? Why am I not in tears about everything I was told and had been through? I let my sadness consume me. I let it take control over my life. I stopped playing sports or any physical activity for pleasure. I just wanted to go to work, go home and repeat it every single day. For months I did that to myself.
About 8 months later I found out I was pregnant. This time, there was no happiness. I thought to myself, again? Tears fell for days. I kept asking myself why does this keep happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? To keep going through this cycle- why me? I went to the same doctor for a third time. They looked for a heartbeat and measured my sweet little bean.
And then I heard it. You're having a baby girl. At that moment, my world stopped.
Tears came rolling down my face. It was real. I was going to be a mother to a sweet little girl. Months passed and I made it into week 27. But I started having complications. I started having kidney problems and my body was hurting. They had to insert a stent and before the procedure, informed me since I had miscarried twice before this, and that my baby was still small, that I could deliver my baby early and the chances of its survival were slim. I went through the procedure and woke up to see the doctor hovering over me saying it went well and the baby was fine. THE BABY WAS FINE. MY BABY WAS FINE. Joy overfilled my heart hearing those words.
Around 33 weeks, I went to work feeling fine but that day my water broke.
There I was soaking through my uniform in a room full of infantrymen, staring at me like a deer in headlights. My contractions began. I was driven to the hospital with military police escorts. We got to the hospital and I was taken to the labor and delivery (L&D) department. Nurses could see Mia’s head and told me she was ready to come out. The nurses left the room. When they came back, they noticed my stomach was in a weird shape and knew right away that Mia had moved to a sideways position. Mia eventually turned to fully breached and before I knew it, I was being prepped to go into the operating room for a c-section. There I was laying down, counting backwards, and all of a sudden, through the chaos and all the pressure on my body, I heard a cry.
My baby, my miracle, my rainbow after the storm, was born. She weighed 4 lbs and 10 oz.
She was so tiny, but God made her a fighter, and she stayed with me without having to go to the NICU. She latched onto me and we made our first bond as mother and daughter. In that moment, I realized that all the pain, all the hurt that I went through was preparing me to meet her. To see myself in her, a fighter. Everything finally made sense. It was in that moment that I knew I became a mother.
My main struggles as a military mama were balancing my new identity as a mother and finding time to do everything I needed to do in a day.
When Mia was a year old, my marriage went through a rocky point and all of a sudden, I found myself struggling as a single mother. I also found out I was going to be on rotation for 9 months and during that time, she would be staying with her father in a different state. It hit me that I wouldn’t just be losing time with my baby girl. I’d be losing the hugs, the kisses, the joyous sounds of her laughter from my day to day life.
On days that I had to go to training, those were my most stressful times, especially while I was breastfeeding. I’d be in the field for 10 days and had to pump in a medic tent since it was the most sanitary place to pump. Thankfully the medics let me use this enclosed area. I know others are not as lucky. After I got done pumping, I would drop my milk off in a freezer at our company area and back to the field I went. It was not the most ideal situation but I was not going to waste my milk. I will always be thankful that I got to save my milk.
To all those involved in the military, whether you are a service member, a mother in the military, the mother of a service member, or married to a service member with children, I know things are not easy. It requires sacrifice, heartache, and a special kind of love.
For some, it means that you sacrifice time away from your family. Military motherhood is late hours waiting by a phone or computer, missed holidays and birthdays, not being able to tuck your kids in at night.
Fierce love is probably the greatest asset of a military mother. It is what keeps a military family together no matter what.
As a military mom, sometimes you have to make your love span hundreds or thousands of miles. There isn’t anything stronger than a military mama. It is its own super power.
The one thing that I could tell someone else in the same shoes is to KEEP FIGHTING. Keep that momentum up and know that you're doing the best you can. I know that sometimes when we are far away or are lost in our work that we forget to self-reflect and love ourselves for the sacrifices we make. It is great to have emotional support from family, friends, and those near and dear to us. But without self-love we would not be the strong mothers we are today.
Of course I didn’t always have this point of view and there were days that I would shame myself, saying that I was not enough. I know that we get discouraged to keep going and that it feels like we can't get through it. But I promise you, if you keep pushing, keep moving forward and just take it day by day that you CAN and you WILL make it work in the end. It's not about how fast you get your life back on track, it’s about the journey and what you overcome in the process. Always remember that you are not alone and never will be.
What motherhood in the military taught me is that if we don't take care of ourselves, if we don't seek help to relieve our stress, how can we provide the best for our child?
How can we give them 100%, if we are not 100%? If you are reading this and feel like you have lost your way and need someone to help you fix your crown, I got you, mama. I am with you, I understand you, I am your sister in arms, and I am a fellow military mama that cares. Sometimes words of love and encouragement are all you need, even if it is from a stranger. I hope my words help you find some light in the darkest of days. Remember to keep your head up. How else can we see, beautiful?
Forever with love,