For anyone who's ever read a blog entry, or knows me personally at all, you're well aware that we're a military family. My husband's been in the Navy nine years this summer, and just last week reenlisted for another four years of sea duty. We've seen our share of deployments, weathered living long distance and moved several times to different duty stations. I'll admit this next sea tour has me a little frazzled, knowing we've added another child to the mix since last time. And as anyone with two or more children can attest, life gets kinda hectic with that many kids, especially in the military. Which brings me to our featured family for this post.
Sidenote before I proceed: I'm participating in another blog circle this month, so be sure to follow the link at the bottom of the post to see some amazing work by Annika Bloch, and incidentally, photographs of another sweet little ginger!
Knowing what it takes to live our lifestyle, I have abundant respect and admiration for this amazing, sweet family. With now a total of six children, and a husband in the Marine reserves, they've got their hands, and more importantly, hearts full. Emily and Jake were kind enough to share their story with us.
1) Can you share with me and our readers a little about your family? Where are you from originally? How did you and Jake meet and end up living in Essex, CT?
Jake is from southern Indiana and I was actually born right here in Groton, CT, but raised in Massachusetts. We met at a small college in Michigan, on the soccer field where we both played. We ended up transferring to Norwich University in Vermont. After that we moved from Massachusetts to Virginia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, back to North Carolina, and then to Kentucky. After we left active duty, Jake got a job with the NRA based in Essex, CT. We found a great house online... a foreclosure... and bought it sight unseen, which blessedly worked out!
2) As a military family, I know the additional struggles that come with this kind of lifestyle. Throw a newborn in the mix, and things get really interesting! Can you explain a bit about how you've managed as a military family, with five young children, and now a newborn? I know Jake is in the reserves and working as a civilian now, but would you care to share what your past birth experiences have been like as a military family, and possibly having to face pregnancies and births without Jake present?
Emily: A decade ago when I was a new military wife, pregnant with our first son, I attended a brief given by a seasoned general and his wife. When the brief was over the held a Q and A regarding military life etc. Someone asked his wife what her best advice was for leading a successful military spouse life and her words have become emblazoned on my mind ever since. She looked out at all of these brand new wives, all green and enthusiastic and nervous and she said, "Get comfortable with being uncomfortable." That has become my motto, and once you can embrace that philosophy as a military spouse life becomes much easier. Among many of the challenges we face as military wives is facing pregnancy and childbirth alone. With both of our older sons Jake was gone for almost all of my pregnancies off and on, in training and work-ups for deployment. When our first son was born he came out of the field after a 15 hour day, to turn around head to the hospital and 13 hours later welcome a little one into the world. When our second was 3 months old he deployed for the first time to Afghanistan. While on that deployment he was asked to come home early to hop onto another deployment, also heading into Afghanistan. He came home and shortly thereafter we found out we were expecting our third son. When I was 8 months pregnant Jake left for the sandbox again, and I welcomed Liam into the world with my mom by my side. The greatest challenge for me when Liam was born was just knowing how much Jake was missing, and trying to include him in as much as I could in whatever way that I could so that he didn't feel completely disconnected to a child he had yet to meet. He found out about the baby via a red cross message, and as I sat there holding this new little one I was glad to know many other mamas on the hospital floor were welcoming babies without their husbands as well. There is great solidarity to be found among military wives, and the community that surrounded us, both in the fleet and on recruiting duty became a part of the fabric of our family. We made fast and deep friendships, and those were critical for my ability to thrive and not just survive while Jake was gone. You know its a hell of a lot easier to go through deployments, separation, life in the fleet (when your husband is in the field 2 weeks every month), when your neighbor is going through the same thing. Your community becomes critical to your success. When you have three little boys in diapers at the same time you accept any and all help, and our sweet tribe gave us so much support and care.
Jake and I were able to stay connected primarily through letters and emails, more at my end than at his. We had very rare phone calls, which I cherished. It is a challenge to have that kind of separation, especially when you have such little kids. I worked hard to focus on the temporary nature of deployment with them, and to use the available resources to help us all stay connected. We had daddy dolls, and stories read aloud by him and pre-recorded. My favorite was finding a small voice recorder in a drawer in my desk with songs that he recorded of him playing guitar and singing for Liam so that the baby would know his voice even if they had never met. They did finally meet when Liam was 6 months old, and that was an adjustment for us all. Since then, we have had two daughters both while on recruiting duty, where we were surrounded by a sweet church community. Those days were challenging as well, given the demands of a recruiting schedule and an ever increasing chaotic family life as our first and then second and third sons entered school. Our first daughter was in and out of the hospital for her first year of life after being diagnosed with failure to thrive, and a slew of significant feeding issues landed her with a feeding tube. Through it all we were loved on by some amazing friends, who helped with everything from making us meals, to holding little ones, to watching all of our kids so we could go on a date night here and there. Sprinkled in and amongst the blessings of our beautiful kids were many heartbreaks of miscarriage, and we have five little ones who have gone ahead of us into glory. Facing those losses without our tribe around us would have been unbearable, but knowing that we had their support and the support of our families made it much easier. Now that we are in the civilian world and Jake is a reservist our lives have changed again. We are near family for the first time in a decade, and we find ourselves so grateful to be able to reply on them for support. We welcomed our sixth little one, fourth son, recently, and their care for us has been immense. As a military wife I have often found myself in situations that I never thought that I could handle: sending my husband off to war, having a baby alone, stitches and cars breaking down and family friends passing away, etc. Embracing a tribe and holding it close while you step in and out of your comfort zone is mission critical.
Jake: As a service member, particularly one who has spent about half of our marriage either deployed or in a deployment work-up that your spouse will be surrounded by a military community (your tribe) that will make sure she's taken care of. That's one of the best parts about the military is that it is instant community and know that even though your gone, there are people looking out for your spouse.
2) What was your pregnancy with John like? Did you suffer from any morning sickness? Have any strange cravings?
My pregnancies are all pretty uneventful, which is an enormous blessing. I had some serious heartburn with him, and he was born with a full head of red hair, so maybe the old wives tale is true. With all of the boys I have craved citrus, and fresh veggies...I'm not sure why, but I won't complain! I also really love sweet tea, and I craved that all the time with him.
3) Which part of your pregnancy did you enjoy the most? And the least?
It's always a joyful thing to find out that we are expecting, and we really love the opportunity to get to tell the kids that they are expecting another sibling. This time we took them all out for ice cream and bought an extra, and when the kids asked why we had one more than we needed Jake said "oh that one is for the baby!" They were so excited, and I really cherish their sweetness and anticipation. That said, given this was my 11th pregnancy, it's always tough not to be a little concerned every day given our past. I think my least favorite part of this pregnancy was towards the end. The third trimester was more difficult than the others simply given all of the other children I had to run after!
4) What was your birth experience like with John?
My experience with John's birth was good. I had him naturally, and he was my second natural delivery (Liam was my first, when Jake was gone). Blessedly my labor was very fast, and he was born very healthy and alert. We enjoy the time in labor and delivery and try to keep things relaxed. We like to joke that we have to have a baby to get a date together. We had really excellent doctors/nurses and we were so grateful to have family nearby who could welcome all of our other kids with open arms.
5) What's been the grossest thing you've experienced since becoming parents?
I think the all family stomach bug was probably the worst. We spent the better part of a month disinfecting the house. A close second was when all of the boys and I got some bug the day before Jake was due back from deployment the second time...I remember using all the hot water on the laundry, so much so that when I was reduced to a freezing cold shower before running out to meet him for his homecoming at 2am.
6) What was your first thought when you found out the sex of your baby?
Jake was about to leave for Korea for the month on reserve duty so it was an amazing piece of news for us before he left. We kept it a secret from everyone else though until he was born, mostly to give our other kids the chance to have the surprise to look forward to. Also, we were really looking forward to the possibility of a boy, just to round out the numbers a little. I was particularly excited to have the opportunity to have another boy and name him John Francis (after my grandfather), who meant a great deal to me.
7) What was the last non-baby-related book you read?
Jake: All the Light We Cannot See, -Anthony Doerr
Emily: Lessons My Father Taught Me, -Michael Reagan about his father Ronald Reagan
8) As the time approaches (and maybe has already passed?) for Jake to return to work, how are you feeling about juggling everything at home on your own Emily? Jake, how are you feeling about returning to work once your paternity leave is up?
Emily: I felt fairly confident adding another little guy to the mix. The biggest challenge for me has been how much we've taken on in the past month...between selling the house/buying a new one, Jake's new job, grad school, and commuting to New London twice a day to drive the boys to/from school. Its a busy season of our lives right now, and we imagine that one day we will look back on it and think, "What were we thinking?!"
Jake: I just started a new job and didn't get "paternity leave" the way I used to. So I took 2-3 days off and had a weekend in there before I was back at it. That said, I had to take on some additional responsibility because Em got sick and now I'm feeling a renewed sense of awe regarding how Emily handles ALL that she does.
9) What tips or advice would you give another mom (and dad) as they experience these first few weeks of welcoming their newborn into their family?
Emily: I would recommend that new parents (whether its your first baby or your sixth) allow themselves some grace. You, your husband and your new baby have all just been through a pretty big event and its going to take some time to process it all. I also recommend letting the little things go as much as you can. Dishes and laundry can wait, and this new and little life is only going to be this little once. It's taken me 6 kids to realize that and to recognize that I should allow myself the time to rest and recover and enjoy the time with this new life in this phase. Be sure to allow some grace and humor in bouncing back into regular life postpartum, and in finding your footing after this experience because it is a huge event for everyone. I also love the idea of making sure that as a wife you take a moment to get/do something special, something little for your husband (write a note from the baby to him, stock the fridge with his favorite beer before heading to the hospital, or even have a protein bar and deck of cards for the delivery room, etc.) There is a lot of attention and care given to new moms, and the precious new born and it can be easy to forget that while all of this change is happening to you/around you, that your husband is a new dad too, and he deserves to be cared for and made to feel special too. Lastly, and maybe most importantly I would say that its critical to accept help that's offered or given to you. This is not my strong suit, and it isn't always easy. However, its important to recognize that there is a ministry in serving one another, and also a ministry in allowing someone to serve you as well. Recognize it as an opportunity to allow others to be able to show their love and care for you and that is a gift in and of itself.
Jake: Take time to enjoy this stage. Even if the baby isn't really DOING anything, it's important to enjoy this time and these moments. John is the first baby I've really been home for in the first few weeks of his life (and the first baby born since leaving active duty) and I've been amazed (and a bit regretful) now having this time with him realizing what I missed with the other 5.