Being pregnant with twins poses its own challenges, but 29-year-old Melissa Krinks is up against still more. Her husband, Eric, serves in the National Guard and has been halfway across the globe for most of her pregnancy. "He hasn't been able to go to appointments or feel the babies move," says Krinks, who works for a credit union. "He worries so much about me and the babies because he's not here to help. His worrying makes me anxious."
Though Krinks may feel alone, she has plenty of company. About 25 percent of births at military hospitals in the last five years occurred while the father was deployed, according to Retired Air Force Colonel Harris Brooks, a March of Dimes (MOD) trustee and Pennsylvania Freemason. Military expectant moms tend to face higher levels of anxiety, making them more likely to give birth too soon. "The sustained stress may affect a pregnant woman's hormone levels, and that can trigger premature labor," explains Janis Biermann, senior vice president for education and health promotion at the MOD. Taking care of a newborn solo, as a new mom with a deployed partner must, may also be a risk factor for Shaken Baby Syndrome, child abuse that is commonly triggered by an infant's inconsolable crying.
To ease the emotional and financial burden on these moms and educate them about prenatal and infant care, the MOD, together with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, started Mission: Healthy Baby. MOD and military volunteers hold workshops at bases around the country, distribute materials, and link expectant moms with resources they need (whether it's a pediatrician recommendation or child-care options). Mission: Healthy Baby also helps dads by giving them educational brochures. "Plus, it's a comfort to deployed fathers to know their baby is being well cared for at home," says Biermann. Just as important, the group treats expectant women to something every mom-to-be deserves: a baby shower!
One Saturday a few months ago, Krinks and 10 other moms-to-be whose partners are deployed overseas were celebrated at a military base in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, by the MOD and Pennsylvania Freemasons. AB crashed the bash and treated the women to some pre-party pampering.
"It's so nice to have someone do my hair and makeup!" said Nicole Spiegel, a guest of honor who was expecting her second child. "The only special treatment I get at home is a foot massage from my 2 1/2-year-old." After going glam, the moms had their pics taken, fueled up at a buffet, and mingled, exchanging phone numbers, emails, and their Facebook info. "We were hoping the moms would find support from one another," says Colonel Brooks. "We're here for them, but that mom-to-mom relationship is so important."
Of course, no shower would be complete without presents -- a brigade of them! The Freemasons collected money through a program called Help for Our Heroes to pay for the gifts. Volunteers gave each guest a giant box of baby must-haves, including diapers, wipes, clothes, and toys. AB presented each mom with a gift bag brimming with beauty loot as well as Baby Björn carriers, Aden + Anais swaddlers, and more. "I got the pink blankets, so I'll take that as a sign," said Samantha Osland, who was 17 weeks along at the shower.
The big moment came after the cake, when Colonel Brooks raffled off a Safety First Travel System stuffed with goodies, including a $400 gift card to Buy Buy Baby. He pulled out the slip of paper and dramatically announced, "You all won!" Like most of the moms, Spiegel was emotional. "The generosity is incredible," she says. "Dustin kept telling me to buy stuff for the baby. But I would say it's too expensive. Now we have it all."
Three months post-party, the gear has been put to good use. "I had no idea how handy the video monitor would be," says Krinks, whose twins, Ava and Luke, arrived seven weeks early and spent 14 days in the NICU. "Without it, it would be hard for me to even walk into another room. Eric is still deployed, so I'm taking care of them on my own." Alexis Burrows understands: "My mom and I brought Lilly home from the hospital in the travel system we got. It was draining not having my husband around, but that shower was a bright spot."
Stephanie Kramer, who is caring for her son while going to grad school, credits Mission: Healthy Baby with keeping her husband involved while he was deployed. "I was scared to death of facing labor without my husband," she admits. "But the support from my family, the military, and the March of Dimes made it easier. We Skyped the entire birth, and I'll never forget the look on Timothy's face when he saw the baby for the first time." Kramer often thinks back to the shower. "In the last two months, whenever I've needed to buy diapers for John Franklin, I pulled out the gift card I received. It's been a huge relief!"
1. Go to a doctor's appointment.
If a friend's partner is deployed, volunteer to go on an OB visit with her. "Seeing the empty chair in the exam room is tough," says mom Alexis Burrows.
2. Give to the March of Dimes.
Find out how to volunteer or donate money at MarchOfDimes.com.
3. Donate your baby stuff.
Have gear or clothes you've barely (or never) used? Look up the closest military base on the Department of Defense website (Defense.gov) and call to see if it accepts donations. Just be sure to check what you're giving against the product recall list at SaferProducts.gov to make sure it's okay.
4. Sign up to volunteer.
Check with the Family Readiness Office at a local military base to see if it could use a hand with special programs for holiday or family celebrations. You may also be needed to mail care packages to deployed soldiers (moms and dads included). Hello, warm fuzzies!
Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.