By Ava Jacobs:
I will never forget sitting in bed with our first son, covered in milk, exhausted, and crying because he had been nursing every two hours for what felt like a week and Mike just left for Afghanistan. “Could it be his first growth spurt?” my sister asked. Relief flooded over me, as she swiftly put on the baby carrier, buckled him in, and bounced him around our back deck for the remainder of the evening. Such moments are plentiful in our lives where friends and family have gone above and beyond to help us, love us, and support us during deployments.
We got pregnant for the first time less than a year into our marriage and about two years into doing the sixty on (overseas), sixty off (home) schedule. It was often lonely being the wife whose husband was gone half the year, but it was not particularly scary until we had children. The stakes seem exponentially higher when you are the sole responsibility in taking care of another person. The very first time our oldest son got sick at four months old, it terrified me. A high fever with minimal eating and practically no sleep is awful but when your husband is gone there are few things that can make any more terrifying. A husband and father home at the end of each day brings comfort to our home, something natural and relaxing. With deployments, the comfort of a partner, if everything goes wrong, to step in at the end of the day simply does not exist. Thank heaven for family! I have by far the greatest mother and mother in law that exist on the planet. Period! They both were there offering to sleep over if I needed it and go to the doctor with me and make food and pretty much go to the ends of the earth to get us both up and running again. So, it is not just the wife who serves, I very much believe it is the entire family unit in our case. Moms and Dads, Uncles and Aunts, Sisters, Brothers, you name it. Each one has and does contribute to our village in huge ways and they all contribute to making our lives overflow with love and joy.
Aside from family, there is a specific place for wives of service members and the friendships created between us. Women who maintain the home front by paying bills, mowing the lawn, working as an overtime mom with no break for days on end are put into a specific category. We know what birthdays, anniversaries, and often holidays are like without our spouses. We also know what it is like to watch our husbands walk out the door, while praying it is not the last memory we have of them. We build pillows up on the other side of the bed at night to make it seem like he is home. And we stare at clothes on the other side of the closet that have been untouched for days, weeks, and months. Thankfully, we tend to find one another and just as our husbands have unshakeable, unbreakable bonds with their brothers, we have a similar experience with our sisters. These women must master being the sole parent and yet graciously relinquish control the moment their husbands come back home (or some of it anyway). We must know how to be strong without them and yet let them back in mentally, emotionally, and physically once they are stateside. All of these things are details few people know or understand unless they go through it.
The minute my husband leaves for his deployment, I have a huge cleaning day for the distraction and for the need to not turn every corner and see something of his that has not moved because he is not home. I get all his laundry done, I clean up his side of the sink, his nightstand, his shoes. I do it because I cannot bare looking at all of it untouched for the next couple of months. These quirks and awful days of leaving and exciting, chaotic days of homecoming are hard to even explain to family and friends, but the other women in this world of service with us, they get it. It does not have to be explained or even discussed, but it is a common knowledge that we all know exactly what each other is going through. The struggles in our marriages, the struggles in our parenting, the struggles in ourselves. It’s a road walked by all of us and without each other’s understanding, support, and love there is no way we would be able to get through it. This is one of the greatest blessings in our world filled with constant change and often struggle, each other.
It may take a village to raise a child according to many, but I feel it takes a village to fully enjoy the beauty of life including the struggle, the love, the change, and the steadfastness. The people, the love, the support make this journey so rich, deep, and worthwhile.
Ava Jacobs is an OpsLens Contributor and the spouse of a U.S. Air Force Veteran and former CIA counterterrorism official.