Meta became a military wife in her 30’s after she was well established in her career, and a home owner. The military took her out of the South and dropped her off in Upstate New York at Fort Drum a few months after her wedding. A few months after that, her husband deployed.
Once Robert came home from deployment, Meta got pregnant and gave birth to a little boy, Bo. A few months later, Robert deployed again.
Meta talks about what it’s like to be the spouse and parent who is left at home during deployments. Although I hope this is obvious to most, I want to point out that each military spouse is different and this is simply Meta’s story. But, as a former Army Wife, I think most military spouses will find something in this story they can relate to. And for those who have never loved someone in uniform, here’s a little glimpse into the highs and lows of being a military family. 🙂
Caitlin: The Army baptises you fast. Your husband deployed just nine months after you got married. I talked to your husband about the difference between deploying as a single soldier and then as a soldier with a wife and kid. What was the difference for you between having your husband deploy before and after you had a baby?
Meta: Completely different deployments. Both were hard in their own way.
His deployment in 2011, we didn’t get to communicate very often. We emailed, never Skyped. We would talk every weekend or every other weekend. One time we didn’t get to talk for three and a half weeks. As someone who loves to talk, especially to my husband, work was very important for me. It became an outlet. I would go to work and talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. Because I would come home to no one. I didn’t have many friends yet, so the communication thing was hard.
It taught us a lot about what we could get through. I was miserable at first. I felt a distance from my husband that made me ache. Once I settled in and made friends, it got easier. But, I learned a lot about myself during that deployment.
Caitlin: You learned your strength.
Meta: I did. I also learned a lot about letting go. While I like to have a general plan, the Army taught me you can plan as much as you want, but it’s bound to change. I plan, but I don’t set my heart on it.
This most recent deployment, having a child, I couldn’t sulk. But, we talked every day, sometimes twice a day on Skype. And my husband could see our son, Bo. I think it helped me to be able to have real discussions with my husband. He would get up at 3:30am his time to talk to us on Skype.
Caitlin: That’s so nice.
Meta: I know. He’s such a good husband and a good daddy.
It was really important for Bo to see and hear his Daddy on Skype. It was hard. There were times I would cry because Bo would try to share with Daddy and try to hand him things through the computer. Those things tug at your heart.
Also, on this last deployment, five days after he left, I had a miscarriage. It just so happened that he called me when I was sitting in the emergency room when he got to Afghanistan. I said, I’m going to have to call you back, I’m bleeding and I’m in the emergency room. So, I needed him a lot. I needed him to talk to. It didn’t even have to be about the miscarriage, I just needed to talk to him.
Caitlin: Saying goodbye before a deployment, what is that like for you? Specifically with a child.
Meta: At the deployment ceremony, I’m trying not to cry, but I’m still crying. I was trying to take as many pictures as possible with them together because I knew he’d be coming back to a completely different child. And at the time, because I was pregnant, we were trying to figure out the plan for where I would deliver, would I work? And I was scared. I was pregnant and I had a nine month old. And I was like, how am I going to do this without him? It was all scary, but I had to focus on Bo.
Caitlin: What was the reunion like?
Meta: (laughs) Oh, it was fantastic. It was very different from my first deployment. It was all about me. So it was huge difference. Last deployment it was all about me, and this time it was all about Bo.
I told my husband, when you get home, I want you to step back and I want Bo to come to you.
I wanted him to greet Bo before he greeted me, because it was about Bo. Bo was the one who didn’t understand why he was away and why he couldn’t hold him or touch him.
Last deployment, Robert came home in the evening and this time I think I had to get Bo up around 4:30 in the morning because they want you there 2 hours prior to the ceremony which was at 7:30. By the time the ceremony started Bo was pretty tired and he definitely didn’t understand all the people, the band, the noise but he was pretty interested in all the soldiers. At 18 months old though, he had no idea what’s going on or that his Daddy is standing in formation.
Once they released everyone and Robert was trucking it towards us, I leaned down and let Bo stand up and backed away. Bo started to cry because he was tired, but Robert kneeled down on his level and Bo just went into his arms and wrapped his arms around his Daddy’s shoulders. As a wife who wanted to touch her husband and have him wrap his arms around her and give her a big kiss, being a mother and feeling this need for them to have their moment first was so important to me and I felt that superseded whatever I might need.
When Robert left, Bo wasn’t walking yet and he’d only ever seen him walk on Skype, so watching my husband have his son walk into his arms for the first time was beautiful. It was all just beautiful. There were tears from both of us. We sat for a long time before we left. Bo just wanted to hold on to him and of course, Robert didn’t want to let go either.
Caitlin: So, your husband is getting out of the military soon. What are you most looking forward to?
Meta: No deployments! No deployments. He will be home. I do feel a little jaded when it comes to deployments when I see people post on Facebook, “Oh my husband is gone for the weekend, I miss him so much.” And I’m like, “Really?” (laughs)
I’m looking forward to joining the world where I miss my husband when he goes away for only a weekend.
Caitlin: What will you miss about military life? I know, from my experience, there’s a lot of good that comes with the military.
Meta: Yeah, for sure. I’ll miss the camaraderie most. The spouses I have become friends with have been similar to me. There was a group of women that I became close with during Robert’s 2011 deployment and as is the way of the military most of them had a PCS and weren’t here for the last deployment, but most of us still stay in contact. We miss each other. I have wonderful friends and family, but the women you meet in your military life, they tend to become your family very quickly. The friendships happen faster and some of them become extremely strong, it’s a bond you share.
By the way, I’m not saying these friendships are better and that you lose your friendships with other best friends. These friendships just seem different, almost forged out of necessity. They know what you are going through, they are experiencing it or have experienced it firsthand. They know the lingo, they understand the upheaval, they know the truth about what happens to your soldier while they are gone. They understand the emotional roller coaster and how hard it can be, not only when your husband leaves, but when he comes home too!
I’m not saying your family and non-military friends don’t try to understand, they do, but honestly, it’s very hard to explin, it has to be experienced. It’s just different with these women. You are truly Battle Buddies. You step in for each other. That person can lean on you, shed tears with you, laugh with you and when your spouse can’t be there and you are so far removed from your family and other friends, you need them because they lift you up and help support you just as you do for them. Because of the stress and pain of what you are going through, these bonds form.
Caitlin: What’s your best advice for spouses who are the ones left at home during a deployment?
Meta: I was fortunate to get to be a stay-at-home mom during this last deployment and travel. I would advise spending time with your family. That’s what helped me through the last year, too. My parents flew me and Bo down to see them several times last year. My mother-in-law also flew us to visit her. I’m very lucky.
If you can’t go to your family, find other spouses that will be your family and get involved and get out of the house.
Also, getting to talk to my husband daily on Skype was huge. Oh, and take lots of pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.
My husband and I often talk about how we wish we had met when we were younger because we could have had more children by now. And we wish we had more time together. But, on the flip side, I’m really glad that I have only had to be a military spouse for a quarter of his career. I’m thankful that we’re getting out and my son and any future kids we have won’t have to go through anymore deployments.
It takes a lot of work and a lot of strength to get through military life as a family, in tact. Some of the strongest families I know are military families and I have a ton of respect for the way they do what needs to be done and come out better for it on the other end. Do you have experience with the military? What parts of this rang true for you? If you don’t have experience with the military, what surprised you the most? Leave a comment and make my day 🙂