Postpartum On the High Seas

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By Carrie Gaynor

The military is a life of extremes. Some aspects are extremely pleasant and rewarding. Other aspects are extremely challenging, as I’m sure one can imagine. I married my husband when we were 23. He was a newly commissioned Naval officer and shipped off overseas to Yokosuka, Japan. This meant, after our wedding, I too was shipped off to Japan.

Trust me, I wasn’t complaining. With a heart full of adventure and the relief of finally, finally being able to live life with my favorite person, I gladly uprooted. But the bipolar life of a Navy wife was an endless rise and fall of struggle and relief. I felt safe within the stability and the good pay. I felt begrudged by overnight duty days when he was in port, when he was supposed to be with me, not on the ship all night. I felt exhilarated that Japan was my normal, that I could immerse myself – that much, that easily – in a foreign culture just outside my front door. I felt blindsided by the sporadic schedules and never being able to plan more than two weeks in advance (Are you deploying this week? Next week? Maybe never? Perhaps tomorrow?). Things were so good and so hard.

The same ups and downs were true when we started our family. We had full medical coverage at a small Naval hospital with active duty midwives. Through the Fleet & Family Support Center, I could take free classes on breastfeeding, labor and delivery, the basics of baby care, and how to budget for a growing family. I had access to a community of mothers who had taken the exact steps I was about to, who knew the resources I needed to pursue the birth I wanted. These women were the reason I was as informed and prepared as I was.

When our birthing time came, our experience was nothing short of amazing. My husband’s ship, USS MCCAMPBELL, was deployed at the time. But his Captain graciously allowed him to take leave and stay behind to be there for his son’s birth. I spent 10 hours in labor and was attended by the midwife I had seen throughout my prenatal care, LCDR Reid. Our son was born after 3 hours of pushing, and since we had prepared so well, I was able to stay unmedicated and respond to my body. He was born easily, and it could not have gone better.

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But then came the other side to that coin. Three weeks after our son was born, my husband flew to India to meet his ship. I was gripped with fear the day he left, and rightfully so. It was the hardest thing I ever did – an indeterminate amount of time taking care of everything in our lives, including our newborn son. The same joy of being in a foreign country became suffocating and isolating.

Preparing for labor seemed easy, because it was a destination I reached and then moved on from. But you can’t shake postpartum; the only way is through. I struggled with things that were previously mundane. Showers. Agh, showers. Showers became a relay race of hair - body - face - dry. Quick, quick, quick, he’s crying! I’d run to him in his Rock & Play, completely naked, snuggle and nurse him for an hour. We both needed it.

The Navy community is full of wonderful women who band together like a sisterhood. I was lucky to have supportive friends who brought meals every other day. One friend of mine declared that every Thursday, she was coming over. She brought dinner for us and left my kitchen spotless. I would never have asked her to do that, but the simple gesture and routine of it turned out to be the greatest gift I had at that time. I needed her to do that. I needed everything I could get.

As thankful as I was that my friends had my back, nothing could replace the daily support of my husband and family. All I wanted to do was cocoon, but life moved forward and demanded that I keep up with it. I did my best to pace myself through grocery runs, meal preparation, and hygiene (why does that even have to be on this list?). But after co-hosting a baby shower for my best friend, exhaustion caught up with me and I developed full-blown mastitis by the time the party ended. I was wracked by what I can only describe as “The Boob Flu.” My entire body ached, my breasts were tender, and I was more exhausted than before. Every time I nursed was a pinching and painful ordeal.

By the time I nursed myself back to health, I was so frustrated by my experience. How different it would have been had I had the support I needed! It frustrated me that the needs of a postpartum woman are so immense, and they – like the baby – need full-time care in order to thrive. Instead, I was left with unmet needs that led to health problems, baby blues, and a body that experienced a short and meager recovery. I had looked forward to the transformative experience of being a new mother. Instead, I struggled to make life work. It was more stressful than any of my jobs had ever been, more impossible in the most basic of ways, and more exhausting than I thought humanly possible.

The moment I saw my husband’s ship pull into view felt like victory. I had done it. I had actually done it. Maybe it shouldn’t have been required of me – or any military family for that matter – but it was a huge sigh of relief. And though we would experience deployments throughout the first two years of our son’s life, we grew stronger and more capable each time.

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Carrie now lives in Minnesota and she and her husband are happily expecting their fourth child. Out of her passion for supporting women and families in the postpartum time, Carrie has founded an incredible company called Marabou Services. Marabou is a postpartum gift registry for services and support, built on the fact that oftentimes, parents need presence and assistance following childbirth, rather than more baby items. Check them out at www.marabouservices.com - they serve families all over the United States.

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