Breastfeeding During My Husband's Deployment
Apple Valley CA USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 4, July-August 2007, pp. 156-157
We had just moved across the country. Our new house on a ranch in California was filled to the ceiling with boxes in every room. Why unpack when we were planning home renovations in every room of the house? And of course, there was the "child factor." Our daughters had birthdays just before the move, turning four and six years old. Our twin boys had their first birthday only two weeks after moving. We were in survival mode. The trip moving is another story of its own! I was able to nurse the twins without unbuckling my safety belt by sitting in the seat between them. If it weren't for the accident we had in Texas, the flu that followed, and subsequent bout of mastitis for me, I'm sure it would have been much more pleasant trip.
As we began to establish a home for our family and sift through the masses of belongings in an attempt to get our life in order, my husband had to start his new job and join a new Army Reserve Unit. He joined a local unit and was told that the unit was not deployable. Good news for us, so we began the difficult process of renovating the first room of the house, turning the old garage into our new home schoolroom! This was only the beginning of the incredible challenges that lay ahead. Shortly after taking command of the Reserve Unit, my husband was transferred unexpectedly and given two weeks to get his life in order before deployment to Iraq.
There was no time to prepare. I was faced with putting our home in order, managing our family, and caring for our horses and other pets on the ranch completely alone! Shock set in the very minute we left him at the airport and I wasn't prepared for the instant intense sickening feeling. Realization collapsed in upon me that I bear all the responsibility for my family. "Will we ever see him again? I didn't sign up to be a single mother..." were thoughts that kept running through my mind as I drove away with tears streaming down my face. I thought, "I have to put on the brave face of a soldier's wife…I have to!"
I was still breastfeeding our 15-month-old twins, and I wondered if I should wean them. Yet, I knew they would need to continue receiving comfort now more than ever. The secure world my children lived in was gone. They changed homes, climates, and now their family was separated. One of the first things I did to try to protect and nurture my children during this time was to remove the beds from the house. In the master bedroom we laid two king sized mattresses on the floor side by side. At least I could keep my family together if anything happened. I tried to keep up a strong front for them. But inside I was feeling terrified and extremely vulnerable. Every night the five of us read books as I nursed the twins and we all cuddled together on the mattresses.
It was amazing to experience the sudden "loss" of my spouse while my children are young. It shows just how important the family unit is. I realized just how many ways my spouse helped and allowed me to be the parent I need to be. My husband supported the nursing relationships into toddlerhood with all of our children. I didn't realize how much I depended on him being there. He had the awesome ability to take one of my nursing boys out of my arms and lay him in bed without waking him. How I miss the loving arms of their father helping me take care of our precious children.
Three weeks after my husband deployed, one of the twins needed major surgery. His foot was to be taken apart and re-set. We had expected this surgery for several months, and once it was scheduled we had no choice but to go forward with it for his benefit whether his father was there or not. Since my husband's Unit hadn't left the country yet, he was able to fly back to us for two days to support me during our son's operation. Another family member flew in to help me with the home and children as I cared for our son during part of his initial recovery. Immediately following the surgery, the only thing that would even come close to comforting him was nursing. Thankfully, my other nursing toddler seemed to understand that his brother was in pain, and he nursed just a little less. I was nursing around the clock as I would have with a newborn.
Now, it is 12 months into my husband's deployment. Our lives have been a roller coaster of emotions and trials. Breastfeeding has been a soothing constant in my boys' lives since their birth. They are now 27 months old. I still consider whether or not I should continue to nurse them. Sometimes I want to wean them. I am exhausted and overwhelmed most of the time. But even though they have grown so much in the past year, I know my sons still need to nurse throughout the day and night. They can even be downright demanding about it! I'm not sure if it is their natural inclination to do so, or that they need the stability and consolation that nursing brings them. In any case, they can count on me!
As I look back, if I hadn't been nursing them all this time I wonder how much quality time they would have even received from me. I am busy every second of the day trying to run the household. How often would I have stopped to hold them if they were no longer nursing? I cannot imagine. Whenever our life becomes "normal" again, they can decide when they are ready to leave that part of our relationship behind. It will be at least three months before they see their "Dada" again. When my husband does return, I will have been nursing my twins equally as long without him home as I had before he was deployed!
I'm thankful I had my husband's support throughout the nursing relationships we had with our daughters. If we didn't have such a strong start with the first two children, I'm not sure I would have had the endurance to continue meeting their needs during this deployment. Even though he is far away, his contributions to our family has been ongoing. I'm expecting we will all be stronger when this deployment ends. Breastfeeding is a major element of our family's strength. The bonds and security it provided will last throughout our lives.