I asked the one local psychiatrist who accepts Tricare for advice on returning to antidepressant medications after the birth of my second child. His reply: “I won’t treat you unless you sign a document agreeing to follow any of my recommendations during your husband’s deployment.” He added that these recommendations might include “involuntary inpatient treatment for psychosis.” I replied: But I don’t have any history of psychosis, and have never required any inpatient treatment before. It didn’t matter, the psychiatrist answered: “I’ve seen many navy wives who fall apart during deployment, and I need to know that I can stitch you together if need be.” How scientific of him. He’s met me for 10 minutes, he doesn’t know me from a hole in the wall, and I must be like all of the other navy wives he has met. I walked out of his office.
My well-meaning in-laws expressed concern over the “heavy responsibilities you will be bearing,” and offered to come entertain my older child for a few hours so that I could go for a jog and work on my graduate coursework. This, they say repeatedly in front of my toddler, in a tone that suggests he is a burden and not one of my favorite companions. This, despite the fact that they trashed our home during their Christmas visit two weeks after my second baby was born, and had to be cajoled to perform minor tasks such as changing my older son’s diaper or emptying the dishwasher. My in-laws added that it must be “devastating” for Sam and I to miss our upcoming anniversary during deployment and that they hoped I would hold up okay.
The ombudsman from the ship, who does not necessarily juggle any more than I or some of the other spouses do, began calling me regularly to “check in” on me and see how I and my infant daughter are doing. She manages to call when I am either stealing a few minutes of precious relaxation or when I am racing to finish some work or school assignment. Finally, I say to her:
“You know, I don’t have much time to talk. May I ask you why you are calling me?”
“It’s the captain’s policy that I check in on every spouse with a child under the age of 6 months.”
“I don’t work for the captain. My husband does.”
“Well, I can just text you and you can text back that you are okay.”
“Because I’m a woman with a baby? Look. You seem great. Let me know if there is anything I might do to help. But I don’t need to be checked in on. This is like receiving calls from a telemarketer. I don’t have time or need for them. Please stop.”
She gives a short little laugh, wishes me well, and hangs up.
What I want to tell all of these people is this:
For me, deployment is not about falling apart, or being overwhelmed by children. It is not about pining away for my husband (I miss him, but it’s the everyday companionship I miss, and not his presence on certain dates that I have learned to give minimal weight to). In fact, there are aspects about his absence that make life much easier (fewer people to pick up after, fewer boat-related dramas to absorb at the end of each day, and less stress for the children and I, who never know what time he is going to come and go). And there are other aspects which are hard (no adult to talk to at the beginning and end of each day, more housework and chores to do with two babies in tow, worsening back pain as a result, and no one to advocate on my behalf when Tricare doesn’t reimburse or new orders come that don’t work for our family). Deployment is about intense physical and emotional stress and isolation, but it is also about renewed calm.
And it is also about realizing new forms of resilience. In fact, one of the most empowering things I have done this deployment is to return to practicing aikido, the martial art. For me, aikido is about finding balance, presence of mind, strength, and flexibility in the face of power and uncertainty. I practiced for three years and stopped after I started dating Sam, when I would jump at every chance to meet him whenever he was free. Then I spent five years working demanding jobs and having kids. Now I realize that aikido was exactly what I needed to hold my ground amidst constant changes in our life as a couple together, and to maintain my identity as an individual (not a “navy wife”) regardless of where we are in life.
What I am learning is that deployment is a different thing for every spouse, and every spouse is entitled to deal with it in her way. So please: Ask me what it’s like for my spouse to deploy. Recognize the strengths I bring to the whole endeavor. And ask me what it is you can do to help. In-patient psychiatric treatment, constant telephone check-ins by strangers, and visits during which you monopolize time with my precious babies, are not help for me. In short: listen to me if you want to help.