Thursday, October 26, 2006

Managing your pregnancy and parenting while on active duty

Deciding to become a parent — or deciding not to — is one of the most difficult choices ever. Making that decision while serving your country makes the choice even more overwhelming. Many decide that the demands of active duty are too great and would preclude them from being the type of parents they want to be. Some feel the rigors of parenting are too awesome and would prevent them becoming the Sailor or Marine that they strive to be. Still others decide to combine parenting and active-duty service. It’s an intensely personal decision, yet few personal choices have so many professional consequences.

In itself, pregnancy should have no long-term impact on a service member’s career. Women who are on ships or in certain deploying units may be transferred to non-deploying, shore-based units until their pregnancy is over, but will return to the same ship or unit or one like it shortly after giving birth. This helps minimize pregnancy’s impact on a woman’s career and on the accomplishment of her unit’s mission.

However, many service members find the impact of pregnancy — or rather its natural consequence of parenthood — to be far greater.

Forced to look down the road, service members have to answer some hard questions, such as what would they do with their child if both parents had a Navy commitment that took them away from home for more than a couple of days.

One answer for those who wish to continue a Navy career is to be transferred to the Naval Reserve.

Professional Impact

In order to understand the professional impact that pregnancy can have on one’s career as well as on job expectations and service requirements, Sailors and Marines need to know their services pregnancy and parenting regulations. Navy policy is outlined in OPNAVINST 6000.1B, and Marine Corps regulations are listed in MCO 5000.12D.

The two policies contain some key differences. For example, the Marine Corps may authorize up to 10 days of permissive temporary additional duty (TAD) for a married male Marine either following the birth of his child or prior to and just after the child’s delivery in cases where appropriate medical facilities are not available and the Marine accompanies his spouse to a different location.

On the other hand, according to the Bureau of Naval Personnel, the Navy doesn’t have a leave category called paternity because every active-duty Sailor earns regular leave at the rate of 2.5 days per month. If a Sailor would like time off following birth of a baby or adoption of a child, they may submit a request to the chain of command. Leave policy is up to each command.

The bottom line for service members who will be having children — either you or your spouse — is to be aware of your services policy and plan accordingly.

Timing Is Everything

Neither service dictates when members should or should not get pregnant. By instruction, a servicewoman should plan her pregnancy in a manner that allows her to meet both family and military obligations. However, the Navy is educating all Navy personnel to have their families while assigned to a shore command.

It is clear that command climate and mission play a huge role in the overall assessment of the military as a maternity-and family-friendly workplace. Generally speaking, those who are on shore duty or work in an office while pregnant will find their commands to be supportive and pregnancy will have little or no impact on co-workers or mission accomplishment. Conversely, sea duty or deploying units will be less positive about pregnancy. Common sense dictates that pregnancy will have greater impact on a service member’s ability to accomplish the mission at sea or deployed and a greater inconvenience for your co-workers.

Better Than Ever

It’s interesting to note that many women who are pregnant (and subsequently become a parent) while on active duty believe that the experience has actually made them better Sailors or Marines. Being on active duty means having a steady paycheck to support a child, and being a mother has a positive impact on career in many ways. Stability and focus are attributes associated with family life and parenting, and certainly more patience and understanding.

Not Without Challenges

Sleep deprivation, general fatigue and “morning sickness” are the main drawbacks faced by pregnant Sailors and Marines. A supportive command and work environment will overcome many of these difficulties. The possibility of postpartum depression and more lack of sleep after birth are additional issues to deal with.

Also remember, you must meet physical fitness standards within 6 months after the end of your pregnancy.

Taking It Day by Day

As difficult as it is to decide whether to become pregnant while on active duty, its a relatively short-term decision — from conception to completion of convalescent leave is less than a year (Of course, you’ll be a parent for a lifetime). Whether to remain on active duty as parents is a decision that many Sailors and Marines — men and women alike — evaluate and determine throughout their careers. As your military service requirements evolve, so too must your parenting responsibilities. Some service members can successfully combine parenting and active-duty military service with all of their associated complications. Others have to choose one or the other. Most feel its best to take it day by day.