What Nobody Tells You About Infertility As A Milspouse

If you have been reading this blog for any amount of time, then it is no surprise that J and I are battling through the infertility journey. If you just started reading this, then welcome! And if all of this is news to you – I’m about to give you the rundown. **Heads up, there’s more language in this post than normal, and I talk about the… parts and pieces that go into having a baby. **

J and I got married in October of 2014, and were so excited to get to start our family. There’s never been a time in either of our lives where we didn’t want kids, wholeheartedly. We didn’t completely jump into ‘trying’ until we had been married for about four months, because of his training schedule. Like basically everyone who is in the military, or attached to it, we were aware of the realities of trying to get pregnant when half the equation is unavailable for weeks and months at a time. It didn’t really hit me that we’d need to see a doctor until we hit the year mark, and nothing was happening.

And that is when I realized this was going to be more of an uphill battle than I first anticipated. I fought, in tears several times, to get to be seen in the infertility clinic and was blocked by a PCM (Primary Care Manager or a General Practitioner for the army) who was more interested in getting numbers out than she was about providing solid care. I tried and pushed all the way until my husband left for Afghanistan, and still could not be seen. Defeated, I just gave up on even trying to figure out this process while he was gone. “Normal” infertility-related depression and anxiety was coupled with wondering if I’d get my husband back from the desert, and fighting with a system that seems determined to make you fail.

Somewhere in the trying while we were together, we also decided to move forward with other routes to having children – foster care, and eventually adoption. We were both completely surprised at how much foster care seemed like the ‘right’ path for us – even having never previously considered it. How could we not want to open our homes to kids who needed parents who desperately wanted them?We’re in the beginning of this process – hard to get licensed when J is in and out of the country! But are so excited to get to fight for little ones who need to just be loved fiercely.

We’re currently at a wonderful doctor, who is willing to work with us on our schedule, and is incredibly knowledgeable, and great at handling these sensitive issues – especially when I’m at most of the appointments by myself. But, it has taken every single bit of the last two years to get to this point, and start seeing any progress at all. We’re just now getting to tests that my original doctor should have ordered from the very beginning.

Since we’re making progress, I feel like I owe it to the women who are in this journey with me who are also trying to manage life as a military spouse as well… We’re a subset of a very small community, and there are a few things I wish I’d been told upfront in this journey – long before the first doctor’s appointment.

You Are Going To Feel Alone. Anyone who has gone through infertility can tell you that it is incredibly isolating. One in eight couples goes through some form of infertility. It can be incredibly embarrassing, or just painful to talk about. Being a military spouse can be an absolutely isolating experience all in and of itself – especially if you are a National Guard or Reserve spouse. This was one of the first things I had to learn after J and I moved me up to the frigid north while he was in Afghanistan, and even now when the appointments seem to always fall on a drill weekend. Women I knew who were going through infertility would talk about how their husband couldn’t make it to appointments because of a meeting or something. I wanted to scream – or cry – because mine can’t be there even when he want’s to. It’s incredibly hard to not feel like you’re doing it all by yourself.

Which brings me to…

Find Your Support System – And USE Them. I have to be honest, this was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do. My husband is in and out of my life, and we’re not able to have kids – so make some friends? Heck no! I also thought that I was completely on my own. And then I started paying attention. My best friend has been cheering J and I on since the very beginning – and when I didn’t understand test results she explained them to me, calmly and patiently. And the first time I needed to give myself a shot, J wasn’t around and she willingly (in the middle of her living room) gave it to me, simply because I was too nervous to. My best MilSpouse friend drove me to an incredibly painful test, and sat in the waiting room until I was done, to drive me home. Once we got home, she made sure the dog was taken out, and that I had plenty of snacks within walking distance.

I also got online – and I can’t begin to say how helpful that is. Ladies – we are a subset of an already small community. There are COUNTLESS groups of infertility support groups, and ones specifically made for military spouses going through this journey. It’s been unreal the amount of compassion and information that I’ve gotten from these groups – from a place to vent about how everyone else is pregnant, to the best ways to handle the side effects of the medicines. That may have been the most pleasant surprise of this journey so far; the amount of kindness from strangers, just because my walk looks a little like theirs.

People Are Going To Say Some Really Stupid Stuff. Oh man… Ohhhh, man. This is a doozy. And as much as I don’t like this, it’s kind of a fact of life when you’re an Infertile Myrtle Milspouse. You see, people don’t seem to understand the military. Makes sense – only one percent of the United States’ population is or has been in the military. It’s a weird, weird life and people don’t know how to react. So they say some stupid stuff. (Raise your hand if you’ve had someone ask if you miss your husband…) It’s mostly innocent, and not malicious. With only about 15% of people having gone through infertility, people also seem to say some pretty stupid things about that. (“Why don’t you just adopt?” Why don’t you just shut up?) Going through both at the same time? They’ve got no idea. And it can get very, very hurtful – very quickly. I have had people ask J for medical advice about their pregnancy, even knowing that he is obviously not an OB and that he’s in the middle of infertility. Also – had a woman tell me she ‘understood at least 50% of what I was going through”… after getting pregnant naturally… two days after J left for Afghanistan. She is not a milspouse. Malicious? I don’t think so. Hurtful? Hell, yes. And Sometimes it’s just AWFUL – like the time I had someone ask if I was going to try IVF just so that “If something happened, then it would be like I had a piece of J.”

The thing is – you can choose to freak out (easy option) or you can educate people. Say, “Hey, that’s pretty insensitive – here’s what you can say instead…” There is NOTHING to be ashamed about – you didn’t bring on your infertility, and you shouldn’t have to feel embarrassed about it. And while you absolutely need to make sure you have people around you – you do not have to deal with people who make the journey more difficult!

ADVOCATE FOR YOUR CARE. I really had to resist putting this in size 35 font and making it underlined. There are not enough words for how important this is. Story time…

I spent months trying to get into the infertility clinic at our old duty station. I was supposed to be in a fertility referral appointment that had taken weeks to get into – when my doctor informed me that, actually, I would be getting my yearly PAP. I was ovulating, so J and I had been intimate the night before, and so I spoke up saying that I was concerned about that possibly causing issue for the test. The doctor seemed annoyed and said that no, it would be fine. I had waited for this appointment for WEEKs, so against my better judgement, I agreed to go through with the procedure. A few days later I was told that my results were ‘abnormal’ and that I needed to get a second painful procedure. Not only that, but I would be barred from entering the infertility clinic until after J and I were already going to be moved. I was devastated – heart broken. I decided to take a pause on invasive tests and craziness, and get into my civilian doctor and get the PAP a second time. J and I got into an amazing infertility doctor. I told her how anxious I was, and what had happened previously. She had me take the test, and the results came back perfectly normal. On one hand I was incredibly relieved – but on the other? I now have to wonder all the time if J and I would have our little miracle by now, if I had only pushed harder.

You know your body better than anyone else does! Speak up!

Be On The Same Page As Your Spouse. This could have gone in one of the other points… but I (and J, when he read this later) thought that it should be it’s own. I was mentally in the infertility journey months before J was there with me. Every month when I wasn’t pregnant I was absolutely wrecked, and J just wasn’t there with me. Part of it was because he was too busy, or even gone. And part of it was because I could not find the words to articulate what I needed from him. If you need your spouse to be at appointments, tell him. If that’s not possible, find something that works – a touch base phone call, or an email when they’re deployed.

Your husband loves you, and wants you to be pregnant so badly. He may not be able to truly understand, but I can say based off of J and I that it can be a complete game changer when you are both open and honest about where you’re at. Infertility is awful, and can drive such an emotional distance between people. But there is absolutely no reason for it to wreck your marriage.

Remember To Date Your Spouse. So… I know we all talk about the ‘practice makes perfect’ joke when trying to get pregnant… But can I get real for a second? (If I haven’t already scared you off!) Trying to have a baby… is sometimes the absolute least sexy thing in the entire world. Between the ultrasounds every two weeks, the peeing on ALL the sticks, the horrendous side effects of the meds, and the making sure you have sex IN THE FERTILE WINDOW. (And don’t even get me started on Pre-Seed – I may have possibly scarred one of my best friends for life on that one.) It’s just… all a bit much.

Inevitably you are going to feel like a busted incubator, and your husband will feel like something of a sperm donor. In the hustle and bustle of blood draws and fertility med administration, it’s incredibly easy to not prioritize a date night. And it is absolutely important. Shave your legs (yes, seriously), throw on a cute outfit, and talk about anything BUT doctors appointments. Hell, make a sheet fort and eat pizza and put a ban on any kind of infertility talk. It’s the huge elephant in the room – but it is essential for both of you to ignore it every once in awhile.

This is one of the hardest things for me to do right now. I am so desperately chasing after having kids, that it’s difficult not to get some incredible tunnel vision. Fortunately I married a very spontaneous man, who makes sure that at the very least we have some infertility-free take out Indian food every now and then.

I wish I could get to the bottom of all this and say that J and I have it all figured out – but, again, I’d be lying to your face. Trying to get pregnant and struggling with it is so frustrating. Trying to keep your sanity as a Military Spouse is also really frustrating sometimes. But there can also be amazing good to come out of both – even at the same time.

 

 

Hey Y’all – My Life Isn’t Sad. Pleas Stop Apologizing For It.

Oh, the holidays. Tons of food, decorations, gifting, and lots of parties – J and I had FOUR Thanksgiving celebrations last weekend. Four.

We had a blast at all of them, but there was something that happened at almost every single interaction that I couldn’t quite understand, and that kind of started to really irritate me.

So, J has been in and out throughout the year (mostly out). This means that he provides the interesting anecdotes that people haven’t heard before. (There are only so many variations I can tell of the things that broke while he’s been gone – they all start to sound the same). It also means that he provides easy conversation – not necessarily in talking to him, but in that people always have a good couple of questions to ask; where’s he at, where’s he going, and what’s he got ‘going on’ these days. Totally get it – he’s pretty cool. Doesn’t bother me at all – I like bragging a little.

It’s what happens after I answer that bothers me. You see, J’s schedule will consistently comprise of a lot of time ‘out’ and then a lot of what we are going to call being ‘in flux’ which is a nice phrase that really means ‘who even knows at this point’. That’s essentially my answer, with one absence that we know is upcoming so people can plan around it a little bit. We’re buying a house, so that comes up and I have to say that, yep, I shall be doing the move while he’s gone… And then – inevitably, someone looks at me and says “I’m so sorry.”

I thought that maybe it was just me – we are a guard family after all, and a little removed from the level of knowledge that happens when living around a military base. But it actually seems to all across the board in this community. Several of my active duty wife friends said this is common from women whose husbands aren’t deployed often, or don’t go to many schools.

I guess I’m just confused as to what people are apologizing for… That he’s going to be gone? That it will be stressful? That he presumably chose this job and chooses to be away from me? I’m always torn between staying quiet, or telling people what this reality looks like.

If he’s gone, it’s because he’s earning a paycheck to keep his wife (and dog) fed and housed and clothed. He’s the primary breadwinner for our family, so if he’s gone it means that he’s getting us closer to our financial goals.

If it’s stressful it’s because he chooses to keep his skills and is getting to go to more schools – which means he’s learning new things, which means more career progression – that can only be a good thing!

If he’s gone, yes, he’s choosing to be away from me. But I knew that going into this that he wasn’t the type to ‘ride a desk’ and have a normal 9-5 job. Through the last year, J and I have been learning more and more about each other – and one of the biggest things I’ve learned is that I would much rather him be in his job, where he feels like God is calling him to be, where he loves to be  and then come home and enjoy being able to relax and just be with me. He looks forward to deploying, and that’s something we have had to talk about, and will continue to work through, but because he looks forward to being gone, he also looks forward to being home with me. And unlike a ‘normal’ job – he can’t exactly ‘bring work home’ with him – which is a nice bonus.

And the people in this community that he and I get to do all this with? Oh my gosh – they are the best. I’ve gotten to make lifelong friends. These friendships aren’t due to proximity – they’re tested by moves across the country, different deployment cycles, and the ups and downs of emotions that go along with all of the above. And are without a doubt some of the most encouraging, challenging friendships that he and I have gotten to make.

None of that is sad – at least not to me. But every time someone apologizes to me for my life being simply what it is, I feel a little like the kid who has fallen in the playground. You know – kid falls, scrapes up his palms but is otherwise fine. He would normally get up and shake it off. But this time, another kids mom rushes over and says ‘OH NO!’ Kid starts crying, because clearly something must be wrong – the other mom sees it even if he doesn’t! That’s kind of what happens for a minute after people apologize to me. I have to remind myself that my life isn’t something that needs to be apologized for. It gets kind of challenging, though because if enough people in my life and my friends’ lives think that it’s sad, and that they feel sorry for me, it’s pretty easy to fall into the hole of ‘well I should feel sorry for myself then, because clearly something is wrong.’

Obviously that’s on me – other people only control what they say, not how I respond to it. But it’s also on me to explain what is actually going on and give people a more comprehensive perspective on what life is like. How else can they know what to say if no one talks to them about it?

One of my friends put it best this way – “Ask me something instead. Something helpful so I can talk about this. If you’re curious – ask about my stories. I have so many stories. A lot of really sad ones, or frustrating ones, but some awesome ones too. But I can’t tell them to people if they don’t give me the chance, or cut me off with an ‘I’m sorry,’ before it even gets there.”

One of the things that J and I want to instill in our littles – foster, adopted, or bio – is that we’re a team. And “Team Sheepdog” (that’s not our last name – obviously –  but I’m not putting it in here – OPSEC and all that) is going to move forward on what ever mission that we feel God has for us. One of the things that gets said the most around here is “It is what it is”. (If my former nanny boss is reading this she just laughed. I say it so much in my life that she bought me a mug that is just white text simply stating ‘it is what it is’ and I bust that mug out every. single. time. J is gone!) It doesn’t mean we just allow things to roll over us, but that we ‘adapt and over come’ whatever obstacle we are coming against. For that we need people in our community to understand the realities of what we do – the good, the bad, the painful, all of it.

He’s going to be gone, he’s going to be in dangerous situations, and I’m definitely going to be stressed out. It is what it is, but it’s definitely better when shared with people.

If You Haven’t Realized This Yet – I Have No Clue What I’m Doing Either

 

I had someone tell me a few weeks ago that I seemed (from the outside) like I have everything all together with my life. That I’m a strong person in light of my husband’s chosen career path, and the amount of time we have together (or lack thereof).

I received the information, processed it, and cracked up. “There’s no possible way she’s talking about me! She didn’t see the breakdown I had over the check engine light coming on in J’s car. Or the fact that I haven’t washed my hair in three days.” I seriously laughed out loud to Bravo.

If there’s one thing that I don’t feel like – it’s a strong person. Or a person who has any amount of her ducks in a row – I don’t even think I have all mine in the same pond at this point. J and I are working through some serious issues. (What married couple isn’t, or hasn’t?) But we’re getting kind of shaken to the core in some areas of our marriage. Then, we’re working around the ‘will he be in this country next year’ issue that so many military spouses get to battle around when planning anything – home, school, babies. Which is oh so fun to plan and arrange around.

And – what makes it even more fun: I have NO IDEA how to handle any of this. Like, no freaking clue.

If you’re a MilSO reading this, there has probably been a point in the last six months where you have said something like ‘I’m done’ or ‘I can’t do this anymore’ or, if you’re me, where you’ve refused to put real pants on (running leggings to the rescue), scooped your dog up into your bed (when your husband expressly told you to absolutely not to), and laid down in bed and cried for hours. And basically stayed there for a month, binge watching NCIS or The Good Wife. (Netflix and chill – only if ‘chill’ means bring a tub of ice cream into bed with you.)

The dog had to be rushed to the vet. The car’s check engine light came on. You and your husband fought during one of the handful of conversations you get. Everyone around you got pregnant, and you don’t even get the chance to try. Friends and family say hurtful things (or worse, don’t say anything at all). You get sick and have no one to take care of you. This probably all happens at once – or it feels like it – and you get to a very adamant and emotional ‘done’.

It’s hard enough. But then you take a moment and look at yourself in the mirror, And you feel worse. How come other wives don’t seem to only go out in yoga pants? How come other wives are able to get up out of bed in the morning without giving themselves a 20 minute peptalk? They don’t distract their husbands, and they certainly don’t feel like a big, fat, failure for pretty much the entire deployment. They’re not crying in grocery stores or gas stations, or on their couch by themselves, or subsist for 6 months on nothing but microwave macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets and iced coffee – copious amounts of iced coffee.

So, you feel like a terrible wife. You’re supposed to be the ‘strong army wife’! “Ranger on!” “Continue Mission” “Other Hooah Phrases!”

Stop it. There’s no picture perfect strong military wife. Comparing yourself to someone, anyone, else is a surefire way to feel like you’re not getting anything done. Shocking, I know.

In the military spouse and significant other community, there seems to be this idea that military wives have to have everything together. Your husband’s dinner is already ready (no matter that he may not come home until after midnight), and his uniforms are perfectly pressed. His deployment goes smoothly, and when things fall apart, you just smile through the craziness and learn how to be a vet, a mechanic, a plumber, and an electrician all in one year. Or – you’re told you should just be constantly worrying about everything. Worry about your soldier in combat, or you’re not a good wife. Worry about how everyone will approach you during the stages of a deployment. Worry about your kids. Constantly.

Guys, neither one of those options is sustainable. And what’s absolutely ridiculous is that we KEEP buying into them, then (not surprisingly) we are not upholding the impossible standard we’re putting on ourselves. Cue the tears and “I’m a failures”. I know this is all across the board, but it seems to be particularly prevalent among the younger spouses, and those with no kids.

I wish I had something to give to y’all. Some kind of army wife decoder book, or a road map on how to handle things when you kinda sorta feel like your life is crashing in around you. I don’t have any of that. What I do have is a lot of knowledge about the army, so I’m rarely surprised. Very rarely. (Note that I didn’t say rarely upset. I said surprised.) And what I also have is an awesome tribe, who are forcing me into giving myself grace. Sometimes not so gently.

So that’s what I’ve got… A tribe of people who let me run to them and who immediately make me pick my battles with myself. Get those people and make sure you help each other. Make sure you have people around you who will not let you dig yourself into a hole you can’t get out of. If you don’t have those people – find them.

And second, you’re probably crushing it. Absolutely owning on whatever crisis happened while your soldier was gone, or whatever gross life stage you guys are working through. Yeah, you wore yoga pants every day for a week. But – you managed to keep your cool and learned to fix a broken washing machine. Or, you moved yourself into a new place while your husband was gone. And if all that fails when you look at that other wife who seems like she has it all together – remember, at some point she probably sat at home with that tub of ice cream and 3 seasons of Scandal in a weekend, too.

There’s A Reason Those Homecoming Videos Are So Short

We’ve all seen those homecoming videos. You know the ones that I’m talking about.

Soldier surprises kids by showing up at a football game. Or the group of perfectly done up military wives welcoming their husbands home on the tarmac. Clever signs, and only pretty criers. Don’t get me wrong, I love homecoming videos. J and I have one that my dad filmed in the airport, and I could probably watch it over and over again, all the time. It’s on my Instagram, and it’s adorable. Seriously freaking adorable.

But the full video is something like 45 seconds to 1 minute long. And there is a definite reason for that brevity – it’s not real. That is not real life, and it’s not what the expectation of your soldier coming home should look like.

It truly is a fairy tale couple of minutes. That ceremony where they all pile off the bus, or fall out of formation, or even just running and jumping into your soldier’s arms in an airport. That’s homecoming. And that high (while awesome) is pretty stinking short lived. Like, the second you have to corral your party of excited in laws and family members into a restaurant, or get people to get out of the way at the airport – it goes away. And is replaced by all the 1,700 emotions you’re going to have built up along the way to this deployment.

And don’t lie – you’ve built up some emotions on the route to this homecoming. Anger at the car problems you had to deal with on your own. Depression at the several months of nights spend cuddled up with a dog/cat/body pillow with your soldier’s t-shirt on it. Confidence from the time you fixed the leaky toilet by yourself. And then the weeks of anxiety over the moment that is happening right now. Did you pick out the right dress? Are his family members going to drive him crazy? Drive you crazy? What if he doesn’t like your newfound attitude? What if you guys don’t like each other? What if he’s different? (He will be.) What if you’re different? (You will be, too.) What about getting… intimate? Cause that’s been not a part of your life for a while – and you have the furry legs to prove it! (Sorry, mom.)

Reintegration. For most people, that word means almost nothing. For military families, it can be the most tense part of the deployment cycle. I can guarantee at least one person here read that sentence and felt themselves physically tense up. If you’ve gone through a deployment as a spouse, or even a child, you have a ‘after they got back’ story. It’s probably not a good one, although sometimes they get funny later. ( I have some good ones about the last six weeks that I’ll be able to tell in about five years.)

I would love to tell you that J and I have this whole thing worked out, and that I’m writing this from a place of being ‘on the other side’ of reintegration, and that we’re perfectly adjusted and loving being back together, 100% of the time.

If I typed all that out, I would be lying. Through my teeth. In the spirit of full disclosure – I’m horrible at this. I am absolutely atrocious at having J come home. It’s so exciting… but then I start itching for him to just get the heck out of my space. Terrible, right?

J and I have now been married for 1 year and 10 months, almost exactly. Of that 1 year and 10 months, we’ve been physically together for about half of it. Extend that to include dating and being engaged – we’ve been ‘together’ for almost 4 years, and have been together for slightly over a year of it. You would think that with being apart, and having him come in and out of my life over and over again, that I would be much much better at having him leave and then come home.

I got used to having the bed to myself (and Bravo the Infantrydog, of course.) I got up when I wanted, and went to sleep when I wanted. Then all of a sudden I had a 200 pound man laying next to me, taking up my space and setting alarms for six in the freaking morning to go to the gym. Every day. I hadn’t gotten up at 6 in the morning since… since before he left. And now just because he wanted to work out with his friend, I had to change my routine for him? That pissed me off. Enough that I was willing to throw what I would now call a tantrum over it. For basically the entire time he was home.

Didn’t he know I didn’t have to be at work until 8:30? And that meant that I needed to sleep in? And how could he not realize that I needed to be asleep much, much earlier if he was going to be getting up and starting my day right along with his?

Women who have been married much longer than I are laughing  – we were not arguing about the gym time with his friend. We weren’t even arguing about the fact that he was getting me up at six in the morning.

We were arguing about the fact that I had (have) no idea how to be married to this man anymore. He’s different. I’m different. Not good different, or bad different. We’re just different people than we were when he left. And we don’t know how to be married as these different people.

I’m going to go ahead and say that almost every single military couple has felt this way after a deployment. Even a short one. And if I thought it was frustrating for me to have J come crashing into my life, trust me, he felt the same level of frustration. But I didn’t want to see that – he ‘got’ to go do his job, and then ‘got’ to come into my life and screw up my schedule. But on his side – he was coming in to a world where his wife had all new systems, and was leveling all her frustration about his absence on him.

I think the most difficult part is that while lots of people were willing to tell me it would be difficult – no one really sat me down and talked to me about what to expect. Not really. Being ‘just’ national guard, our challenges are a little different than those of an active duty family. And there weren’t a lot of people around who would understand when I was asked if I was happy he was home, all I wanted to say was ‘yeah but he can go to a school any day now.’

There’s no perfect formula for the perfect army wife – and if there was, I promise you I would be failing at it, and chipping away at that image every time I open my mouth, let alone sat down at this laptop. I’ve got lots of stories to prove it – ask in a private message and I would love to tell you.

I wanted to put this up here, and I wish I had done it sooner, but I guess it’s better late than never. So, here goes…

It’s okay to be angry when your spouse leaves. It’s okay to be anxious about them coming back. It’s okay to just not like your spouse. It’s okay to even not want to be around them when they’re home. It’s okay to be annoyed at people when they breathe too loud or ask your husband stupid questions when he comes home. It’s okay if you just need to climb in your car with the radio all the way up and just primal scream if you need to. Just… make sure you’re not pointing your car in the direction of the neighbors yard. If they see you that can be weird. Or so I’ve heard.

However, it is not okay if you don’t talk about it. Talk to your spouse. If they can’t or won’t talk, talk to your friends. If they don’t get it, or won’t talk to you, expand. I just set up an extra special email just for this. Comment – send me messages, DM me on Instagram or even just creep on whatever I’ve posted. The reason I do this is so people can learn from the things that I haven’t quite mastered yet. The point is – talk to someone. It doesn’t make you weak if you can’t ‘handle’ post deployment tempers or mood swings – it makes you a person.

The One Thing That Kept Me Sane Through My First Deployment As A Wife

I know I’ve already written about my people before – but I decided they completely deserve a second mention – they’re all so different, and all completely amazing.

J keeps telling me that I made this deployment ‘easy’ on him. I followed the rules. I kept any really insignificant issues off his plate while he was away. If he was freaking out, I didn’t lay it on him to listen to me vent or to worry about. And that’s all wonderful – if he says it was easy, then I was successful.

But I can honestly say that there was not a single problem that I handled entirely by myself. Not one.

When the car did weird things, I called my dad. He walked me through what to do, calmly and patiently. My mom was at the ready with advice on everything from Tricare to how to handle peoples’ stupid questions about deployment and army wife life.

When Bravo the Infantrydog had to be rushed to the vet for x-rays because he would not stop eating things he shouldn’t, I was in the waiting room texting one of the other women whose husband was deployed at the same time as J. Her dog also likes to try to keep her busy, so she was able to give some encouragement with a little added humor, and some practical ‘been there, done that’ advice. And she showed me around her city and provided DELICIOUS food for a weekend when I needed to leave my accident-prone dog, and the pressures of ‘real life’ behind.

When I needed someone to come sit with me the weekend J left, my two friends from Fort Bragg drove ten hours to hang out with me in a hotel room, so I could hide from the world the day he actually flew out of the country. They texted and touched base almost every single day until they were sure that I was okay. And anytime I needed to have a freak out, they were blowing up our group message with humor, and love, and a whole lot of emojis.

When I needed to just be with him before he left, without worrying about balancing family and job craziness, my best friend, C, offered up her house to us for a week. It was closer to where he flew out of, and she gave us the best gift I could have gotten in that moment – time together, just the two of us. Every single time I texted her she somehow knew the exact thing to say. Whether it was during the craziness of predeployment, or the panic of a lack of communication while he was gone, or the post deployment reintegration period. Not to mention the times J was ‘just’ in school, and she drove the ten hours from Ohio to North Carolina simply to be with me, and to get to know J (who she had met exactly twice before we got married!).

My best friend from high school kept me distracted when J left by regaling me with his dating adventures, and when the homecoming date KEPT freaking changing, he spent a few days hunting down and sending me army related memes just to make me laugh. When I started to get a little too panicky, he essentially called me out on my nonsense.

J’s best friend kept me from going crazy on more than one occasion, via Facebook message. My first nanny family let me come over and just UNLOAD about everything that was going on in my life, and let me love on my girls. The two littles all over my Instagram? Their mama gave me TWO WEEKS off to get ready for J’s homecoming, and for the week after he came home. And any time I’ve asked to get some prayer on anything, she is right there with it. A friend from church let me freak out about all the normal marriage stuff, and supplied lots and lots of caffeine and humor, and got coffee and then even went grocery shopping with me to help me kill time so I wouldn’t be alone the day before J came home.

Y’all, my husband may see this as an easy deployment. And that is wonderful. But he also came home to a woman who he thought had her stuff together, and who felt like she was supported even when her husband was away.

All that bragging about my (amazing) friends was to say that if you don’t have a tribe – if you don’t have friends close enough that seeing you cry and freak out is acceptable, and that they’re willing to tell you that you need to slow down, or give your husband a break (the phrase “he’s not at summer camp” was told to me one time when I stressed about not getting a text in a few days) then you need to either start investing in your friends differently, or get different friends.

I love my husband. And I love the army. But this craziness is not for the faint of heart – and it is most certainly not for those who want to do it by themselves. Not only are you making things harder on yourself, your soldier and your marriage by staying isolated, but you’re robbing yourself of the chance to make amazing friends. The kind of friends who will come see you when you have a baby, or who are willing to write adoption reference letters, or who will text you back at 2 am when your car breaks down.

For my tribe – you’re all amazing. For my Mil Spouses who are trying to decide whether or not to make friends, or to try to go on a friend date with that girl who’s married to your husbands friend – do it. It is so, so very worth it.

The GAF Meter – The First Thing To Go On A Deployment

So, most of you have seen or realized that J deployed this spring, and has been home for a few weeks now. Reintegration is… let’s just call it a learning experience. Every time I sit down to write that post, it get’s a little vent-y. So, that’s coming but maybe once we get on the other side of reintegrating.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on posts from while he was deployed, to post once he came home – a little MilSo ‘tradecraft’ if you will. Most of these were actually written – or at least fleshed out – while he was gone, so the tone is a little… Tense? Angry? Snarky?

J and I had a bit of heads up that he was going to leave. Not a ton, like my parents used to get when dad was going to deploy, but a ‘while,’ compared to some of my friends who have sent their husbands off with a few days notice. (Ladies who do that – you’re rockstars. Absolute freaking rockstars.) In that time before he left, we moved me 10 hours away on a PCS from good ol’ Fort Bragg, to the frigid north – in March. My favorite. Anyway – we had some time, so I thought I’d know what I would feel like, and how I’d react.

Oh, wow was I wrong. I thought for sure that I would have this superwoman strength, but that I’d just move forward with not much change in my emotional range or reactions. I mean, I’d have some moments where I cried over something small, or cursed the Army’s existence when the car inevitably broke down at the same time the dog was trying to eat rocks, and I shattered phone (all things that happened while J was gone, by the way). No. Just… no. I could not have been more wrong.

There’s this thing that my husband calls the ‘GAF Meter’. ‘GAF’ stands for ‘give a…freak’. Sorta. It’s the measure of what you’re willing to care about, and just how much you’re willing to give/push on something. Everyone has one. Mine is normally set on high – I’m continually high anxiety (J just laughed in agreement reading this) and am constantly worrying about something. And at first, that’s how I thought that I would react to a deployment. Worry a lot and make sure that everyone around me knew how to support J.

And then I dropped my husband off at the airport. J has walked away from me to head out on a school multiple times in the span of our relationship. We’ve been apart the majority of our relationship – together almost 4 years (!!!) and actually together for about twenty-five percent of that time. I thought I’d gotten fairly good at it, truthfully. But this time was completely different.

I gotta tell you – there is something about watching your husband walk away from you in an airport, with the possibility in the back of your mind that it may be for the last time, that will make you completely change how you look at pretty much everything. And it seriously makes you realize the things you care about, and the things you really don’t.

That friend who couldn’t just not say terrible things? I just chose not to hang out with them any more. The internet troll who constantly posted offensive nonsense in my Facebook feed – I just didn’t give him space in my head anymore. That time that someone called me out on being an army wife in church and lambasted my husband simply because of my job – I actually let him now how I feel about people who give opinions no one wants to hear. I got to pick what I cared about… which was essentially, only what I thought was important. If I wanted to just go to Detroit by myself to visit a friend, or if I needed a break from the insanity to go to stay by myself in an inn in WV, I did it.

In short – my GAF Meter was completely busted. And it felt great. What was crazy was when people started noticing. My two best friends said they were proud of me and impressed at how I was handling myself. And my husband told me from halfway around the world that he’d noticed how happy I was, and how well I had handled things back here. I may have felt like my whole little world was missing a huge piece, but there was definite proof that I was at least a little more pleasant to be around – for the people that mattered, anyway.

Handling a deployment – or even a school or TDY is something that can wreck your world. It’s hard. Exhausting, and painful. I’m clearly no expert – this hasn’t been happening that long with me in the ‘wife’ role. But I think I’m on to something – just stop freaking out about stuff that doesn’t matter. And really get into the things that do. The people that matter and care about you will be able to see how much better you’re handling yourself, and the people who don’t shouldn’t influence your life anyway!

I’m not saying you just pack all your things and ignore your responsibilities (but let’s be real, who hasn’t wanted to do that at some point?). I’m saying that there’s something to be said about allowing yourself to not care about some things. And, that pretty much no one gets to tell you what you’re supposed to feel, or how you’re supposed to handle things. You’re a bad ass for getting through this – and it’s about time you recognize it.

Deployment By The Numbers

111 : Number of days my husband was away.

5: Number of pillows used to take up space so I wouldn’t feel like I was sleeping by myself.

2 : Number of weeks I lasted until Bravo the Infantry Dog was invited to snuggle in bed with me.

4 : Number of vet visits with Bravo the Infantry Dog

3 : Number of those visits that were because he ate something he shouldn’t have.

6 : Number of weeks I went without shaving my legs, other than my ankles. (It was Ohio in March, don’t judge me.)

350: Rough estimate of the number of cups of coffee drank in a single just-over-three-months long deployment.

4 : Trips I took by myself. This is huge – I had never done that before. Seriously.

5 : times in four months that my car had problems. #deploymentcurse anyone?

6 : Military movie marathons I had on weekends I missed J a lot more than normal.

2 : Cities I visited that I’d never been to. (Detroit was actually my favorite, although the fact that I only ate delicious food and had some awesome company while I was there was probably a huge factor.)

3,000 : Texts sent in the group message between my two best army wife friends.

3: number of dresses I bought that were my ‘homecoming’ dress.

4: Number of razors dulled the week before homecoming. (Pro Tip: Start shaving like halfway through the deployment, ladies. Seriously, just do it.)

3: Also the number of times the homecoming date changed.

5 : Number of times the day of homecoming that I changed my outfit. Ended up in the first dress I bought.

3: Hours that the flight got delayed, after I had already had my dress on and my hair and makeup done.

This was essentially the laziest listicle ever, I know. I’m a little busy, but I’ve been working on posts while he was deployed to post once he came home and we felt comfortable saying he’d been gone – PERSEC and all that, right? 😉

I Don’t Want My Husband To Be Safe

Important disclaimer here; I have never, and will never be in combat. I cannot tell you what it is like to be in that situation, but I have an incredibly patient husband who shares his thoughts with me, and a lot of research on a book, from books and blogs that every military spouse and family member should read, as well as hours and hours of interviews with those who have.

There is a conversation that happens pretty repeatedly whenever people see me out and about without J. Which is, for those of you who don’t know, more often than he is actually around. They ask me where he’s at, and I tell them the school/state/training/country that he’s in. Some small talk happens, and then eight times out of ten, they end the conversation with “Well, tell him to stay safe.”

And I can legitimately say that is one message I will never, ever pass along. I tell him every time someone says they’re praying for him. Every time they say they were thinking of him. Every time they say they want to get to be added to the miles-long list of people who want to see him in the brief times that he is around, and able to be seen. But I will not say to him “So and so said they wanted you to be safe.” (Sorry if you’re reading this and that’s something that you’ve wanted me to pass along.)

More than that – I have not ever told him to be safe, even coming from me.

When we first started dating, that was all I wanted to tell him. It’s a natural response, right? I was in a very new relationship, with a man who was getting ready to start training to be in a particularly dangerous job. It came with the need to be aware of my security in a new way. And the knowledge that my husband was actually someone who could be called ‘dangerous’. Of course I wanted to call after him to ‘be safe’. I will openly admit that I worry about J the second that man leaves my sight. That people want to send him well wishes and a desire to be unharmed is absolutely understandable. For those who know him, personally, they are sending their friend away to a dangerous situation, that they cannot possibly comprehend. The only logical response is going to feel something like fear – asking him to ‘be safe’ or ‘do whatever he has to, to come home’. Please, don’t.

It’s crazy I know – and it almost sounds like I want my husband to be in danger. It’s not that simple, but at the end of the day, the confusing and very counter cultural answer is that I want him to be able to do his job. And ‘doing his job’ does not look like being ‘safe’.

If you look at the definition of the word ‘safe’ it means “protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost.” That is essentially the opposite of what every single sheepdog is hardwired to do. J starts to itch to be where he’s needed. I have friends who have gotten out of the army, but got back in a few years later. Not for the money (everyone who knows the military pay just laughed), not for accolades, and certainly not for the safety – they got back in because they needed to what they could to protect the people they’d be leaving behind, and to take the fight directly to the ‘bad guys’ wishing to do harm to innocent people.
Imagine a literal sheepdog. He is prepped and trained – physically, mentally, and emotionally – to be a flock of sheep’s defense and protection. It is what he is bred for, and created to do. It is quite literally in his blood. Now imagine telling him all of this – using his hardwiring to do what he needs, training him, and then turning around a physically declawing and defanging that animal – and then putting him in a muzzle, on a gentle lead. Asking him to protect a flock of defenseless sheep, then taking away his confidence and ability to do what he feels he needs to do. It would not be shocking if he laid down on the job, and half his flock were stolen away by a particularly industrious wolf.

If there’s one thing that I’ve taken away from the research on research on research and countless interviews I have been doing – it’s that the brave sheepdogs who are being sent forward are not meant to be safe. It’s been incredibly difficult to remember that – especially when the sheepdog in question is my friend, or one of my taco night guys, or my husband. As much as I don’t enjoy the idea of the people I love actively being in danger, I like the idea of them being miserable at home even less.
There’s the Chronicles of Narnia quote that I’m pretty sure everyone has heard at this point but that J and I love; “Safe? Of course he isn’t safe! But, he’s good!” The two characters are talking about Aslan, the epic, honest, and terrifyingly good lion. You wouldn’t want the lion fighting for you to be safe- you want him to be good. Fierce, with claws and fur and fangs. And dangerous – especially to those who would wish to do you harm, but compassionate and good towards those they love and are fighting for. That is a sheepdog. That is my husband, and my friends, and the people in your life stepping forward in so many different ways.

My Husband Married A Sergeant Major

One of the most biggest differences between the civilian world, and the military world is the presence of rank. There’s a role for each person, and distinct responsibilities that pair with each rank. The chain of command is basically what keeps the military from being a bunch of men running around with guns, and gives clear direction for a group. There are two distinct groups – officers and enlisted. At the top of the enlisted guys, is my all-time favorite rank  – the Sergeant Major. (I can already see J’s eyes rolling as he reads this.)

The role of the Sergeant Major is to be Battalion Commander’s (the guy in charge – an officer) number one adviser. The buck stops (so to speak) with the officer, but the Sergeant Major gives him the information he needs to make informed decisions, based on what’s best for his men. He runs the logistics, so the guy in charge can keep his eyes on the ‘bigger picture’. And he knows the rules – with multiple decades of time in service under his belt he should know them like he knows his own birthday! His job is essentially to be in charge of training and ensure the readiness of his men. Sometimes that looks like annoying the guys and making them listen to rules they don’t like.

J calls me his “Sergeant Major”. It’s mostly a joke… He’s the guy in charge, I’m the one running the logistics. But, it’s also a nod to that part of me that knows the rules and basically needs them to function at this point. People who know me – or have met me at all – know 3 things about me 1) I talk a lot. Like, a lot… A LOT. 2) I work with littles – there’s probably a kid or four hanging on me when I meet new people, and 3) I love the military. Even when I hate it, I love it. I grew up with parents who put that uniform on every day, and the sound of combat boots on tile floor is one of my favorite. I hate packing up one of my loved ones to leave, but there’s something about it that almost feels like ‘home’. I make promotion cookies in the shape of rank insignia for my loved ones (pro tip: use a scalpel instead of a knife. Cutting chevrons is not easy.), and have been known on occasion to make a cake that has the American flag inside it. I blog about this insanity, and I named my dog Bravo the Infantrydog.

I know the rules for the military better than some people in the military know them. Hard not to when I’ve been around this for my entire life… Part of me cringes when I see guys at our taco night table to have out of regulation haircuts, or who haven’t shaved in a while. Outwardly. I can’t believe how easy these guys have it that the uniforms don’t have to be ironed and boots are polish free, and I never ever ever walk on the grass. Get your hands out of your pockets, and take your sunglasses off your head. The rules? I love them. Partly because I don’t have to follow them, I’m sure.

And partly because they make my world make a little sense. My husband’s job is dangerous. He runs towards bullets for a living. That’s our reality. He never knows what will happen in a year, or even month or week. I never know if he’ll be around for wedding anniversaries, birthdays, or to try to have a baby. That’s our reality. There is nothing I can control in this. But, I can absolutely learn all that I can about it. And control what little I know about. Basically – it’s a coping mechanism.

People ask me all the time how I am okay with ‘this’. I’m not ever sure what they mean by ‘this’. Sending my husband away? Sending my mom and dad away? Having a husband who will actually volunteer and make the choice to leave me? Not knowing if I’ll have him around for the birth of our kids? Not knowing if I can RSVP to a wedding +1 or if I’ll be going by myself (again)? Not knowing what our marriage will be like after months apart? The answer is that I basically throw myself into it. I have had friends complain that ‘the only thing I write about is the military’ and most of the time it’s because they have no idea that in order to be okay with ‘this’ – I have to decide I love my husband and his job enough to think whatever it is, is worth it.

It also is what makes me take a look at the realities of my husbands job, and still throw myself into supporting him. And think that it’s truly what’s best for him, and our family. For myself, personally, if I didn’t throw myself behind this, I would hate it. I would spend my hours resenting my husband’s job, and eventually my husband himself. So, I cut cookies with scalpels, and pick over my guys’ uniforms when they’re not as put together as I like.

More than a coping mechanism, though, it’s also what has been the driving motivation in writing my book. I’m writing a book about what it’s like being married to the amazing type of man who chooses to run where danger is, and how to keep your sanity – or most of it, anyway. This means interviewing countless men I know who are attached to this monstrous ‘they’ that sends them into harms way, and doing extensive research on the realities of combat in today’s world. Stories people haven’t been able to tell anyone else, and research that his driving home even more the level of dedication that has been asked of people putting on that uniform. And if I didn’t have memories of laughing with my taco night family over my need for them to be ‘in regs’ or cutting out promotion cookies with a scalpel to celebrate the guys’ amazing accomplishments – I don’t think I would be able to get through the negatives of this life, to see the positives. Let alone be able to handle whatever this week’s ‘this’ is that seems so insurmountably impossible.

When My Husband Is Deployed…

So, in my life right now there has been a definite increase in the amount of spouses I know who have sent their soldiers off to one combat zone or another. It’s strange, because there has been an obvious decrease in the number of troops actually deployed. But around me, for whatever reason, I have gotten more than a few texts from my girlfriends saying their husbands are getting sent ‘over there’.

I love that my MilSO ladies feel comfortable texting or calling me when they need someone to talk to or to complain to, or a wine night away from packing and acronyms and the gear explosion that inevitably happens in the living room when there’s a deployment or school coming up. (I fondly call this ‘gear vomit’ because it really looks like a military surplus store has just emptied it’s contents into the middle of my floor. I’m not even sure how we have so many dufflebags if I’m being honest. Who needs a 9 foot canvas bag?)

Being near an Army post set me up to have the most amazing, supportive group of people. I met girlfriends who I instantly fell into an easy friendship with. They’re wonderful, and so loving and caring. And both are military kids, and army wives. They know more of what I’m feeling than anyone could possibly comprehend. It made getting through the last few years much more manageable. Almost enjoyable – we helped each other through the here today, gone tomorrow schedule our men have been in for a while. Projects were finished, and months apart were conquered with help and a lot of laughter (and more than a little junk food and wine). The only other person who I’ve had that level of connection and friendship with is my best friend who is ALSO a former milspouse. No matter the emotion, milspouses have been there. There’s no judgement when we are too sad to put real pants on, or when we’re asking our husbands when they’ll be in the field next because we aren’t used to sharing a bed, or having someone around every day. Worrying about your soldier feels the same no matter their rank or MOS (specialty – the job they do for the military). If you bail on plans because your husband is home, they get it. Not only do they get it, but they encourage it because they’ll be there one day, too.

I’m not saying that ‘civilian’ friends can’t be wonderfully supportive – they can, absolutely. But – only those of us who have been bitten can truly tell each other how it feels. That being said, my ‘civilian’ friends have asked what can be done to support me. AND I had people ask on here how to help their friends who have a soldier gone in some capacity. So, I figured instead of just rambling off, I’d be honest and even put it to words, in a format a little easier than a teary conversation or a text message. These obviously can’t be said for every MilSO, but I think they’re a good start.

Ask. The first thing is to ask. I will probably not have an answer because that’s just me – panic in the moment and handle it later. But if you ask if I need or want anything, that’s honestly wonderful, it shows that you care even if you don’t know what to do. And, makes me remember that I have people in my corner. Just understand that the answer may actually be that I need time alone.

Don’t Assume It’s All About the Military. As awesome as it would be, my life does not pause when J is gone. And thank goodness! I still have bills and stress and every day craziness to handle. The infertility stuff that’s happening is still right there, there’s just a pause in moving forward. My Bravo the Infantry Dog will still eat my shoes and try to kill himself, there’s just no one to help me get his 60 pound puking self. Work problems will be there, and I’m going to school too. Oh – and writing a BOOK (more on that in a little bit). Ask about those things. It’s so easy to lose sight of the fact that you’re not just someone’s wife – there’s a ‘me’ in here too.

Come Over. We may binge watch Army Wives (don’t you dare judge me.) and drink coffee and not even talk. Or, I may need someone to come over and help me with a project, or I just need people around. Come over, be present. That’s one of the best things my best friend does – seriously, she just shows up. No questions. Sometimes we build a writing desk, sometimes we watch Band of Brothers and make meatloaf muffins. But that girl has a talent for being around when she’s needed. Actually – I think I may make this the biggest suggestion. By two other J girls (we call ourselves J Cubed… no joke.) just show the heck up when they’re needed. Once, at an emergency room with about 15 minutes heads up. But now I know that I could call at 3 am and they’d come pick me up with car problems if needed. The people in my life I remember the most are the ones who are present and want to be there. (Another example – we had SIXTEEN people DRIVE DOWN to help us PCS. Whoa, our people showed up for us in a major way.)

Support Our Soldier. This is insanely helpful. Offer to send letters or care packages or emails – he may not respond, but knowing that I can take some time to put one together is nice, and knowing that someone else is looking out for my husband makes me able to put energy into keeping our little life running with out feeling too much guilt over last weeks late-mailed care package.

Don’t Say Stupid Things. This is (mostly) a joke… but oh man have we military wives heard some doozies. Some of them can be pretty painful. On the top of the list are;

  •  “Oh… that’s not too long.” Just no. Gone and at war is gone and at war. Let’s send your husband away for a few months and see if it’s ‘not too long’.
  • “Are you worried?” Nope. I love constantly wondering what’s happening.
  • “You signed up for it.” Cue the rage. I’m going to stat saying not nice things to this one. Because really, it’s not okay.
  • “I understand what you’re going through.” People are trying to relate. But honestly there’s no way this works well. J and I are handling our infertility journey, and for some reason people latch on to that and say “I understand what you’re going through.” No, no you don’t. Unless you’re trying to also get pregnant and make sure you can actually have kids, while also being worried about the fact that your husband might not come home – you don’t get it. Honestly – Can we just eliminate this phrase COMPLETELY? Like, in all situations not even relating to the military. I don’t understand what you’re going through, and assuming I do makes me look like an idiot. An insensitive one.
  • “Oh, but he’s just National guard.” No. A million times of DON’T SAY THIS TO ANYONE. Yes, national guardsmen are not reporting into post every day, but when they’re gone for a year and you tell their wife they’re ‘just national guard’ she will hit you. You’ve been warned.

Yes, that’s very snarky but what I really want to convey is that when you’re husband is gone you feel everything a lot, so some serious grace needs to happen – on both sides – but a lot of these things really strike instant nerves for a woman who is missing her husband, who is in danger and unable to talk to her.

We’re going to seem weird. Just roll with it. The military is a weird culture. There aren’t many jobs where one spouse leaves the other behind, and can’t tell them where they are or what they’re doing. There are so many things that we cannot control, and it leads to some interesting reactions, weird rules and… peculiar coping mechanisms. I will run away from a table faster than a marathon sprinter if I see an ‘unknown’ number come up on my phone. No goodbyes, just out I go. Every morning, I drink my coffee out of an “Army Wife” coffee cup. Because even if the army takes my husband away, or keeps him for our anniversary weekend, at least it’s giving me my morning coffee. Weird? Oh heck yes. But somehow, it helps.

The final takeaways? Don’t pity us. Our soldiers are badasses. They’re amazing, resilient, wonderful people and we are so so proud. Help us celebrate them and keep our lives together. Each deployment will be different, and obviously each military couple, but if everyone strings their lives and interactions with grace and a loooot of patience, it will be perfect – or at least something close to it 🙂