Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

17379 When a Baby Is Born During Deployment: Experiences of Mothers In Military Families

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 8:30 AM
Wilson (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Ruth Paris, PhD, Assistant Professor, Boston University, Boston, MA
Abigail M. Ross, Doctoral Student, Boston University, Boston, MA
Kathleen Bruder, MSW, Research Assistant, Boston University, Brookline, MA
Ellen DeVoe, PhD, Associate Professor, Boston University, Boston, MA
Purpose: For many couples, the birth of an infant and early parenting are some of the most exciting and growth-promoting of life's events (Cowan & Cowan, 1993). However, women who deliver babies while their partners are deployed to a war zone and experience the first weeks and months of infancy alone often perceive the event as stressful and potentially debilitating. This is demonstrated by the fact that postpartum depression (PPD) occurs at a higher rate in US military families as compared to those in the general civilian population (16.9% vs. 13%; Haworth, 2010). Although all branches of the military work to support spouses and children of service members, there are currently no specific resources for military-affiliated women with postpartum depression. In addition, as in non-military populations, shame and stigma keep women from sharing their experiences with friends or professionals and receiving the support and treatment they need. Given the negative impact of PPD for the mother and infant, further research and program development needs to address this at-risk population. This exploratory study expands upon current research by examining the lived experiences of mothers who have given birth or parented an infant during a partner's deployment.

Methods: Researchers conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with 15 mothers who delivered infants shortly before or during their partners' deployments to Afghanistan or Iraq through the National Guard or Reserve (NG/R). Interviews were audiotaped and mothers were asked about pregnancy and childbirth experiences, perinatal mood changes, supports and stressors during deployment, infant temperament, parenting communication with partners, partners' involvement in the birth, and the process of co-parenting after deployment. Mothers were also asked about services they would like to see in the future. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and coded line-by-line by two RAs for themes using Grounded Theory techniques (Charmaz, 2006). RAs met to establish consensus on code definitions and included the PI when there were strong differences in thematic identification.

Findings: Major themes that emerged included a lack of child rearing support, loneliness, and a desire for connection with other women who had given birth during a partner's deployment. Many participants spoke of friends' and family's inability to understand their particular situation, the disappointment of parenting for the first time without their spouse, attempting to share developmental milestones through webcam communication and the difficulty of service members' bonding with infants after their return. Some mothers suggested better parenting support services from the NG/R, similar to those for some installation-based families who are offered home-visits for the first year after a child's birth.

Conclusion: Findings from this study suggest that giving birth during a partner's military deployment presents special challenges, especially for families involved in the Guard or Reserve living in the community. Programming that increases support and connection among women experiencing childbirth during a deployment and between at-home and deployed partners may be important in addressing PPD. Community-based or military social workers are often the first to detect family problems and have the potential to advance these special services.