A story of the struggles of a military spouse during deployment and finding the grace to persevere.
When we were first married, I remember feeling like the military was our path. We talked about it for a while and with my husband coming from a military family where his dad and uncle were Marines, we felt like it was the obvious choice. My husband wanted to go to medical school and we thought that was the way for us to go. After chatting with them about different options, my husband didn’t feel like that was the right time so we went on with our normal lives.
Fast forward a couple of years. We had been married for just over 5 years. We had our first child and we had just bought our first home. My husband had graduated from college and our career paths had changed a few times. He was working really hard for our family but never seemed content with what he was doing. I remember getting the super strong feeling that we needed to start thinking about the military again and he agreed.
The timing didn’t make a lot of sense, though. We had just bought our first house. We had plans to grow our family. But we couldn’t get this thought out of our minds. So instead of just looking at the Marines, he decided to interview with every branch. After several months and countless conversations with recruiters, he “signed his life away” in November 2015 as a member of the United States Army. Because of the timing of our lives, the desire to still find a civilian career, and the fact that he was almost 30, we chose to go with the Reserves for more “security”. He would still be going away for 6 months for Basic Training and Officer Candidate school and other trainings in the future, but we felt like the Reserves would give us the greatest chance at a “normal” life.
Nothing Goes As Planned During Deployment
Looking back, I was really naïve to think that any version of military life would give us “normalcy”. It’s a little ironic because I think he’s been away longer than most people who serve in an Active capacity at this point. Things never seem to go according to plan. At least not for our family.
Just a few days after he swore in, we found out I was pregnant. We kind of laughed and did the math. We figured that with the timing of everything, he should be home about two weeks before I was due to deliver. After Basic training, he got held up and couldn’t start his Officer training until he received his security clearance…. It was about 5 weeks. Five long weeks of waiting. He couldn’t come home. He had to stay there. Once it was clear that he was going to miss the birth of this baby, I cried…a lot. But just like any military wife, I had my sob session and then I figured out how I was going to survive. That’s it…none of this “thriving” business… I was literally in survival mode. I was a pregnant mother of a 2 ½-year-old. I was working full-time while my husband was away and now, I was going to deliver a baby without my husband by my side. I just needed to survive until he came home again. This has become the theme for our military lifestyle. Just SURVIVE.
Let’s fast forward a few more years…to right now. The deployment from H-E-double hockey sticks. Our first deployment, too. This deployment was going to be 9+ months. The longest he had been away was just over 6 months. What’s even crazier? He VOLUN-freaking-TEERED. And I was totally fine with it. Anyone not in the military would think we were crazy. Heck, we thought we were crazy. Who would volunteer to be away from their family for up to a year and miss every holiday, anniversary, and birthday?! Well, we did. Happily.
Over the course of our 2.5-ish years in the Army Reserves, we had come to realize that we actually enjoy military life and all that is has to offer. More than that, I saw something my husband was growing to love and appreciate. We had been married 8+ years and the only time I saw him get really excited about something career-oriented was when we talked about the military. So, we made the decision together that if the opportunity ever came up for him to deploy, we’d take it. We would sacrifice however many months of our lives together for a few solid reasons:
- He would gain experience he wouldn’t otherwise get by just going to drill every month.
- He would gain insight into what Active duty life which is a big desire of ours.
- We knew this was the best decision at this time for our family from a career and financial perspective.
In May 2018, he came home from work and said he received an email asking for someone of his job and rank to aid in a 9-month deployment overseas. We had already talked about it so the decision was easy. Now let me tell you that I have NEVER – and I mean NEVER – seen my husband more enthusiastic and excited about something as he was when he said yes to this deployment. He’s always wanted to serve others and as a wife, I just wanted him to be happy. Not to mention, I was pretty dang proud in that moment.
He left in July 2018. The day he left was one I’ll never forget. It was so hard. So, so hard. My kids were having meltdowns. I was having meltdowns. It just sucked. Plain and simple. We thought we had done everything to prepare for this deployment but I quickly realized, you can’t ever really be prepared. I remember thinking to myself “you had a freaking baby without him, you can do anything!” That night, I remember lying in bed scrolling through my phone just trying to ignore the loneliness I was feeling. I remember my sister posting on social media about his departure and she shared some truths that, at the time, I didn’t even realize would become my reality. Here is what she wrote:
“… My sweet sister delivered her little girl without her husband the last time he was deployed and today he leaves for his longest assignment and is headed overseas. My sister will do the first day of school, kindergarten homework, bath time, bedtime, story time, fun days, hard days, sick days, and vacations, dentist appts, doctors appts, parent-teacher conferences, housework, yard work, swim lessons, bike lessons, scraped knees, and hurt feelings all while her husband serves our country (and while she works full time to help support her family!). She CAN DO HARD THINGS! She is STRONG. She is BRAVE. She is PROUD.”
I cried myself to sleep that night. I was so overwhelmed by the weight of what was going to come my way these next 9 months. I had no idea how right my sister was. She isn’t military. She has never been in any situation even remotely similar to what I was about to experience but I knew in my heart, she had a firm understanding of all a military wife and military children go through when their parent leaves to serve our country.
Military life is never convenient
I’ve always thought I was a pretty adaptable person that could handle pretty much anything life threw at me. Little did I know that this trait was going to be tested more than ever during his deployment.
Before we learned he’d be leaving, we tried to grow our family. Once we learned of this deployment, we realized that our family would have to be put on hold and we stopped trying for another child. We took the remaining time to build memories for our kids (ages 4 and 2) doing things like road trips and vacations and extra “crazy time” to wrestle with dad before bed each night. These things have been great for our kids and the memories help, but it’s still so hard when curveballs get thrown at us.
Two weeks after he left, on our daughter’s 2nd birthday, I got a positive pregnancy test. See, I told you… nothing about a deployment is convenient. I laughed. Then cried. Then laughed some more. Truth is, I was SO ready for this. I had done it before, I could do it again. Right? I wanted a baby anyway. So, what if the timing isn’t perfect, I thought. I called him that night and we both just laughed. Two weeks later, my excitement turned to dread. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I quickly became stressed and worried and VERY cautious. Suddenly I felt very scared. Within the next week, after several doctor’s appointments, bloodwork, and ultrasounds, I miscarried.
WHY?! Why would I have this strong desire to bring another child into the world, put that on hold so my husband could leave our family to serve our country, get blessed with a surprise baby just to have it taken from me?! While he was away, no less! WHY me?! WHY now?!
An emotional turning point
I felt so isolated, empty and depressed. I was angry…so, so angry. I remember going to church and feeling the most alone I had ever felt in my entire life. I remember looking around the room and just thinking that not a single soul in that room will ever feel the exact pain I was feeling in that moment. Sure people have experienced loss, but I’d put money on none of them experiencing it in this capacity.
I thought about what my sister had written. About everything I’d experience while he was away. This was not on that list, but her list was actually so inspired. She has never been through anything even remotely like this deployment. She had no idea what life would really be like but she wasn’t too far off with the things she wrote. The only way she had just a solid understanding of what was ahead of me was because of her personal experiences as a mom but also through her research and learning from others’ experiences.
I started thinking about those people that “would never understand”. What if I helped them? What if I shared insight into what it’s really like so they can try to empathize with that pain, or try to relate to me on some level? I wanted my friends and family, and even complete strangers, to know what this life brings. I wanted people to see the good and the bad of the sacrifices we make daily. It was at this point in my struggle that I felt like no matter what military life or this deployment threw in my direction, I was going to look for the lesson to be learned and share that with whoever needed to hear it.
This miscarriage happened one month into our deployment. I had two kids depending on me to raise them and be strong when we were all struggling equally. I believed I had to hold myself together for them and be strong but it helped me to share my journey with anyone willing to listen so I could A) have a support system and B) allow others to know there was someone else struggling just like them.
Holding space for my kids’ emotions
While I felt the need to be strong for my kids, I still felt strongly that they needed to see mom have hard days. My five-year-old and I talk a lot about how it’s okay to not be okay all the time. While I enjoy sharing my journey with others, I’ve just recently realized the importance of sharing my struggles with my children so they know they’re not alone either.
Military children are some of the strongest humans you’ll ever meet on this earth. They are wise and brave and they go through things other children will never experience. It’s a lot for a little mind to understand that daddy is gone and he will come home but you can’t tell them when or why he’s away or what he’s doing. It’s hard for anyone, let alone a child. I believe with my whole heart that my children need to know that it’s totally normal to have problems and to share them so it doesn’t build up inside. I believe that teaching our children that it’s okay to talk about their struggles will make a huge difference in their future. If more people talk and share their journeys (including our children), then so many people will be benefited from knowing they’re not alone in their struggles.
I also want to say that I don’t share everything with my children. I don’t break down and cry to them every time I feel defeated. I do, however, make sure they get a healthy balance from me. Mommy is not a robot. Mommy has feelings and mommy isn’t always brave and strong and they don’t have to be either.
Giving myself grace
I’ve also given myself a lot of grace over the last year. Pre-deployment I was an uptight, bossy, perfectionist. I owe this deployment for giving me the opportunity to learn that it’s okay to be a hot mess every once in a while. It’s allowed me the chance to play more with my children and clean my house less. I’ve learned to pay more attention to the little things and drop the housework to play outside or go on a walk.
Obviously, the start of this deployment was the worst experience of my life but the rest of it hasn’t been a cakewalk either. Looking back at my sister’s social media post, she says “…My sister will do the first day of school, kindergarten homework, bath time, bedtime, story time, fun days, hard days, sick days, and vacations, dentist appts, doctors appts, parent-teacher conferences, housework, yard work, swim lessons, bike lessons, scraped knees, and hurt feelings all while her husband serves our country (and while she works full time to help support her family!”
A glimpse at the obstacles faced during deployment
You guys… I have done it ALL! (and then some). In the last 8 months:
- I’ve sent my oldest off to kindergarten while trying to balance homework, parent-teacher conferences, learning to read all while working 40 hours a week and spending maybe TWO hours with him each night.
- We had our fair share of bath time and bedtime arguments over what pajamas to wear, what books to read, who gets to sleep in mom’s bed, etc.
- We’ve had more sicknesses, emergencies, and doctor’s visits than we’ve had in our entire 5 years of being a family and I am not exaggerating!
- We have experienced: miscarriage bloodwork and ultrasound, Pneumonia, multiple colds and episodes of croup, 6 x-rays between the three of us, one set of stitches, two swallowed earrings (x2 – yes, she did it TWICE), scraped knees, ear infections, broken nose, broken finger, and probably several other things that I just can’t remember.
- We endured some emotional and physical trauma that lead to therapy for my oldest to work through some things. It was at that time I was told that my 5-year-old battles anxiety – probably as a result of his dad being away.
- I was laid off from a job I loved that helped our family significantly.
I don’t share all of that for pity or to bring fear to anyone going through, or about to go through, a deployment.
Its been a learning process
I share for this reason: Everything I have endured in the past 8 months, I have learned from. Everything has happened in its own time and there is a lesson to be learned from it all. In her recent documentary “Made for More”, Rachel Hollis says that “Everything does NOT happen for a reason. Terrible things happen to great people and there may not be a reason for it but you CAN find meaning in it all.” I try to remember this every time I think “Why me?!” because there may not really be a reason, but something for me to learn or share from it all. Everything I’ve experienced, I’ve shared and it’s helped me realize that I have so much support when I felt so alone just a few months ago.
There is no way I could have planned for any of this and it’s true that I have been in complete survival mode from day one, but guess what? I’m almost done. I’m a survivor of my trials and struggles. My children are survivors and some of the strongest people I know. I felt so alone from day one. I felt even more alone when new obstacles to overcome appeared week after week.
What I have learned from these struggles is to just take each day one day at a time and give myself some grace. I don’t have to have it all together all the time and I don’t have to portray my life as though I do. Sharing these struggles will give so many others a better perspective on what military families go through regularly. The day I sat in church and felt so alone and isolated was the day I decided that my pain would benefit others. No matter what your struggle is, whether it’s deployment, a career change, child loss or anything else that seems too hard or daunting, you are stronger than you think. You will get through this!
Hi, I’m McKae. I am military wife and mother of two from Eagle Mountain, Utah. While I never thought this would be my life, I am finding so much joy in sharing my journey with others through my writing. I grew up in Southern California and moved around a bit in high school. I met my husband in Oklahoma at the young age of 16 and it’s been history ever since. We were married in Salt Lake City in January, 2010.
Blogging has become a fun outlet for me and I have always been a talkative person. I enjoy writing, crafting, baking, and spending time with my family. I knew I had something incredible to share when my entire family kept asking me if I was writing my “book” about this deployment because of all the trials that kept coming my way. While I’m not so sure about the book, I share my journey on my blog (www.mckaegonzalez.com). My goal is to empower others to be okay with not having it all together and just endure through this crazy thing called life.
Are your kids struggle with a parent being deployed? If so, check out these tips to help children with deployment.