My first of many hats was that of being a daughter. I became a wife at 20. These are the normal steps girls go through in their life. At least, that’s how I was taught. Nowadays, I see so many girls waiting longer and longer to get married, if even at all. So maybe I’m abnormal? I mean, those girls I did know who got married at 18-20 were already starting a family soon after the wedding. Me, I wasn’t ready.
I was 20. While society said I was an adult, and I may have thought it from time to time, deep down I really didn’t feel like one.I was still in college. I hadn’t really gotten to know my husband. We only married a month after we met. We weren’t financially stable. And to tell the truth, I did not think I had it in me. I was an only child with no experience with children, especially babies.
The military made it uncertain. He would work incredibly long hours and weekends, he would go to the field and deploy all at a moment’s notice. It was hard just being a spouse. The Army was so much different from the Air Force. I can remember my father going away to school (TDY) maybe three or four times my entire childhood. Yes, he had alerts where he would work 14-16 hour days and the occasional weekend. But, nothing like the Army. It was like night and day. So that took a lot of getting used to.
Being a military Brat, knowing what I was getting into when I married him, you would think that I wouldn’t take issue with having a child while he was still in the military. I traveled the world with my father. I had a great education (until his last assignment I had to go to a public school). But the more I watched our friend’s babies growing up and their fathers missing their birth, their first word, their first step, their first day of school, I felt a pang of sadness for the children begin to bloom. I saw children run up to anyone in uniform and call them “Daddy.” I saw children hugging pictures of their daddies, wondering when they were coming home. And I saw still others whose fathers were never coming home. My heart broke for them and I decided I didn’t want to have children while he was still in the military. He didn’t argue.
Years went by and we were very content with our DINK lives. DINK = Dual Income No Kids. We were spontaneous and our money was spent on us. We did as we pleased, when we please…unless the Army had other plans. Occasionally we would discuss family. We even came up with a boy’s name a few years into our marriage. It was always talk, and nothing more.
Change has always scared me. You’d think I’d be used to it by now – all the moving around I did as a child, living one of the mottoes of the military: “Change is the only constant.” Having children meant change. And I was quite content in my life at the moment. I never had that intense desire to have children. At least…not then.
The first combat related deployment for us was in 1999 when he deployed first to Albania and then to Kosovo. Albania wasn’t so bad. They were just staging and waiting. It was the uncertainty of when he was to come home that got to me. But when the rest of his unit came home while a select few were Voluntold to stay behind and provide support to another unit going into Kosovo, that’s when I got scared. When he drove into Camp Bonsteel, there was nothing in the “wheat” field but a single line of vehicle tracks. My mind went nuts. He’s a vehicle mechanic. There’s tons of land mines in that area. And they drove into Kosovo where the KLA were STILL hanging around even though NATO told them they needed to leave. What if he didn’t come home?
Everything that I had that was a part of him were things. Things would be packed away and eventually faded from my mind. I did not have something that would last forever, a part of him and me, a child, if the ultimate sacrifice were to happen. That is the moment my heart and mind changed. That is the moment the ticking started. You know the one…that biological clock that tells you it’s time. I never really thought that scene in My Cousin Vinny was a real thing, at least not for me, until now.
When he came home the end of July that year, I told him. Not like Marisa Tomei. But I had that serious talk with him that it was time. While I still worried that he might miss all the milestones and was terrified that he might miss it all, I changed the way I looked at it. A child. A part of his soul and a part of my soul to form a new soul that would be ours, merged together in love. Something tangible and real. Something to love and cherish and hold close. Not a thing to toss in a box and throw away if something were ever to happen to him, like the things I had around the house that would remind me of him – pictures, computers, clothes, etc. All those things could not ever replace a lost soul.
We decided it was ok to go off my birth control and let nature take its course. Yes, we were both scared. And, looking back, I realize that my desire to have his baby clouded my vision because he was scared for many more reasons than I “heard.” I knew he was scared because he didn’t know how to be a dad, what with having no father to model after. But there were other things he didn’t let on and let me keep trying.
I didn’t pay any attention to the passage of time and not getting pregnant. Not really. I attributed everything in the first year to my body readjusting to no birth control pills.
September 11th, 2001 my father was diagnosed with lung cancer brought on by Agent Orange. We spent about three weeks with my mom and dad in November that year while my father had surgery and recovery. It wasn’t until I saw my father laying in that hospital bed, faced with his mortality, did I realize he might not see his grandchild. This tore into my heart. Right before we left, I told TheHubs what I was starting to feel the urgency to make a family, so my father can meet his grandchildren.
So what was wrong? Why haven’t I been able to conceive? I was getting worried something was wrong and my family would never evolve. We went through all the normal testings and nothing was wrong. Two years, and still no baby. More and more tests on me. I’m pretty sure I was getting on TheHubs’ nerves by now, pining away at all the pregnant women I saw. It hurt so bad when one of my friends turned up pregnant. Ugh! WHY?! That’s all I could think.
My last doctor’s appointment there was mention of fertility drugs if they couldn’t find anything. But before that, he wanted to do a procedure on me to make sure there wasn’t anything going on in there, maybe blocking my tubes or whatnot. I won’t go into the nitty-gritty, but let’s just say that while I was unaware due to pain, TheHubs watched it all and said it looked like something WAS blocking because the dye the doctor put inside looked like a dam releasing. And the next month I was pregnant.
My pregnancy was a dream! No sickness, no moodiness, no real cravings to speak of – though I did manage to down 5lbs of peanut butter every week. 😛 My delivery was a dream as well, despite him being a month early and we weren’t ready.
But let me tell you, after the delivery and we were settled back home trying to figure out a new routine, I had a serious bout of postpartum depression, though I didn’t know it at the time. It got to the point I would cry at everything and at nothing, every moment I was awake. I was done. I had my pregnancy. All I wanted to do was give it back so I could have my life back. I felt horrible for feeling that way, too. All those movies and TV and everyone else saying they instantly fell in love…nope, not me. What was wrong with me?
Postpartum depression. No one talks about it. So I had no clue what to expect. But that’s what it was. And once my brain chemistry reset, with a little pharmaceutical help, I was on the path to bonding and loving again.
By the time TheBoy was born, TheHubs had gotten out of the military and was trying to hold down a civilian job. He had already been diagnosed with migraines but they were getting worse. We had decided a LONG time ago that the one who made the most money would return to work after the baby was born. Unfortunately, we made the wrong choice. Yes, my pay was greater than his BASE pay. But we failed to factor in all the allowances and benefits he received each month. In hind sight, he made more than I did. In hind sight, we should have discussed this more. But that was before we learned how to communicate better. In hind sight, I STILL feel guilty for “making him give up his dream.” I still feel that it was my fault, and maybe it is a little, but there are other factors involved with him deciding to ETS than just me and the baby. I am slowly learning to squash that guilt when it rears its ugly head. Yes, I will take the blame for some. But we’ve discussed this at length and as he says, “Everything happens for a reason.” And maybe that reason was because he may have gone to Iraq or Afghanistan with his unit and returned the hero he always envisioned, with a flag draped over his casket. So, I keep that at the forefront of my mind when guilt rises to the surface about that situation.
As TheBoy grew, so did the pain TheHubs suffered. I would come home from work to find him laying on the floor, curled up nearly in tears trying to feed TheBoy. He would go to bed to try to alleviate the pain while I was left to care for TheBoy while I was home. Nothing ever made the pain go away and his migraines were coming more often. I paid out-of-pocket to get him in to see an acupuncturist and a chiropractor. We went to countless doctors in the hopes of relief. Every new research article, every new doctor, every new prescription, I always hoped for a cure, or at the very least, a reprieve. It always ended in disappointment, and financial hardship.
By the time the headaches and migraines came every day, by the time he developed photophobia, and by the time he was diagnosed with PTSD, his involvement with our normal every day lives was extremely limited. He’s crushed he can’t do normal dad things with TheBoy. And he hates that he’s a “burden” (his words, not mine) to us and has turned me into a single parent.
Because, sometimes, that’s how I feel and that’s how it is. When the pain is too great, we don’t eat dinner with him, we don’t do errands together, we don’t watch TV together. When the pain is too great, sometimes outings or family gatherings and celebrations get cancelled, or we go without him. When the pain is too great, he takes his medicine and sleeps away the days.
The scary thing about parenting now is the effects of all this on TheBoy. He’s become a recluse, doesn’t go outside and play anymore, doesn’t have many friends, and doesn’t have interests outside of his xbox, minecraft, or games he plays on his phone.
I do my best to explain to TheBoy what his dad is going through and why he is the way he is and how to deal with it. I tell him I’m learning as we go, just like him. But I don’t know if he understands fully. We talk about it with him because hiding from it could very well make things worse (like in the beginning, before we knew what was wrong, between he and I). We fear TheBoy is going to suffer, if he isn’t already, secondary PTSD. We fear that we are failing as parents.
While many parents would have that same fear, I believe it is a hundred fold for the families of disabled veterans. But we do the best we can with what we have and work through a day at a time, sometimes a breath at a time. The most important things for any of us is communication, support, and love. And the biggest, most important, and scariest thing we can ask from anyone outside our circle is understanding.