I will never forget the first time my husband came home from his first deployment. I got my hair done, a pedicure, manicure, cleaned my house, made all of his favorite dishes, gassed up his Jeep, put on my cutest outfit, and headed out to the airport.
We lived in Bellevue, Nebraska and the drive to the airport in Omaha wasn’t that long. Yet it was the longest car ride of my life.
I was able to get a security pass to wait at the gate for my husband Jeremy. I was so nervous. My hands were shaking and I was making ridiculous conversation with anyone who would listen.
Finally, his plane was pulling up to the gate. I felt my heart pounding and breathing was hardly happening. I stood there waiting, holding up a sign, and smiling.
All around people were smiling and showing their support. And I stood there waiting for what felt like an eternity. Finally, standing before me was my husband. I dropped the sign and ran straight into his arms.
Before Jeremy deployed we had decided that it was time to expand our family. We wanted a baby. Then, he came home and said he was deploying and everything changed.
I said we could still try for a baby, but my husband said that he wanted to be home for my pregnancy. Jeremy wanted to be there with me because we wanted to become parents.
When Jeremy asked if we could wait until after his deployment, I was crushed. However, I understood. He was so excited about becoming a father that he didn’t want to miss anything. How could I say no?
Fast forward a year, and I was pregnant, really pregnant actually. Our son was due in September, but I was starting to have some contractions.
I went in for an appointment and my blood pressure was dangerously high. I started to panic a little. I will never forget what my doctor said to me; “Now Susan, your job is to have a healthy baby, and my job is to worry. You don’t want to take my job from me do you?”
For some reason those words were incredibly reassuring. I was sent home to get my hospital bag and to check myself in to the high risk unit in Downtown Omaha.
I called Jeremy at work and the moment I heard his voice, I started to cry. I muttered out the words, “blood pressure” and “hospital.”
My husband was a typical new dad. Before I could actually form a real sentence, he dropped the phone, grabbed his backpack, and yelled out “Susan! Baby! Now!” The First Sergeant stayed with me on the phone until Jeremy came home to take me to the hospital.
I remember asking the First Sergeant about time off for Jeremy. I was sure the Air Force had a paternity leave policy, but I wanted to check. I was assured repeatedly that Jeremy was fine, and that all we needed to do was have a healthy baby.
Two days later on August 12 our son Ian was born.
It wasn’t an easy time, and I was scared frequently. My blood pressure was incredibly high and I ended up having a c-section. None of that mattered because we had our baby; we had our Ian.
There is something about holding your first child for the first time. It was surreal. I had wanted this little person for so long, but I had no idea what I was doing. Neither did Jeremy.
I was released from the hospital a few days later and I remember feeling really overwhelmed. I wanted a baby, but I didn’t know anything about babies. Sure I read the books, but those books left me with more questions. What I needed was my husband, and fortunately I had him with me.
Jeremy was given 14 days of Paternity Leave. While that doesn’t seem like much, for us— new parents— we needed that time.
I was healing from a surgery, and I was still having issues with my blood pressure. I had lifting restrictions placed on me because of my c-section. Fortunately, I could lift and hold my baby, but I couldn’t when he was in his car seat.
Getting to and from appointments was a challenge because of these lifting restrictions. Jeremy was there with me, with us, every step of the way.
It was more than just Jeremy being home. We bonded as a family. My husband was able to spend time with his child because of his paternity leave. That time together was vital for my family.
Those two weeks flew by, and as soon as Jeremy returned to work we had orders waiting for us. In six weeks our little family of three would be heading out to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
People seem shocked when I tell them that my husband had paternity leave. But I always thought Jeremy would have paternity leave. Over the years I have watched family friendly policies take hold in the Department of Defense. Paternity leave is one of those policies.
What the Department of Defense has recognized is that parents need support. Families need support. Having family leave policies such as 12-Week Maternity Leave, Paternity Leave, and New Parent Support ensures that our service members and their families will be both supported and self-sufficient, and know how to find resources.
We moved with a newborn halfway across the country. Because of the New Parent Support Program at our last duty station, I was able to find resources at our new duty station. My husband started a new job with a new squadron, not worrying about his family. He knew we had resources and support.
These family friendly policies only help the military. Retention is better, service members are able to perform well in their jobs. Families succeed despite the long separations and stresses placed on them.
Having Jeremy home those first few weeks was wonderful. To this day I am thankful for it because that time together was exactly what we needed.