When you are kidless in the military — by choice or by force — there is still no avoiding children during the holidays. They are everywhere you go. They’re at the mandatory Christmas parties, the PX, command parties and the commissary.
For many couples, being without kids during the holidays is no problem at all. But for those who long for children of their own, the most wonderful time of year can sometimes seem far from it.
I haven’t been a military spouse very long — six years to be exact — but during my time married to the military, one situation keeps occurring. Before every military event, I have to mentally prepare myself for the impending firing squad of questions I’m about to take on. The one question that wounds me the deepest is the kid question. Instead of approaching me by saying: “Hello, I’m so and so, what’s your name? Where are you from?” Instead, I get asked, in rapid fire, the following doozies: Do you have kids? Why don’t you have kids? Are you trying?
I can still remember my first Family Readiness Group get-together. Most of the women were either pregnant, shepherding several young children, or both, and I barely lasted five minutes before a stranger hit me with the apparently inevitable and actually well-intended question: “So, which one of the kids running around is yours?”
At the time, we were newly married and had no plans of starting a family right away. This confrontation was easy to diffuse. I just said, “Well we just got married and we want to live it up while we are in Hawaii and once we move back closer to family, then we will try to have a family,” because that was the truth at the time.
Living across the country and ocean from my family was my go-to reason behind not being ready to procreate. I was able to ride that wave for almost three years, but then we decided it was time to start trying because we were about to PCS from Hawaii to Missouri.
I thought to myself, “I’ll get pregnant and gestate in Hawaii and then have the baby in Missouri, while he is in his career course.” That was my plan, and I didn’t expect it to not come to fruition.
More than two years later, we are kid less and no closer to starting our family.
Infertility is a special kind of hell for military couples, because when you are constantly surrounded by other families with 2.5 children in tow, you start to feel like an outsider.
Military events started to become really painful to attend. I really wanted to be involved and connected. I left my lifelong friends and family behind in Connecticut and I knew the military spouses I encountered were my only options for female camaraderie. I wanted to get to know these women who were theoretically experiencing the same unusual circumstances that I was experiencing, make friends and enjoy being part of a mutual support network.
Over the past two years, I tactfully endured far too many conversations about child rearing and child birth, sat through several baby showers and birthday parties and tried to be discreet about rolling my eyes at yet another pile of kid-centric family events in the weekly email newsletter — which I quickly began to ignore entirely.
It’s hard to be happy for those experiencing joy around you, in person or via social media, when you long to know what that joy feels like yourself. Everywhere you turn on a military base or in a military-heavy community, it’s hard not to see a woman with a bump or herding her own little troops.
You never know what battle someone is fighting and bringing up the kid question to some is like having a debate on politics or religion. So I ask you, instead of leading with the kid question, start with a hello and how are you.