Five years ago today I gave birth to my youngest son, Ben. Ben’s early arrival, like so much of military life, was not part of the plan. The events surrounding Ben’s birth mirrored what most of our life as a military family had been. Nothing ever seemed to be simple or go as planned, and neither was Ben’s arrival to our family. The military wives who stepped in during the few days before and after Ben’s birth were about the only part of military life I had come to expect.
It all started in the spring of 2013 when Jim was told he would be deploying to Afghanistan. He was scheduled to leave in May, but when he received orders in February I was devastated. Devastated he had to deploy again, and very devastated I had not become pregnant again. We had been hoping to expand our family by one more child, but with a looming deployment I wasn’t sure what our chances would be. We already had two amazing kids, but I still felt like something was missing. About two months before Jim was scheduled to leave I found out I was pregnant. I was ecstatic about having a new baby. While I was so excited, I also knew it was going to be very hard to do the pregnancy on my own with our two other kids. I had done hard before, though, and knew I could do it again.
The week leading up to Ben’s birth I had an appointment with my doctor, where she noticed my blood pressure (bp) was getting high. For me, that was the way every pregnancy had gone, since I have Polycystic Kidney Disease. Starting at about thirty weeks my blood pressure got high and I had to be induced two weeks early, with my first two pregnancies. My doctor figured the same would be true this time around, so she scheduled me to be induced December 17. As I left the appointment, however, she told me she wanted me monitoring my bp at home and wanted to know immediately if my bp got to a certain level. As luck would have it two days before Jim’s scheduled arrival home from Afghanistan, on December 5, my bp started getting pretty high. I called my doctor’s office and was instructed to call the next day if it was still at the same level.
December 6, I stood outside Tinker Elementary School with several of my military wife friends waiting to walk our kids home from school. “What’s your bp today?” My friend Cami asked. Cami was a former labor and delivery nurse so she wanted to be sure I was monitoring my bp and communicating with my doctor.
“It is pretty high again, like it was yesterday.” I answered.
“Did you call your doctor?” Cami asked.
“No,” I replied with a sheepish grin. “Do you really think I need to worry about it? Jim is coming home tomorrow. Don’t you think it will just be okay to wait until next week?”
“NO! You have to go home right now and call your doctor.” Cami insisted. “With your bp as high as it is you could have a stroke or seizure. You have to call!”
“Okay,” I conceded. “I will call when I get home.” I did call my doctor when I got home and I was instructed to go to the hospital immediately where they would determine if I needed to be admitted and induced. I quickly got all my stuff together and put into action my plan for if Jim wasn’t home and I went into labor.
Cami wouldn’t allow me to drive myself to the hospital, but with her husband being deployed and plans she had that evening with her three kids, my friend Sarah was put into action. Sarah agreed to take me to the hospital while her husband Kenny took care of my two kids and their three kids. My neighbor, Jennifer and her husband Tim were put in charge of taking care of our dog.
Sarah got me to the hospital and within an hour they determined I needed to be admitted and induced. I was thirty-seven weeks pregnant and one day away from Jim coming home. Once I was admitted I called Jim’s sister, Clara, who lived four hours away, to come so she could help with the kids. Sarah was desperately pleading with the doctor to hold off inducing me until Jim arrived the next day. The doctor assured us she would take it slow inducing me, but if my health or the baby’s became an issue she would have to do whatever she needed to to make sure we were okay. My previous two experiences being induced told me it would be a long process, and Jim would make it in time. He was scheduled to arrive in Tampa the following morning at 11:30am. It was about 6:00pm on a Friday night when I was admitted.
My friend, Trude, arrived about 7:30pm to relieve Sarah so she could go help with all the kids until Clara arrived to stay with my two. Trude and her family had been stationed with us from 2006-2008 in Monterey, CA, then we were all together again in Tampa. Her husband was a Norwegian Navy Seal, but they had been stationed twice in the U.S. We were fortunate enough to be with them the two times they were in the U.S. Trude kept me company for a few hours before another military wife friend of mine, Erin, arrived. Erin, was the one who agreed to be with me in the room if I had the baby before Jim arrived. When she arrived she had all of her stuff and was ready for the long haul, come what may. A nurse was checking on me when Erin arrived and asked if she was my sister. I said, “No, but over the next few days you might see a lot of my military wife sisters.” The women who were with me before, during, and after Ben’s birth were like sisters to me, just like so many of the other military wives I had met along the way.
To prevent me from having a stroke or seizure the doctor put me on Magnesium. Let me tell you, it is no picnic to be on that drug. The side effects are pretty bad, starting with heating you up from the inside out, making you feel like you are on fire, it is a muscle relaxer so moving around and having control of your muscles is difficult, it also makes you feel really achy and groggy like you have the flu. Needless to say, I felt pretty awful by the time Erin arrived. I was also on fluids, which made me have to pee about once every hour or two. Each labor and delivery (L and D) room was connected to all the other L and D rooms with alarms that would sound if something was happening in one of them, so a nurse could be alerted no matter where she was. I swear that piercing alarm went off almost every fifteen minutes that entire night. Erin and I were about to break that alarm by the next morning. I think Erin and I might both have a bit of a twitch now every time we hear an alarm.
The next morning Jim texted me when he landed at Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. His text said, “Our flight was delayed getting in. Probably going to miss my next flight to Tampa. I will text you when I get the new flight info.” He had obviously not read the email I had sent to him when he was in flight from Dubai to Dulles, that I was in the hospital being induced.
I replied back with, “RUN! I am in the hospital in labor.” I later found out he ran to the United desk, where the woman told him to run to his next flight, just leave his bags and they would get them to him later. As quick as he could he made it through customs and was the last one to board his flight. A flight attendant heard what was going on and was able to get Jim into a first class seat allowing him to be the first one off the plane in Tampa. At 11:30am Jim landed in Tampa, where Clara and my two kids, Tyler and Payton, greeted him. At that point my doctor ramped up labor.
Jim arrived at the hospital completely exhausted to find me in a pink hospital gown, hooked up to a ton of IVs and monitors, with an ice pack on my head to keep me cool. Not exactly the homecoming I had envisioned for his last deployment, but that is life for you, especially military life. Nearly seven hours later our Benjamin Coulson was born. Ben was exactly what had been missing before his arrival. He really did complete our family. At now five years old his sense of humor, zest for life, and curiosity about everything make him the cutest most lovable little guy that everyone in our family dotes over. I can’t imagine life without him.
Exhausted, Jim went home with his sister and the kids that night, while Sarah stayed with me in the hospital. Early the next morning, Cami came to hang out with me. Besides being a labor and delivery nurse, Cami was also a lactation consultant. Because of the effects of the magnesium on both Ben and me, Cami was the only one to get Ben to eat in his first seventeen hours of life. I couldn’t move my arms much at all because of the magnesium so Cami had to do a lot of the work to get Ben breastfeeding. We bonded quite a lot that morning to say the least, as Cami knows me and has seen more of me than most people.
Our last night in the hospital, Trude came to stay with Ben and me. I still needed so much help with the baby as my strength slowly came back after I came off the magnesium. Like, Sarah, Trude was so amazing helping me with the baby all night long, no matter what we needed.
I will never forget Ben’s birth on December 7, nor will I forget the days surrounding it. I can never thank the wives around me those days enough. They were there when I needed them. None of them even thought twice about sacrificing time with their family, sleep, or giving of themselves when I needed them. Military wives are some of the most selfless people I know and the hidden heroes of our military. They are not hidden to me, though. Those wives and all the wives I have known are heroes. They, and all current military wives, are heroes. Today on my son’s birthday I recognize you all for the heroes your are. I love you all and appreciate all you do on a daily basis, our military would not function the way it does without you.
And to my Ben, Happy Birthday!! I Love you more than words could ever say!