In celebration of parents across the country, the USBC is hosting a social media advocacy campaign this spring which will combine both Mother's Day and Father's Day celebrations into what we've dubbed "Parents' Month." Through the Parents' Month: Celebrating, Centering, Connecting campaign, we are bringing forward the stories of families, in order to identify the ways in which each of us can help shape our policies and systems to work better for more families.
The following story outlines one woman’s experience as a new mom in the military. She has asked to remain anonymous.
“When our first daughter was born via emergency C-section during a remote military assignment, we of course had to adjust our life to the changes of parenthood. I’m a pediatric nurse and thought my knowledge would suffice to manage the care of a tiny human and myself. I was surprised to learn that motherhood had unforeseen challenges that were aggravated by recovery from C-section, difficulty breastfeeding, inadequate breastfeeding support, dealing with a traumatic birth experience, frequent pediatric follow-up visits for hip dysplasia and braces during the first 12 weeks of our daughter’s life, and the feeling of isolation and loneliness when my partner had to return to duty after 10 days of parental leave in a foreign country on top of the separation from my family and social support network.
Unfortunately, this is not all attributable to the remote location, as many young families experience this time of adjustment, especially on overseas assignments, as I later found out. Extension of parental leave following birth or adoption and fostering of a child would greatly impact the health, safety, and emotional well-being of new mothers in the military environment.
As I learned, C-sections are painful, and recovery is lengthy. I was told not to lift anything heavier than my baby, which was already a task with insufficient functioning of abdominal muscles. I was lucky to have my incision heal well, while my nipples and breasts became infected. A home visiting nurse told me to see my primary care provider (not at the military treatment facility) to inquire about a prescription of antibiotic for my degrading nipples. The doctor shrugged her shoulders and recommended folk remedies. I was determined to continue breastfeeding because it was the only part of my birth plan that remained as my choice, even though the pain was excruciating.
The pain slowly subsided around 6-8 weeks, at which point I was able to lift better and learned to deal with handling my baby who had her legs restrained into a frog position 24 hours per day. Since carrying neither a stroller down 3 flights, nor a baby including car seat was an option during recovery of about 6 weeks, I was stuck in the apartment alone with a newborn for 10 hours of my husband’s workday.
It was stressful having to console a colicky or hungry baby when the primary measure to reach contentment was my bleeding nipples. Two bouts of mastitis also did not help. There were instances when I was at my wits end and became exceedingly frustrated. Fortunately, I knew to leave the room with baby in the crib at times to curl up on the couch crying because it was feeding time again. There was nobody else to take over helping me until my husband came home.
I was all my baby had, a sleep-deprived zombie, pain-stricken, fed-up, angry at the substandard medical care I kept continuing to receive, upset at my own inability to function despite my medical training, alone and ill. I was a new mother in the military.”
Unfortunately, this mom’s story is not unique. In our story collector tools, we hear from families across the country, including military servicemembers, that continue to face incredible challenges in the time surrounding a baby's arrival. New parenthood doesn’t have to be like this.
You can help ensure military families receive the support they need and deserve with just a few clicks by contacting your Members of Congress about the Military Parental Leave Modernization Act with the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee’s easy action tool. The Military Parental Leave Modernization Act would allow all servicemembers to receive at least 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child.
Together, we can ensure all families have the opportunity to reach their personal breastfeeding goals.