I never wanted to miss the birth of one of my children. I had always tried to time my career to where I would be around for the major life events. Obviously, in the military you simply can’t be around for everything, but you can try to guide your path to where the stars align. That didn’t happen this time.
Despite all of my planning and effort, the military decided that at the end of May, 2014 that I would be at Fort Benning for Advanced Leader Course for a month. Regardless of any wishes I had, big Army deemed that they were not important, and in the typical fashion, slotted me without the idea even being mentioned. Don’t get me wrong, I am a pretty flexible guy, but when I’m going to be gone for a month, a little more advance than three weeks is nice. The Army likes to enforce the 2/3rds – 1/3rds rule (the planning should take 2/3 of the time while the mission takes 1/3) except when it comes to playing with soldiers’ personal lives. A very frustrating detail when you are leaving behind a pregnant wife with a history of complications and a very active (literally climbs everything she can) toddler.
I thought the best for the situation, however. In my mind it was all going to be fine, I would finish the course and come home with plenty of time to spare before the baby would be born. My wife would get to attempt a v-back (look it up if you don’t know) at 40 weeks as per her birth plan and things would be great. Well of course, I should stop making plans, because no matter how hard I fight to make them happen life uses plans as toilet paper.
While I was enjoying myself in the heat category 5 field problem of the course (getting my legs chewed apart my mosquitos and chiggers alike, as the instructor was about to die from the heat) I took time before bedding down to check my phone where I found a very cryptic message from my wife saying “call me asap”. I figured that her important message was something along the lines of a pissed off pregnant woman just being overly hormonal about something completely ridiculous. I was wrong.
She had gone to the hospital because of her feet swelling an extreme amount and had found that her heart rate was elevated above safe levels. They were going to admit her for monitoring. She had already worked out for a friend to watch our daughter and her parents, who had an impending trip already planned, moved their flight up so they could be there to help out. That was some relief and once again I thought for the best. Everything was going to be fine and she would be out of there in 24 hours and back home just getting some rest. Wrong.
They had brought us back from the field over-night due to some expected thunder storms. After going to grab some dinner, I got a call from my wife in a very panicked and frantic voice. Her urine labs had come back and she was in a severe state of pre eclampsia (look it up if you don’t know). She was going to have to be life flighted to Anchorage where they have the only newborn intensive care unit (nicu) capable of handling such an early birth.
It took a second to register.
There was a lot of information that came at me immediately and all I could tell her was that it was going to be alright, and that she needs to have them get me a red cross message. Fuck that fucking school, fuck my career, I needed to be there time fucking meow.
Unfortunately, the Army will never work at that speed. By the time I got the red cross message, she was in Anchorage already. With, come to find out, a coworker that had volunteered to fly with her so she wasn’t alone. And I thank her for that. That one person might have made all the difference in my wife making it through this.
I was busting my ass to get everything knocked out so I could leave (I won’t get into the lack of professionalism some of the cadre showed me during this process). I still had a few things to do before I left. I had gotten the message that they had planned to deliver at 0600 Alaska time, and I knew I wouldn’t make it, but fuck if I didn’t try. I was so caught up in everything that I lost track of the time and before I knew it I was getting a message from my wife’s friend saying that my son had been born. Its never manly to cry in front of other people, and male bravado encourages that you don’t, but when you find out that you just had a child be brought into the world you’re one cold motherfucker if you don’t let your emotions slip. I had to stifle that though. For everything I needed to do still, for my son, for my daughter, for my wife, I needed to focus so I could be there as soon as possible. I figured I could make it there within 24 hours. Wrong yet again.
Aside from the typical flight time taking 12 hours, the next flight out wasn’t going to be until 0600 the next morning. So I patiently waited and received pictures of this wrinkled little thing. His skin looked like a burn victim. He had only developed a little over half of the time he should have. Come to find out the absolute maximum they would attempt to remove a baby from the womb is 24 weeks. He wasn’t but a few days off from that.
I cried. I never wanted to miss the birth of my child, but despite my best attempts, it still happened. I will carry the guilt I feel over that for a while.
My flights went smoothly. Thankfully. The only hiccup I ran into is that someone decided it would be great shits and giggles to change my gate to a completely different section at SeaTac which ended up leading to me running up and down about seven different flights of stairs. Nothing I couldn’t handle, but I like to find my gate and stay local to ensure I don’t miss my flight. Turned out I still had a lot of time to spare, thanks to power walking/running everywhere. I even had an opportunity to have some starbucks in Seattle.
I finally arrived back in Fairbanks to be greeted by my daughter, in-laws, and platoon sergeant. He had asked if I needed a ride mid-flight and unfortunately I couldn’t tell him I was good until it was too late. Which, on that note, for all of the times I will bitch later about any stupid training we do, my superiors in my company were on the ball with making sure things were being handled and making sure my family and I were ok. For that, I thank them. Next training event, I’ll curse about them slightly less. I used the rest of the night to spend time with my daughter. She is too young to understand what’s going on, she just knows that both of her parents were gone and that’s not her routine. I could tell it affected her, so I let her lay in bed with me and we cuddled up.
I knew it had helped her mood when I woke up to her playing a game of “what’s this” where she points to a facial feature, says “what’s this”, and expects us to say the word for it so she can learn it. Alternately, we ask her where her (insert particular facial feature) is and she points to it. Clever child.
I got my paperwork together, got my orders knocked out, everything packed up in the jeep, and hit the road for Anchorage. My daughter stayed at our house with the in-laws. People wouldn’t drive fast enough for the hurry I was in. A time or two I had thought about just ramming them and pushing them off rhe road. I needed to get to my wife and son. They needed me now more than ever. After nearly running out of gas and getting pulled over (and subsequently being told I should apply to the Alaska State Troopers), 6 hours later I finally made it the hospital to see my wife.
This poor boy. Still not ready for this world hanging on to life like it was no big deal. I’ve since come to find out that when the incision was made to remove him, he punched his hand out. He’s got some fight in him and he’s not giving up. This tiny 1.8lb child is taking oxygen without the use of a ventilator tube. He’s already drinking milk pumped from his mother, and he’s doing great so far. He is defying the odds. He will do so many great things in his life. I can’t wait.
Through out this time, we have had a lot of prayers. All of our friends and family have blown my facebook up showing their love, support, and caring. We even had a cousin of my wife’s start up a donation for us. Something I would never ask for, but appreciate none-the-less. So for everyone that has been involved over the last couple days, from my family, thank you. We will not forget the kindness that we have been shown. Hopefully we can repay the favor to all of you in your time of need some day. Until then, take our gratitude. You deserve it.