Ten years after coming home from deployment and six years of being a mom has taught me to relook and refocus to see what motherhood can teach me about military life. I now look at a deployment similar to how I look at pregnancy. And while the similarities are uncanny there are also distinct differences. But the deeper you dive into this topic the more you realize there is a lot from a pregnancy that can help you as you prepare for or come home from a deployment.
During your first pregnancy, you might believe pregnancy (training for deployment) and childbirth (the deployment) are the hardest part. But once you bring your child home (you come home from your deployment). You realize that now that you are home your life has completely changed. Your child (your deployment) has changed your life. These are all things similar to both events. And just like after a baby arrives, post homecoming there is a time of adjustment. A time to reconnect, decompress, and sort out life again.
Have you ever heard of the 4th trimester of pregnancy?
The baby is born, but you still have that deep connection with your child and your baby wants so many things to be the way it was before they left their mother’s womb.
That is kind of what coming home from a deployment is like. Your mind has adapted to being deployed and the challenges that you face each day. It may be hard and you might be counting down the days to coming home, but then you are home and your mind and body can’t quite cope with all the changes all happening at once and it can feel like overload and be completely unexpected.
At the time you think the deployment experience is the hard part.
And in some ways, it is. There are challenges and very real dangers you face. But you are not the only one who has faced deployment and the military has mapped out how to train and prepare you for this experience to a science. One of the key elements that helps you get through your deployment is the team of people you are deployed with. They are there with you.
Struggling, learning, adapting.
And then the deployment is over and you go home and you are on your own. Life isn’t the same for you and your peers anymore. Yes, you all went through a deployment experience. But the life you come back to can be so different and how you process your life now that you are home can change everything.
You can find yourself struggling and feeling so alone.
It feels a little crazy to write it down on paper, but it is the best metaphor I have come up with to compare the homecoming and reintegration process feels. Because it often feels like chaos with everyone telling you should be happy. Your baby is finally here (you are finally home) life should be good now.
But adjusting to life after a deployment takes time. Earlier this week I shared Lesley’s story for the Women of the Military Podcast. In it, she talked about when she came home from a deployment to Afghanistan. She felt as if she left a movie everyone had been watching and then came home at the end missing the middle. Trying desperately to figure out what happened.
She said the only thing that fixed it was time and working on herself and her mental state. Then working to help her family. Sometimes we can rush right past the real struggles of coming home after being away for so long.
Everyone is telling you to be happy. The deployment is over, you are finally home. But the reality is deployment changes you and if you have a family it changed them too. You have to take time to adjust to living life together again. Spending time talking about the hurts and how to build trust and strengthen the relationships again.
Because the honeymoon period of being home is just that a period of time where everything seems okay, but eventually life can catch up and you need to take a step back and process through those emotions to become whole again.
Have you noticed how important the reintegration stage is? How long did it take for you to get back to normal after deploying?
A few years ago I did a series called How Military and Motherhood Intersect. At the time it was a fun way to look at how both my life as a mom and life as a former service member were connected. And I think as I covered how important it is to protect your head and how there are no awards in motherhood. It was also a healing part of my journey. As I looked back at my military service and how I used the tools it gave me to be the mom I am today.