You knew it was only a matter of time before I posted on the controversial pregnancy policy from MND-North’s commanding general. Of course I can’t keep my mouth shut.
First, a disclaimer: I am NOT questioning this general’s decision. He has smarter people than me advising him and coming up with their recommendations on his policies.
Second, I completely understand where he’s coming from. In his public statements, he says that in the coming draw down, he needs every available soldier to successfully command and control the battlespace he’s been assigned.
I partially disagree with this assessment. Anyone who has been in the army for a minute knows that there are folks who get the dog shit worked out of them and those who skate by and those who take more time and energy herding than they can ever possibly contribute to the team.
I do not agree that punishing females who get pregnant is a message that we want to send to our women in the armed forces. We make up less than 20 percent of the force. The last number I saw was something like 13 percent. In my brigade, we had less than 30 females on rear detachment who were pregnant. We had two in my company redeployed from Iraq because they got pregnant while they were deployed.
Full disclosure: in 2003, while in PCS status from Korea back to Ft Hood, my husband and I found out we were pregnant. We lost that pregnancy and a subsequent one. After the second miscarriage, once the docs cleared me, I was going to go back on birth control. We’d try again when Iraq 04 was over. Except that wasn’t in the plan. We managed to get pregnant with our firstborn two weeks after miscarrying the second time.
I was mortified. I was also treated like shit. The female officers I worked with were absolutely amazing in their support. The major who was the deputy OIC at the time walked in on me at 0600, bawling my eyes out and was horrified. When I told her I was pregnant, she said “that’s it?” She thought that for my extreme reaction, my husband had been killed or wounded in Iraq.
Long story short, the sergeant major of my section sat me down and told me that when I miscarried this one, I would be on the first thing smoking to Iraq. Not only did this man, this leader tell me that I was a disappointment to the team, he told me he was pursuing action against me for deliberately getting pregnant to get out of a deployment. It didn’t matter if it was harsh or untrue. I could not defend myself because I agreed with him. I was a disappointment. I was that girl. The one who got knocked up right before a deployment.
Fast forward to 2010. I spent half the 2009 deployment in Iraq in mortal fear that my birth control would fail and I would be sent home again, head held low in shame, pregnant again. Ask my husband. I was neurotic about it.
When one of my soldiers turned up pregnant, I defended her. Shit happens. She got pregnant while she was home on leave. She was still part of the team. She was still a soldier. She had decisions to make but she was still one of us. I slammed an NCO who tried to make her feel bad for getting pregnant. I defended her.
When another NCO in our company said that one of our females was making up post partum depression to get out of deploying again, once more I spoke up. I asked him if he’d ever miscarried. He said no and I told him I had. Twice. The first one was emotionally devastating. The second one, too. I told him to wait and give her the opportunity to get her head back in the game, then bring her out.
She deployed. She was welcomed back. And no one dared say a damn thing to her about her miscarriage or her reaction to it.
Here’s the thing. No matter how much we try to regulate pregnancy through policy, which is what this general is, at the end of the day doing, this policy unfairly targets females. Yes, there are absolutely women out there who get pregnant to avoid deploying. I won’t deny that. But there are also significantly more men who fake PTSD to get out of deploying. Who have family problems. Who go to the first sergeant and say ‘my wife is going to leave me if I deploy again’. Why are their excuses shrugged off (as a matter of policy) when females who get pregnant are targeted
There are a myriad of reasons why soldiers can’t deploy. Most of us will do so. Most have already done so. My unit’s response to my pregnancy in 2004? Put me on orders, regardless of the fact that my leaving did nothing to help their deployable numbers. It was the best thing they ever did for me but I still carry that shame around with me. I was that girl. And I am sure that with many of the officers and NCOs I worked with then, my reputation will never recover from that. Five years later, I still feel the scarlet letter P emblazoned on my chest.
I’m hard enough on myself over that. I do not need some sergeant major telling me I’m a piece of shit for not deploying. I do not believe that punishing these soldiers with a local letter of reprimand or with an article fifteen, both punishments that do not follow a soldier but still have the stigma attached to them, and yes, both can be documented on NCOER and OERs, which then DO become a matter of permanent record.
We as an army must find a way to allow our women to serve without fear of reprisals for something that, even if they are taking steps to prevent it, can still happen. No sex policies didn’t work. I remember sending condoms to a friend in Iraq because she couldn’t get them at the PX. Now that was a smart policy decision. No sex and no condoms because hey, you’re not supposed to be having sex. And we wonder why there was a rampant STD problem over there.
So instead of punishing women – even married women who are deployed with their spouses – let’s look at making our females, yes even our pregnant females, part of the team. Let’s figure out a way to put our arms around them and say, okay, you’re on rear d but I need you while I’m down range. Here’s how you can help the team.
What about the argument that says you should plan your family around the deployment. Really? We’ve been on deployments since 2001. The First Cav has deployed every other year since 2004. When are you supposed to have a family? And what about those dual military couples out there who are on opposite rotations and who get less than 6 months together before one of them ships out again? When are they supposed to have a family then?
I understand that the family and army is a difficult life to juggle. I do not believe that my being a female makes me any less reliable or more reliable than my male counter parts. I do not believe that my being a mother makes me less of an officer. My beliefs are quantifiable because none of my previous supervisors have ever remarked on it, either formally or informally. My ratings have been in the top ten percent of officers and NCOs in the army.
I will do my best to serve my commander’s needs. I will also do my best to make sure that my children’s needs are met.
Punishing me because my husband and I decide to have another baby is not the right answer. It sends the wrong message to our soldiers, male and female. It targets a problem with a solution that is an excessive amount of force. There is no right time to have a baby in the army.
And you know what? The army will replace me. My family can’t.
(FYI, Mom, I’m not pregnant.)