Military spouses conquer a lot of things, some they couldn’t even have imaged before marrying into the military. For Hawaiian native, Kathy Miller, 2017 brought several challenges to conquer, including having a baby without her spouse. Most military spouses have considered this possibility, but Kathy didn’t see it coming.
For Kathy, February rolled in like the perfect storm. She unexpectedly went into labor while her husband was one month into his two-month training trip to the desert, five hours away. Kathy shared her story with Daily Mom Military to encourage others who may have to endure this daunting task.
On the morning she saw her husband off for two months in 29 Palms, Kathy made a quick pitstop to the restroom — not out of the norm for a woman who is 30 weeks pregnant — before driving her husband to base. But, it was unusual that she noticed a bit of blood.
After giving in to the reflex to check her symptoms on Google, she decided to just call her doctor about the unexpected spotting. Even though the doctor said it wasn’t necessary to come in, Kathy popped into the office on her way home from the goodbye on base.
Shortly after being hooked up to a monitor, Kathy was moved to the maternity wing when the doctor discovered she was experiencing consistent contractions. She was given medication that not only stopped labor, but would hopefully stall any further labor until Kathy reached at least 36 weeks. If the baby came before this mark, she would have to deliver her son at the hospital downtown, the only facility in the area with a NICU.
In true military-spouse fashion, Kathy couldn’t help thinking, “Of course this had to happen the day my husband left.”
The Waiting Game
Kathy was sent home with strict instructions to limit her activity and remain on modified bed rest. “Each day, I counted down the hours until I could mark one more day that my unborn son had a chance to keep growing,” she said.
Meanwhile, the father-to-be was given as many updates as desert communication would allow, simultaneously worrying about his wife and unborn child while still maintaining his role as an officer tasked with caring for his Marines.
At her next checkup at 33 weeks, Kathy, was told she would likely be delivering her baby in just 1-2 weeks. The doctor offered a note in hopes of persuading the military to send Kathy’s husband home in time for the delivery, but she was met with the inconvenient response that he would be sent home after two weeks.
Just like the doctor predicted, Kathy felt her water break at 4 a.m., one week later. As she rushed through the house gathering her things and trying to breathe through the contractions, it dawned on her that she was having a baby at only 34 weeks. And if there was any time to need your husband by your side, this was it.
She darted to her phone, desperately trying all modes of reaching her husband, including the Red Cross emergency line. Kathy was simply rewarded with her iPhone message bubble turning green, meaning her husband was out of range for cell reception, and muttered, “Damn desert.”
Exhausting all other options, she called her husband’s unit and began to explain her situation to the young Marine on duty that morning. He countered her desperation with a casual, “Hey, I know Lt. Miller. I love that guy!” and promptly began to use any connections he had to get a hold of the lieutenant. “Oh, congrats by the way!” he blurted out before hanging up.
While Kathy waited for her husband to receive word of his son’s imminent arrival, she tried contacting the other military spouses in the squadron to see if they could reach their Marines. “To this day, I am forever grateful for the support of my fellow military spouses,” Kathy recalled fondly.
An hour after realizing her water broke, Kathy got into her mother’s car, and they began the drive to the downtown hospital. Gritting her teeth through the not-so-intermittent contractions, she longingly stared at the facility where she’d planned to deliver her baby, as they passed it on their way to the downtown hospital.
In the flurry of hospital forms, breathing through the painful contractions, and simply trying to remember her own first name, Kathy’s phone finally rang. “Kat! I’m so sorry! Are you OK? Did you have the baby yet?” Kathy’s husband asked.
In the delirious haze of pain and anxiety, she confused his question to mean: Are you in labor? Not surprisingly, her reply, “I think so…” set off a frenzy of frantic questions.
“What do you mean you don’t know? Did you have the baby or not?”
She admitted that — had the situation not been so serious — she would’ve laughed. Her mother took over the phone call and explained everything to him, and he assured her that he was coming as quickly as possible.
Time to Have a Baby
After ending the call, Kathy was quickly transferred to triage where she promptly began the process of “losing all of [her] decency and dignity.”
After being examined by her new, male doctor, a nurse walked in and asked Kathy if she would allow two nursing students to observe her delivery.
“A guy I’ve never seen before just stuck his hand inside me; a bunch of people analyzed my underwear, and I just wanted the pain to go away,” she recounted. Needless to say, no cares were given, and the students were about to get the experience of their lives.
Kathy was finally given the go-ahead for the labor and delivery wing, where it was rumored the magical anesthesiologist lived. A dozen people swarmed in and out of the room. Hindsight now reveals that the masses were getting ready for her premature baby and prepping for the worst. But, she was only focused on waiting for that epidural to kick in.
The doctor came back in and asked the momentous question: “Ready to push?”
“I bucked up, and told him to bring it,” said Kathy, in true Marine spouse fashion.
It was only several pushes later that Kathy’s sweet son arrived. A few, agonizing moments passed while the doctor cleared the baby’s nose, and then she heard the tiniest little cry. Relief washed over her.
She shared a quick hello and kiss before her fragile boy was whisked away to an incubator and hooked up to multiple cords, tubes, and oxygen. Kathy used her recovery time to update her husband who was still hours away, waiting on a flight. In a text conversation, the pair even decided on the name of their baby son.
Kathy’s husband arrived that evening, still covered in dirt from the desert. Wearing a nervous smile, he wheeled his wife into their son’s room. The nurse asked if he wanted to hold his son, and she began to explain the benefits of skin to skin contact, but the words were barely out of her mouth before he was ripping his shirt off, ready to hold his baby boy.
Looking back, Kathy describes her son’s journey as a preemie as “difficult to walk through, but a fleeting moment in the grand scheme of things.”
“Time seems to stand still during the NICU stay. Waiting for your baby to grow and get stronger feels like a lifetime. But this is such a small part of your baby’s life. You’ve got a whole childhood, preteen years, and adolescence with your son or daughter, and so many years and memories to make. Soon, it’ll be a distant memory.”
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