It's hard to leave your family at home while you deploy overseas. It becomes even more difficult if you're expecting a baby during your deployment. Waiting for a baby can be an emotional experience, but there isn't much special treatment in the deployment cycle for an expecting father. Although this can be a difficult time, with a little preparation, you can help make the deployment easier for everyone and share some of the joys of new fatherhood even when you're away.
Before you deploy
You can reduce some of the stress you and your baby's mother will experience by helping her prepare for the baby before you deploy. The following information will help you get started:
- Communicate with your baby's mother. Before you deploy, take some time to talk realistically about both of your expectations for the birth. She may want to move home to be closer to her extended family members. You may want to set up ways you can stay in touch throughout the pregnancy and birth. Talking about your expectations ahead of time can help prevent any hurt feelings while the two of you are separated. Regardless of what you decide, make sure your command knows how to get in touch with your baby's mother during your deployment.
- Seek support from family and friends. Your partner will need a strong support system to help her during the pregnancy and birth. She'll need help emotionally as she gets closer to her due date and after the baby is born. You'll want to make sure she has someone lined up to take her to the hospital when she goes into labor. If you feel she is having an especially hard time going it alone, encourage her to seek help through family, friends, unit spouse support services or family readiness groups, your installation's support services or Military OneSource.
- Make a birth plan. By creating a birth plan ahead of time, you and your partner can decide what you want (or don't want) during the birth process. Although medical circumstances may prevent the hospital staff from carrying out all your wishes, a birth plan will give the hospital staff and your partner's birthing coach something to work with.
- Select a birth coach. Your partner's birth coach will help her through labor and delivery. Before you deploy, you may want to sit down with the birth coach and talk about how you can be involved during the childbirth process.
- Contact TRICARE. Before you deploy, you'll want to make sure your partner is enrolled in Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System to be eligible for medical benefits if he or she qualifies. You can confirm enrollment through your installation's personnel office, by calling the Defense Manpower Data Center at 800-538-9552, or online at the TRICARE DEERS site. Make sure you and your significant other understand what your medical insurance covers -whether she remains at your duty station or moves to another area. Visit the TRICARE site for more information. Your nearest Military Treatment Facility has a Beneficiary and Counseling Assistance Coordinator who may be able to answer many of your questions about coverage for the pregnancy and birth. You can find a list of BCACs at the TRICARE BCAC Locator.
- Call the New Parent Support Program. The New Parent Support Program on your installation provides one-on-one support for expecting parents and new parents. The free service has information, support, and guidance related to pregnancy and childbirth, infant and toddler growth and development, and parenting. The program varies by service and by installation, but most programs offer home visits by trained professionals. You can go online MilitaryINSTALLATIONS for contact information on your installation.
- Take parenting or childbirth classes. You may be able to enroll in a parenting or childbirth class before you deploy. A class will help you understand the childbirth process, and what to expect when your baby comes home. Your installation's New Parent Support Program can provide information about classes, including classes just for fathers.
- Pick out a car seat. Before you deploy, you may want to help your baby's mother pick out an infant seat and get it secured in the car. This way, you can be sure the baby will have a safe ride home from the hospital.
- Decorate the nursery. You can help your partner pick out baby furniture or paint the nursery. You'll feel more involved and she'll appreciate getting the work done early on. You may also want to leave your photo next to the crib along with one of your old t-shirts that your baby can touch, smell and hold.
- Plan for emergencies. Put together a plan for emergencies, such as a weather-related emergency or other natural disaster. Make a plan so you can get in touch with your family if they have to evacuate. Help put together an emergency kit for the car.
- Take care of finances and other necessities. You may want to make sure your partner has a power of attorney before you leave. Your installation's Legal Assistance Office can help prepare the paperwork. Also be sure to take care of any car repairs or home maintenance.
When the baby is born
Being a part of your baby's birth from halfway around the world can be difficult. It can be easier if you do the following:
- Stay in touch. Research the best ways to stay in touch with your baby's mother while she's in labor. If you have easy access to a computer, you may be able to be with her through a video-chat. The hospital may help your partner make special arrangements so you can take a more active role in the labor and delivery.
- Keep a journal. Keeping a journal of your time away from home will help you deal with the separation and provide a wonderful keepsake for your baby later on.
- Ask your baby's mother to keep a journal or online blog. A baby journal will help you keep up with the baby's first bath, first smile and so on. This way, you can feel like you're a part of your baby's life even when you're away.
- Encourage your partner to seek help if she needs it. Taking care of a baby is hard - especially when you are away from extended family. If your baby's mother is having a difficult time, encourage her to seek help. Your installation has support services, like the New Parent Support Program, that can offer help caring for a baby. Military OneSource is another source of support.
As it gets closer to the time to come home, you can start thinking about your reunion. Things have changed since you've been deployed. Your family's routine is completely different and your new baby may be running the show. It can take days - sometimes weeks - for you and your baby get to know one another.
- Give your baby time to get to know you. Try not to be disappointed if the baby doesn't seem to bond with you right away. The excitement of your homecoming may be overwhelming to a young baby.
- Keep up the baby's routine. This is probably not a good time to plan a big trip or a visit from extended family members. Disrupting the routine will only serve to distress the baby. Plan the trips or visits after you both have had time to settle in.
- Help with feeding, bathing and routine chores. It can be difficult to step in and help with the baby. You might be unfamiliar with babies and it can be easy to let the baby's mother continue the routine. But helping with the daily chores, such as bathing and feeding, will help you and the baby get to know each other.
- Spend time with your partner as a couple. Spending time alone with your partner is important to your whole family. Take advantage of friends who offer to watch your baby or hire a sitter so you and you two can get to know each other again. Your installation's Family Support Center may offer babysitting to help parents get out and spend some time together.