EXTERNAL CRAZY: Military Style

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a comment responding to the funny and truly talented Myndi Shafer’s hilarious blog post about random strangers feeling free to comment on (and touch!) the pregnant belly. She asked to hear more about my experiences as a pregnant active duty military person…and, as we all know, pregnant ladies should get whatever they want, especially in their ninth month. So, this one’s for you, Myndi!

Here’s the story I told about being pregnant in uniform:

I was pregnant with my first when we lived in South Korea, stationed at the US Army base in Seoul. I was on active duty and so was my husband (both Navy). By policy, since tours in Korea were generally just one year, pregnant service members were reassigned back to the States at 20 weeks. But—lucky me!—we were on a TWO year assignment, so I got to stay. Which meant that I was the ONLY woman in uniform with a huge round belly by month eight! The Korean ladies were always putting their hands on my belly to predict the sex of the baby: “Oh! So BIG. That means BOY!” (It was a girl, BTW. So much for hands on predictions.)

So one day I was walking over to where my husband was going to meet me after work. I had seen a bunch of big black sedans lined up at the headquarters to take all the Generals somewhere. NOTE: If you’re in uniform and you see a general officer’s car approaching, you have to stop to salute it. But I knew if I kept walking, I wouldn’t have to stop because my back was to the cars. The truth was, I was having major Braxton Hicks contractions and didn’t want to have to double over while trying to snap out a salute. BUT because I have this sign on my forehead that says “ask me for directions,” someone stopped me just as those cars were approaching. The guy, who wanted to know where the base exchange was, had stepped by me just enough so that I had to turn to answer him. I could see the four star flags on the front of those black sedans approaching. Damn, I couldn’t get out of it now. So while my belly squeezed the ever livin’ breath out of me, I popped at least six salutes. I think I saw a grin on every single one of those generals’ faces as they saluted right back. To be fair, I was a truly funny sight in my “maternity battle dress uniform” (yes, there is such a thing…the military’s infinite wisdom is a whole ‘nother story), which was a tent-like camouflage uni with boots (had to get the hubster to tie my boots every day since I couldn’t even SEE them). When the cars were gone all I could think was: Jeez, and I have another month to go!

Here’s a pic of me and the hubster at Seoul Tower, Namsan, Seoul, Republic of Korea in 1998. I WAS pregnant at the time but not yet wearing the maternity uniform. That was actually a nice feature of the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) we were required to wear, I managed to “hide” under that overblouse till month six or so.

I can’t find the picture of me—large and in charge—in front of a combat rigged HumVee wearing the maternity tent, but you can get the general idea from this picture (from TheStir).

For a discussion of military uniforms and style, here’s Anne Brigg’s post from Ruly on what the different services wear and how hard it is to be uniform in uniform. Of course, I favor the Navy, hands down. And I think Katie Couric does too, check her out fawning over Admiral Mike Mullen in Ruly’s pics. 🙂

In 1975, the military changed their policies about pregnant service members. Prior to that date, women who became pregnant were automatically discharged from all services. Following that date, even though there were restrictions about where they could be assigned (both in terms of location and job activity), pregnant women could continue to serve. Interestingly, however, maternity uniforms were not designed and authorized for women until several years later. I particularly like the headline on this 1977 article from the Toledo Blade: Navy Accepts Facts of Life, Authorizes Maternity Uniforms. We tend to forget how much of a trail has been blazed for military women since that time.

This excellent article by a curator of the Smithsonian Institution’s Armed Forces History collection contains a thoughtful discussion of the military’s policy history and the unanswerable dichotomies of pregnancy for servicewomen:

“Even in these times of increased military awareness, with so many of our service members deployed or called to active duty, the complications of being both pregnant and in the military aren’t readily visible to civilians.”

But hopefully, I’ve shed a little light and humor on the subject for you–civilian or no. Do you have any pregnant-at-work stories (for the men reading–of your wives or co-workers)? If you worked outside the home, did you find it tough to reconcile your pregnant self with your work self? If you didn’t work outside the home, did you find yourself doing things in a subsequent pregnancy you would never have done in your first pregnancy (carrying a 25 lb. toddler around, for example?) Does the idea of a pregnant soldier or sailor make you uncomfortable?

One last pic. Here’s my Band of Sisters in Navy and Marine Corps ROTC summer training…I’m second from right. Because we’re all sisters-in-arms, right?