Somewhere around 3am, after my four month old woke up for the third time to eat, I went to use the bathroom and wash my hands when I noticed…the water wasn’t working. I jiggled the faucet as the muscles of my stomach tightened with anxiety. I hurried to the kitchen and tried that sink as well. Nothing. My ears perked at the sound of water, and then my stomach turned when I opened the door to the garage and saw water pouring in, inches of it already filling the floor of our garage.
My husband had deployed 4 weeks earlier on an eight-month overseas deployment. We had moved to the area only seven months prior and I had spent most of those months either very pregnant or with a newborn. I had no one nearby I could call for help, and I was panicked.
The rest of the night was a blur as I reached out to my dad a thousand miles away (crying, of course), the non-emergency county line, and then the fire department – since it was rapidly becoming a fire hazard – as water gushed from a line that appeared to have broken. The nicest people in the world helped me that night. Both veterans and locals in the community, all smiles and reassurance at 3am to help a spouse of a deployed soldier with a sleeping baby in the house. My water valve was shut off, a water representative was sent to fix it the next morning, and I learned an incredible amount that night (and in the months to come) about what’s required to make it through a deployment as a mom.
This was my third deployment as a spouse, and at this point, I thought I had a decent handle on things. How much more difficult could this deployment be than his first that was nine months long, or the one in 2020 during the worst of COVID? Certainly, I could deal with a dog and baby for eight months alone with my previous experience? Ha.
Here’s what I learned from this first deployment as a new mom, and what I wish someone had told me:
- Build your community before your spouse leaves.
After this incident I reached out to the girl I had met and connected with at a book club, asked my daycare director (who happened to be my neighbor) for help with babysitting and as a resource if something like my garage flooding happened again. I also started actively reaching out to family and friends to see if they would be willing to come visit.
- Pay to make your life easier, if you’re able.
I realized I could not do everything alone. Whether you are a full time mom or work full time, or do a mix of both, it’s almost impossible to manage a home and kids entirely alone. I hired someone to mow the lawn every week, got a meal delivery subscription to ensure I had a few completely ready meals to eat each week, and paid for groceries to be delivered weekly. We budgeted for each of these things while he was away.
- Accept help when it’s offered.
I pride myself on being an independent person, but during this deployment when visitors came to my home for a long weekend and asked “What can I do?” I answered truthfully, instead of acting like I had it all covered: “It would be great if you could hold the baby while I showered, or make dinner tonight, or change the laundry, or take the dog on a walk, or help me install this baby proofing lock.” When my neighbor started plowing my driveway after every snow, I thanked him profusely instead of saying he didn’t have to do it. There’s no medal for overburdening yourself. Accept the help.
- Maintain at least one hobby for your sanity.
My workout regimen and writing fell by the wayside, but I continued reading. During nap times after a bit of cleaning and tidying, I allotted myself time to read. On my lunch breaks from work, I gave myself a chapter or two. I kept reading through the entire deployment because everyone needs down time. The dishes and laundry will still be there, but your mental health needs you to keep up with at least ONE thing that brings you peace.
- Make plans you can look forward to each month.
I’ve done this during each deployment, but it feels infinitely harder to coordinate a day out or a weekend of travel with a baby. I dreaded the thought of all the extra work. But honestly, you just have to do it anyway. I met my sister’s family at a cabin in the mountains. I road tripped 4 hours solo with a dog and the baby and a car loaded down with supplies for both of them. It was exhausting and the baby had a rough time sleeping in a new environment, but I had people I loved to help hold him and to talk to, and we made precious memories together.
A deployment with a baby or kids isn’t terribly different from deployments when I was alone, but it requires a little more humility and a lot more planning. It requires effort to find and secure a community ahead of time and to ask for the help I needed.
The garage didn’t flood again, though the water heater did break a couple months later. This time I was ready. I had my community of people to call for help. I had my outlet of reading and walking the dog to handle the stress, and I had exciting plans in the near future that reminded me the hard times will pass. The deployment will end. The confidence I earned during that deployment however, will stay with me forever.