The war on terror has been a long, hard struggle for the men and women of America's armed forces. The unprecedented number and length of combat deployments over the past seven years have put the nation's warriors and their families under considerable strain. But there's at least one happy development to report from the familial front lines: Military bases all around the United States are experiencing a record-breaking number of pregnancies and births.
The maternity unit at Fort Campbell's Blanchfield Army Hospital is preparing for a surge in deliveries. Births at the base are expected to nearly double over the next six months, peaking at an all-time high in early summer. Hospital administrators expect to see more than 250 deliveries in June alone.
Fort Campbell is home to the Army's storied 101st Airborne Division, which has deployed repeatedly to Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years. As you've probably guessed, the baby surges occur about nine months after the division returns to Fort Campbell between deployments.
Few fortunate soldiers able to return for children's births
Zoé Elizabeth Remick was born December 23, 2008, at Blanchfield Hospital. Major Kyle Remick and his wife, Troi, named their fourth child - and first girl - after both their grandmothers.
The Remicks consider themselves fortunate dad was home for the birth. Although he's less than halfway through a 15-month deployment to Afghanistan, he was able to arrange leave, arriving home about a week before the delivery. Major Remick says most of his fellow soldiers are not so lucky.
"For them, this is more of a sacrifice than I think most of the public realizes. In the past seven years, you know, they've experienced multiple deployments and have missed multiple family events, you know, on top of births… multiple holidays. So, they're the ones making the biggest sacrifice."
Major Remick has already returned to Afghanistan. His daughter will be 10 months old when he sees her next.
Military wives lean on each other
Troi Remick says military wives learn to cope with these prolonged absences, looking to each other for support.
"I think there's just a lot to be said about military spouses, wives in particular, that they run the household and they have babies and are pregnant without a spouse around and taking care of all their other children."
She says the wives rally around each other and take care of each other.
Sometimes technology helps bridge distance
While most members of the 101st are back on the battlefield long before their children are born, they frequently are now experiencing the delivery. Satellite-linked Internet Web cameras allow soldiers stationed in remote locations to see and hear what's going on in the birthing rooms at Blanchfield Hospital.
A week before Christmas, a young soldier tuned in from his post to watch the birth of his child.
"He was able to be a part of the entire delivery," says Head Delivery Nurse, Major Lori Skinner. "[He] got to see the baby and the bath and was able to be a part of that first two hours of life for the baby and the mom. It's pretty amazing. They wouldn't have been able to do that a few years ago."
Soldier moms present new challenges
Communications capabilities aren't the only thing to change in recent years. Given the growing number of women serving in the Armed Forces, a soldier wife is just as likely to face an overseas deployment as a soldier husband - a situation that can make pregnancy a bit problematic.
But Blanchfield Hospital's Lieutenant Colonel Maryann Masone, chief of women's health, explains the Army does make allowances for that.
"When new moms have a child, and they are active duty, for six months they are non-deployable after they deliver for postpartum," she says. "They allow them time to bond with their babies and breastfeed."
She says soldier moms also can apply for a discharge after giving birth or if they can't make arrangements for the care of older children while they're overseas.
At Blanchfield Army Hospital, Brahms' Lullaby is played over the intercom each time there's a delivery. By early summer, the nurses may be playing the tune eight to 12 times a day.
Other military bases around the nation are experiencing similar baby booms. Back in November, Fort Bragg in North Carolina held a traditional celebration, called a baby shower, for its military moms.
More than 1,000 expectant mothers attended.