When you have been trying for a baby, a positive pregnancy test is an exciting but daunting moment. As an Army family, you might have to bring up your first child a long way from their grandparents or cope as a single parent when your soldier is away. However, there is support available to help you find your feet…
LYNETTE Dickson’s husband Stuart deployed to Afghanistan when she was six months pregnant so she agreed a date to be induced and he booked his R&R. Stuart was on the flight home when Lynette’s waters broke.
“He arrived at the hospital still wearing his uniform and Eryn was born with her dad present,” she recalled. “He spent ten days with her before returning for the remainder of his tour.”
Lynette admitted: “There’s regret and resentment that he missed those first few months but when you marry someone in the military you always prepare for plan B.”
Jenny Hayes added: “My husband was deployed to Iraq when our baby was two weeks old. He is still out there now so I have my hands full with a two-year-old as well!”
Sharing the joy
A serving father is entitled to two weeks off upon the birth of his child which should only be deferred by his commanding officer for operational reasons.
Soldiers are also eligible for Shared Parental Leave which can give a family more flexibility when choosing how to care for a child in their first year.
Leave policy is being amended to allow a soldier to ask for up to two days’ special leave to accompany his partner to antenatal appointments such as scans – see JSP 760 for details and updates.
When a soldier becomes pregnant, she can take time off to attend appointments and has access to physical training advice and peer support through forums such as the Army Servicewomen’s Network.
Major Caroline Wade, SO2 Welfare, explained what happens once the chain of command has been informed: “They are required to conduct a risk assessment which will take into account the type of duties she is expected to undertake and whether these are appropriate during pregnancy.
“There are certain locations where a soldier would not be able to remain during pregnancy due to the need to provide appropriate medical care.
“When to start maternity leave and how long to take is a decision for the soldier but advice about entitlements to pay, allowances and future career management can be sought through the administrative and welfare staff.”
Laura Maloney fell pregnant while serving in Aldershot and found her boss to be very supportive even though he was preparing to deploy.
She said: “I was able to fulfil my role and left only a few weeks prior to Charlotte making her grand entrance. I was also promoted during my pregnancy.”
However, Laura struggled when she returned to work, explaining: “I was gobsmacked by the cost of childcare and had to manage without my husband, who was in Afghanistan.”
Expanding the nest
Babies need a lot of kit, from prams to clothes, but having your first child doesn’t entitle you to a bigger quarter. “A married couple living in a two-bed SFA can only request to move to a three-bed should they have twins,” said AFF Housing Specialist Cat Calder.
Having a baby around the time you’re due to be posted can be an added stress for Army families. Cat advised: “You may be allowed to retain your quarter due to serious illness, welfare need or an impending or recent birth but robust supporting evidence is required.”
MOD policy states that a couple undergoing IVF treatment can request to retain housing even if the soldier cannot be extended in post.
There are a range of maternity benefits payable depending on your employment status and family income, so it is important to find out what you are entitled to claim.
AFF’s Money Specialist Laura Lewin said: “If you accompany your soldier on an overseas posting, you can still be paid Maternity Allowance due to a reciprocal agreement in EEA countries. Thanks to a policy which has recently been updated and improved in consultation with the Department for Work and Pensions, there is also an MOD Ex-Gratia Payment in lieu of Maternity Allowance payable to Service spouses in countries outside the EEA.”
If you are posted abroad, in many permanent locations you will receive very similar care to what you would get from the NHS.
In Germany, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Cyprus, Brunei and Gibraltar, you can see a SSAFA midwife.
“Maternity care looks to mirror the services that are provided in the UK,” explained Fiona Donaldson-Myles, SSAFA’s head of midwifery services for overseas commands. “Our midwives explain the different birthing and screening options, offer parenting courses and carry out antenatal and postnatal care.”
In some more remote locations, there is only home nation medical support. The British Army and Defence Primary Healthcare give maternity and neonatal care the utmost priority, so women stationed in Nepal and Kenya must return to the UK before the 32nd week of pregnancy.
Vikki Adams had her daughter Kayla in Paderborn in November 2016 and was impressed by the maternity care and community support in British Forces Germany.
“I saw the midwives regularly on camp and had my scans in the German hospital where I gave birth,” she said. “They were really attentive during labour and keep you in for 48 hours to make sure both mother and baby are OK.
“I had a health visitor who visited me at home and she runs a drop-in clinic. I’ve made some great friends through the groups organised by Home-Start.”
The family support charity Home-Start has been working in BFG for more than 30 years.
“In addition to home-visiting schemes, we help to reduce loneliness by running drop-in sessions as well as lunch clubs, social events and subsidised outings,” said regional manager Amanda Rearden.
Friends and family
Even on a UK posting you can be living a long way from close friends and relatives. The Armed Forces Covenant in the Community encourages activities which help to integrate the Army community into local life.
When Ellie Wepener moved to Hadleigh, she was so disappointed with provision for parents that she raised her concerns with Suffolk County Council. She worked with service providers to form Better Together, a project which aims to increase contact between Army families and local people through a toddler group and a breastfeeding group.
“I’m so glad that making my feelings known has helped other parents,” she told us. “Social isolation can be a real problem to new mums – especially those in the military who do not have family support locally.”
Get the right support
While many spouses suffering from Post Natal Depression (PND) have been well supported by the chain of command, AFF Health & Additional Needs Specialist Karen Ross has encountered spouses with PND who have felt unsupported. She explained: “Being posted can be hard when you have built up a support network and it can be quite an ordeal to apply for retention of SFA and have to submit personal, confidential medical information when unwell.”
If you think you might need some help, talk to your GP or health visitor and check out aff.org.uk for a range of organisations that can assist you.
The NSPCC Tidworth Service Centre helps prospective parents from the Army community with its Pregnancy in Mind course, which strives to improve the emotional wellbeing of those at risk of anxiety or depression.
Service manager Helen Connaughton said: “We have received positive feedback and it has been rewarding to see mums who have previously felt socially isolated having increased confidence, self-esteem and attunement to their babies.”
Kirsty Finnie gave birth to her baby boy Conall on Christmas Day 2016. She and husband Mike are based in Kinloss, a great distance from their families.
Kirsty said: “I think living in an Army community is a positive experience for new parents as there is a ready-made network of supportive and knowledgeable people.
“Mike is due to go on tour soon so there is additional uncertainty but there are regular coffee mornings offering a space to discuss upcoming deployments.
“I feel privileged to have such invaluable support from other parents on the patch and there is a lovely sense of camaraderie.”