Being a military spouse has a lot of benefits. You have guaranteed housing, food money, job stability, health insurance ... but all of that comes at the steep, steep price of having to often go it completely alone. If you get moved to a new location before your husband deploys, you can often feel really, really alone.
When you're pregnant, especially for the first time, in a new place, and your husband deploys, it can be really, really difficult. When you add in pregnancy hormones too, dealing with a lot of things like this alone can push stress or even depression into a whole new ballpark.
Many women who've done it many times before, myself included, have some tried and true tips to help you get through that first deployment.
1. Prepare yourself emotionally ahead of time. Especially if your husband has to do refit before deployment, it can almost feel like a horrible tease and like the whole separation is being drawn out. Try to let go of any arguments, or disagreements, and just make the best of any time you have together. Go to a favorite restaurant, cook a favorite meal, cuddle, and try to focus on the NOW instead of the deployment.
2. Set up items for emotional comfort. What got me through the first deployment was taking a shirt that smelled like my husband and putting it on a body pillow I'd cuddle up to when I slept. When it stopped smelling like him, I sprayed it with his cologne. Seems simple, but giving yourself comfort items for when you're really down is going to help. Try to figure out something special and small you can send with your husband as well.
3. Prepare for the initial breakdown. Whether you have to wait with your husband by a plane or drop him off and drive away, prepare in advance to hold tears back while driving, but to allow yourself to fall apart whenever you're finally home. See if you can't drop off kids with a relative to go do something fun while you go home and cry. You have to allow yourself to cry, and to get it out in a major way, but then you have to be ready and able to move on after that.
4. Hang out with people ... even strangers. If you're new to an area, definitely meet up with the other military wives. I know there are many stereotypes about how terrible they can be, and for many people, that stereotype proves very, very true. However, for many others, it doesn't at all, and you have an automatic, built-in support system. Also check out mom groups with similar style moms. If you plan on breastfeeding, a once-a-month La Leche League meeting can help you not only prepare for the baby, but get a chance to meet new people.
5. Get out of the house as often as possible. I used to write a grocery list, and then rewrite it on four pieces of paper, so I'd have it broken down enough to have a reason to leave the house every single day. Consider taking some classes, like prenatal yoga ... things that, unlike birthing classes, don't necessarily focus on having your partner.
6. Remember you do have people to turn to. Ombudsmen aren't just for technical help, but can be there just as an ear or a shoulder to cry on if you need them. Take advantage of it. Also know there are counselors available at no cost, even religious if you want, if you feel you're having a really hard time dealing. There's no shame in admitting you struggle.
7. Communicate with your husband about everything. Even if it seems inane, he wants to hear it or read it in a letter. Write all your name ideas for the baby, the symptoms you're dealing with, include pictures of your growing tummy if you can. Just because he's not there doesn't mean you can't try to involve him. If you're incredibly lucky, you can talk to him on Skype and he can see your belly move and grow.
8. Try to enjoy it. I know this sounds weird, but try to think about certain "freedoms" you have while your husband is gone. For example, if he hates Chinese food, get it as often as you like. If he really despises watching America's Next Top Model, now is the time to rent or borrow the entire seasons and watch them all the way through. Try to find things you enjoy but he doesn't, and take that time to do those things for yourself.
There's many, many more resources out there, and tips for surviving deployments, especially when you're alone. Each branch and station varies, so your experience will, too. It's hard, and often people say, "I couldn't do it." But when you can choose between being apart from your husband for months, or being divorced and never with him, the choice is obvious -- just find a way to survive, and you'll be okay.
Military moms, do you have any advice for first-timers on how to get through a deployment?
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