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.