Expecting in the military

By Senior Airman Michelle Patten
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

There are so many thoughts running through your mind when you first find out you’re going to be a parent. How do I share the news? Will it be a boy or a girl? What will the baby’s name be?

Then there are the thoughts of a military parent. When will I have to deploy and leave my baby behind? Who will take care of the baby when my husband and I both get called in to respond to a disaster in the middle of the night? When will the grandparents meet baby when we’re geographically?

Military resources

The Air Force can be a demanding career and lifestyle. Many parents, especially those who are single parents or part of a dual-military couple, question how compatible military service can be with family life.

While starting or continuing military service as a parent can be a grueling decision for a family to make, there are many resources available on most military installations to help parents.

Classes through the Airman & Family Readiness Center, or other service branch equivalent, can help with everything from budgeting for a new baby to deciphering how on Earth to install that crazy expensive car seat you bought. Family advocacy is another base agency that provides classes on parenting topics and even offers one-on-one support with in-home visits from a nurse who can help you figure out things like baby-proofing your home.

An Airman holds a doll during a parenting class
In a Bringing Home Baby class at the Military & Family Readiness Center at Joint Base San Antonio- Fort Sam Houston, I learned about breastfeeding, infant development and child safety. It was also the first time I learned how to put a diaper on a baby (this was an infant doll). (Courtesy photo)

Personally, I’d advise new parents to attend at least one class soon after finding out baby is coming just to discover all the resources your local area offers for parents. While parenting in the military is a challenge, knowing about resources can prepare you to balance your new responsibilities with your career.

Air Force maternity uniforms

Thankfully, the days of the past where women had to end their service automatically when they had a family are gone. The maternity uniforms do bring to mind a bygone era though.

I generally classify the maternity uniforms in three main categories: the jumper, the tent (ABU blouse) and the stretchy pants (ABU trousers). All of these clothing items offer unique challenges.

The jumper is slightly puzzling. This is the service dress alternative, and fits in a very loose A-line style. It only comes in three sizes, but probably looks best taken in a bit regardless of what size you get. It seems to be very large on most women to allow for the baby bump.

The two small pockets of the stretchy pants leave you with hat in hand and having to prioritize carrying your cell phone, wallet or keys. Even for an office environment they don’t seem practical as they are missing the beloved pen pocket. There are rumors that this uniform is going to be redesigned and will made more practical. Anyone who’s worn this uniform would see this as a welcome change.

The shape of the maternity ABU top gives the effect of making women bell-shaped. I held out as long as possible from wearing the tent as it distinctly marks you as pregnant, while co-workers might not instantly notice you wearing the stretchy pants.

Career

Telling your co-workers can be a tricky process. While the majority of co-workers are supportive, there are still some with the attitude that the military doesn’t issue you children, so any accommodation for family is a determent to the mission.

Concerns with sharing the news range from the minor like listening to bad jokes about how much food you eat (even if it’s a normal amount) to the more serious such as – will I be passed over for opportunities because I’m seen as less capable? I’d advise seeking out other military moms who can share their experiences navigating the job while pregnant. Any concerns within the work environment, such as coworkers treating you differently or negatively, should be brought up to your chain of command.

Whether it’s figuring out the Air Force instruction on maternity leave or having someone to feel solidarity with in wearing the maternity uniform, it’s nice to have a person who has been in your boots before.

What have your experiences been like as a military parent? Do you have any advice for first-time parents?