What it’s like to give birth during deployment, in a hurricane:
I was texting my husband while delivering our baby. My hands were shaking as I gripped my phone and typed, “I’m about to start pushing!” The delivery nurse and midwife stared at me like I was crazy. I was about to bring my baby into the world, and I would NOT put down my phone. It was my only connection to my husband, who would miss his son’s birth. No one wants to give birth during deployment, but sometimes it can’t be avoided.
From the beginning of the pregnancy, we knew he wouldn’t be there for the birth. He would deploy to Afghanistan in July, and I was due at the end of August. Because he is a Marine and does deployments lasting ‘only’ 7 months, there is no R&R break given. So in the same breath that I announced the pregnancy to family and friends, I also had to add, “but my husband won’t be there.” It was extremely frustrating and hard to accept a deployment baby, especially with all the pregnancy hormones in the first trimester! Our child was wanted, but not exactly planned, and the timing was challenging. He would be our 3rd baby born in 3 years. I was not excited to be doing it again, on my own this time.
Yet there I was, alone, at the hospital. I wasn’t supposed to be alone. I had planned for my good friend to be with me and hold my hand. She had several babies of her own, and her sense of humor always helped me get through tough times. But on the exact day that I went into labor, a hurricane struck our North Carolina town, and the base shut down. The hospital was open to emergency patients, like me, but my friend couldn’t even get through the gate.
The other person I had planned to have with me was my doula (a birthing coach), who I found through Operation Special Delivery. It’s a program where doulas offer their time for FREE to military spouses giving birth during deployment. I met with her ahead of time to discuss the birth, and she calmed my nerves. On the big day, she helped me decide when to go to the hospital, and even gave me a ride. When the nurses didn’t want to admit me, she asked the right questions and stood up for me. But once I was admitted, she had to attend to paying clients. The hurricane had caused other women to go into early labor. So another doula friend of hers that I had never met before was my “friend” in the delivery room. She stayed with me through the delivery and helped me call in the Red Cross message to my deployed husband.
My husband knew I would be having the baby soon, since I was already past my due date. However, due to the horrible internet availability at his base, and a lack of video equipment, we weren’t able to Skype or see each other. All we had was Google Talk, which was like Facebook Messenger—an app that you can use to send text messages. He sat in a special communications tent in the Afghan desert and waited for my text updates about our baby. The phone was my only connection to him, and I remember clutching it throughout labor and delivery, typing as much as I could through the pain. Even though my husband wasn’t there in person, his presence and messages helped keep me calm. When our son was finally born, I sent a picture right away, and we shared that moment through my phone.
For 9 months, I had been fearing and dreading giving birth during deployment. Once it was done, I felt so relieved. I had accomplished my biggest challenge! I thought I had come through the worst part of the deployment, and now I could get some well-deserved rest. But I wasn’t done. Things were about to get a lot more ridiculous. The hurricane hit in full force that night. An hour after the birth, when I was just falling asleep in the recovery room, the nurse woke me and told me to bring the baby out into the hallway.
There was a tornado warning.
All the patient rooms had large windows, so everyone moved into the hallway to be safe from broken glass. There were about 5 other couples there that night who also had newborn babies. Every one of them was a couple. Each mother had her husband beside her. I had no one. I sat in the hallway, alone, clutching my newborn baby, and praying that no tornadoes would hit the hospital. Or my house. Because just a few miles away, my parents were at my house with my 2 young children. I tried in vain to reach them on their cell phones and give them the tornado warning, but apparently they had already gone to sleep. I have never felt so helpless and alone. There was no one I could call. I was alone in a hospital hallway, still bleeding while I held my newborn baby. It was one of the most miserable hours of my life.
Then, the hospital lost power.
The tornado warning passed (without any damage to my house, I later learned), and we were allowed to return to our rooms. But the hurricane knocked down trees and power lines, so the hospital had no power. Oh, they had emergency generators, of course, but these were for the surgical floors, not for the recovery floor where I was. The nurse gave me a camping lantern to find my way to the bathroom that night. Using the bathroom at all after giving birth is not a very pleasant experience. Using a tiny camping lantern makes it… even less fun.
Then, there was no food.
Because the hospital was running on emergency power, the kitchen shut down. That meant no hot meal for the moms who had given birth that day. Instead, the next morning, we received packs of granola bars and fruit snacks. That was breakfast and lunch. Luckily, I had packed a few snacks for myself in my hospital bag, so I ate those too. But after giving birth and being up most of the night, I was starving! I couldn’t wait to be released so I could go home and have a hot meal.
Then, the hospital checked me out, but I couldn’t leave.
Usually, if you have an uncomplicated vaginal birth, you can be released from the hospital after 24 hours. Since the baby and I were healthy, we couldn’t stay in the recovery rooms and charge another night of hospital care to the insurance company. So they gave me my release paperwork. But when I called my parents to tell them the good news, they informed me that the roads were all still closed. There were trees down everywhere, and it was not safe for them to drive to the base and get me. I had to stay another night. Because the hospital had released me, I had to move to another floor, where there were extra patient beds. This is where the families of doctors or patients sheltered during the hurricane. I had the baby beside me in his hospital bassinet, and all I remember is that he was awake most of that night. He was hungry, the wind was howling, and the tree tops were still shaking threateningly. The other children from the visiting families were awake too. They were running through the hallways and into my room late at night.
Then, I had to get my own food.
The next morning, the hospital was still out of power. And since I was no longer a patient, I didn’t even get granola bars and fruit snacks anymore. It had been 36 hours since I had given birth, and I needed a real meal. The hospital had a food truck set up outside, but there were no nurses authorized to get food for me, since I was a non-patient. I had to walk down several flights of stairs and around the outside of the hospital to get any food. Since I was alone, I had to bring the baby with me. I had barely recovered from giving birth, I hadn’t eaten much for 2 days, and I hadn’t slept much for 2 nights. I was weak and exhausted, so going to that food truck seemed like the equivalent of running a marathon. I carried the 8-pound baby in my arms, walked through the food truck buffet line, and held out a paper bag in my free hand so the workers could throw food into it. I paid for it, with the cash I had luckily brought with me. Then I walked back up several flights of stairs with my baby and my food. When I finally got to the room, I ate everything. Mac and cheese never tasted so good!
Finally, after 2 days, the roads opened and my parents brought us home.
That was the beginning of my life with 3 kids. The rest of the deployment was easier after that! It was probably one of the biggest ordeals in my life so far. I am sharing it with you so that anyone else who is facing giving birth during deployment can feel reassured that your birth story should not be this bad! If there is no hurricane, and the hospital actually has electricity and food, you’ll be fine! (Please note that this is not a comment on military healthcare or hospitals. I have given birth 3 other times, all at military hospitals, and the rest of them went completely smoothly!) Even with all those challenges, I did in fact survive, and came home with a healthy, beautiful baby. Look at him! He was totally worth it. If I could handle giving birth during deployment in the midst of all of that, then you can totally do it too!