Christmas 2002 was good. I was pregnant with our first child, we were able to spend time with family, and we had the best of friends just down the street to share more good times with. Michael was in the Navy and we were stationed at CBC Gulfport with NMCB 133. We were enjoying the last few months of home port, knowing that soon the battalion would deploy, bound for Rota, Spain. We were not a nation officially at war, though the last deployment had started with a bang- quite literally, as just a few days after Michael left, our country was devastated by 9/11.
Christmas stand down, a few weeks of mostly vacations, was not quite over for the battalion. But yet, the phone rang at 9pm, calling the entire 600+ in. It was another 13 hours before I saw Michael again, when he came home for some much needed sleep after the unexpected all nighter. But by then, word had spread throughout the base and families, that they were loading cargo planes. The first wave of our Seabees would be leaving the next morning, bound for the Middle East.
The next few days were a blur, as preparations were made to deploy unexpectedly early and to an unexpected location. I was nervous for many reasons. Being pregnant while your husband goes to war is never the dream. The fact that he had been hospitalized 8 times in the past year, and that his battalion seemed unaware added to the fear.
But there were these women.
I was surrounded by some of the bravest and strongest women I’d ever met. Women who were raising children mostly alone, who had faced many more deployments than me, and who literally kept the home fires burning. And men too. Days before our husband’s and wives left, we gathered in a base chapel, for a family briefing. We were told limited info on the mission and destination. Not even a country was named, though we believed they were headed to Kuwait to prepare for the Iraq invasion. (We were right.) I looked around at these women and knew I was in the company of the best.
One of those, was my rock. She lived a quick walk away, had a few more deployments under her belt, and was pregnant with their second child. She fed me and kept me going. Another one was my example. She was the wife of the battalion Commanding Officer, the mother of two teenagers, and wise. I’ll never forget her answer to my question of how she stayed so strong. She told me that she didn’t. That the mornings her husband left, she said goodbye at home, and cried. She could barely get out of bed she cried so much, but not for long. After that first day, she picked up and started life. She made me know it was okay to be sad. But it was also okay to enjoy life while they were gone. Other women were simply my friends. They shared fears and tears, but even more, just shared life and laughs.
My rock and I were due about 2 weeks apart from each other, both in June. My husband was scheduled to come home and discharge from the Navy, hopefully just in time to see our son born. Her husband was in for the duration, and we knew would miss the birth of their daughter. The plan was for me to be with her, and have the joy of being the first to meet that sweet girl. But first, we were going to have a day of lunch, pedicures, and a movie. It was May 24. By the time we ate our salads, I realized she was checking her watch frequently. While we had our toes painted, I noticed she was uncomfortable. When we set out for the car, I knew we weren’t seeing a movie.
You’d think that the almost 9 months pregnant woman pushing the wheelchair with the laboring 9 months pregnant woman in it would attract attention and get us some help. No such luck. But we laughed. And laughed. Several hours later, the most beautiful baby girl was born. I was in love. Her daddy was leaving on a convoy into Iraq just a few hours later where he would have no access to email, so getting photos and news of her arrival to him was top priority. I spent the next few weeks loving on her as often as possible, and in disbelief that I’d have my own very soon.
Michael made it home the first week of June, with about 10 days to spare before my due date. Drew has always had his own time frame for things, and being born was no different. When he was 6 days late, I packed my bag in the car and announced that I wasn’t coming home from my doctor’s appointment that day, they were going to keep me. My blood pressure, which had been high all pregnancy, was high enough that inducing was needed. It was June 24. After a rough labor and delivery, Drew was born at 8:56pm in the same room I’d witnessed my friend’s daughter born in.
He was just as beautiful. We laughed about the irony of our babies both being born on the 24th, and in the very same room.
|Ashley, 4 mos & Drew, 3 mos|
A month later, as we were packing up our home and preparing to take our newborn and forge a new life, I got a phone call. A friend of ours who was due with their first any day, was in labor. We’d been through pregnancy together, and I could do nothing but laugh. Because it was the 24th. Amazingly enough, her precious son arrived later that day in the very same room.
May 24. June 24. July 24. In the same room of Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi.
Leaving a few days later was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I knew I’d always remember those days of fear that turned into days of Joy, surrounded by women of strength and character.
It’s now been 10 years since I helped welcome the first of the 24 babies.
A month later we met our own son. And a month after that we welcomed one more to the world, as we said goodbye and turned our world upside down by leaving the security of jobs, in lieu of the comfort of being together.
So much has happened in these 10 years since. But I cherish those days as much as any I’ve ever had. I learned that I was stronger than I thought, that joy can come through pain, and that love is stronger than anything. I pray our 24 babies grow to know the same.