Will my Deployment Baby know his Daddy?
My oldest son had to wait six months before he met his Dad. My next son had to wait seven months. Why? Military deployment. Somehow, we got into the unfortunate cycle of having babies right before or at the beginning of his deployments. Giving birth alone was hard enough. But then I had months to wonder, “will my deployment baby know his Daddy?” I was so afraid the baby would start crying, not want Dad to hold him, or reach out for Mom instead. How would my husband handle that after waiting so long to meet his son?
Help Dad and Baby connect, even during deployment
The first challenge was to help Dad feel connected to baby. Before he deployed, he tried to come to my ultrasound appointments, hear the heartbeat, and see the baby on the screen. Being pregnant during deployment is stressful, so try to maximize any time you can share together. We didn’t have Skype or email during those deployments, and phone calls were about once a month. So he wasn’t able to witness the birth, but I texted him updates from my phone. (Also, there was a hurricane during my 3rd birth! You can read about that crazy story here.) Our main connection was snail mail and care packages. I wanted to involve all his senses, and help him feel connected to his little bundle of joy. (These would work well in a Father’s Day care package too.) Here’s what I came up with:
- I mailed him tons of pictures. I had a photographer come to the house when the baby was one week old to do a newborn photo shoot. After that I took and printed out my own photos, almost every week. On the back I would write the date and any important milestone, so he would know what the baby was doing.
- I compiled and mailed a home video DVD about halfway through the deployment, with images of the baby rolling over and cooing, so he could see and hear his son.
- I found a greeting card with a recordable chip, so I recorded the baby laughing, and sent the card to my husband. What better birthday present than a baby’s laugh?
- I sent him a package with the baby’s new footprints on a white T-shirt that the baby had slept with, so my husband could smell the baby and see how tiny they were. I mailed him a onesie the baby had worn, too, for the same reason.
- When the older kids wanted to send a paper hug, we included the infant by laying him down on the paper and tracing around him. So my husband got a paper cutout of his baby.
Then I had to prepare the baby to meet Daddy. I had to get his senses involved, too. That is a bigger challenge, since newborns are still developing all their senses. Here’s what I did:
- Once he was able to see and focus, I hung a picture of Daddy over his swing and next to the changing table. I would point to it and smile, and say “Daddy” and even talk to the picture sometimes. As the baby grew older, he would smile and babble at the photos, too.
- We ordered a Daddy Doll, which is a one-foot tall stuffed toy, with a custom picture of our hero in uniform. Before my husband left, I took a full-length photo of him in cammies. The Daddy Doll company then turned it into a toy! We kept it in the baby’s crib, and said night-night to ‘Daddy’. (We had one for my toddler, too, because she missed her Dad a lot).
- He had a Daddy quilt from the ASYMCA. Since I didn’t have pictures of Dad with the deployment baby, the quilt just had pictures of Dad, and our wedding, and other happy memories. The ASYMCA makes these for FREE for military families!
- To get the baby used to Dad’s touch and smell, I had some T-shirts my husband has worn, and some of his clean cammies. I would lay the baby on these clothes for his daily “tummy time” so he would get used to Dad’s fabrics.
How did Homecoming go?
Homecoming day went wonderfully! We had to wait for a while (of course!), but when the unit finally returned, we found my husband right away. I had discussed with him ahead of time how the baby might hesitate and not want to be held, and my husband understood that. So he waited a moment before taking his son from my arms. We kissed, he smiled at the baby and said hello, he greeted the other kids, and then… he finally got to hold his son! And the baby smiled! It was amazing and so heartwarming.
After that, the boys warmed up to their Dad right away. The older son first crawled the day after my husband returned from deployment. And he crawled right to Dad! The other son was very smiley, and enjoyed cuddling with Dad and eating baby food from him.
If you are worried about how your baby will react to a parent they have never met, try these tips. And then, just try not to worry. I always tell people that babies will warm up to them quickly. Babies have very short-term memories. So once Dad has been home for a little while, it feels to them as if Dad has always been home. If the baby cries on Homecoming Day, tell your partner not to take it personally. Remember, the baby cries for you all the time! If you are relaxed and happy and loving with your spouse, the baby will pick up on those emotions. They will soon understand that this is a person who loves them, too.
Today, all four of my children have a very close relationship with Dad—even the ones who were born during his deployments. The six-year-old has had Dad away for about half of his life, but he still loves his Dad passionately. He looks up to him and talks about him all the time. They converse easily, play together when my husband is home, and love each other with the special bond between father and son. So if you have a deployment baby, I just want to reassure you that YES, the baby will know and love their Dad! And they will make up all that lost time!
For more Deployment support and encouragement, check out the tools in the Deployment Masterclass. You can join a group of over 1,000 spouses and significant others all going through deployment together, plus benefit from video interviews with Seasoned Spouses who answer deeper deployment questions.