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April 7, 2003

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Pregnant Wives of Servicemen Face Burden
Pregnant Wives of Servicemen Face Added Burden With Husbands Thousands of Miles Away

The Associated Press

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Through letters and ultrasound pictures, 19-year-old Shawna Thurber tries the best she can to keep her husband updated on the progress of the twin boys she expects to deliver later this spring.

And while she tries to comfort him, she and countless other military wives must cope with the trials and tribulations of pregnancy knowing that their husbands are thousands of miles away at war.

"I am scared," said Thurber, whose husband, Army Spc. Michael Thurber, left Fort Campbell for the Middle East in February. "I know that if he was here I still would be scared. But with him gone, I know it's going to be harder."

Among the 90 American soldiers killed since the war with Iraq began last month, at least five died as expectant fathers.

Every time Heidi Taylor hears of a U.S. soldier's death, she can't help thinking it could be her husband, Staff Sgt. Duane Taylor, who is among the more than 17,000 soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division deployed in the Persian Gulf.

"That always rests on your mind. The reality is there," said Taylor, 23, of Fort Campbell. "I could become a single mother just as easy as anybody. It's horrible to think about, but it's kind of a reality that you have to be prepared for."

Expectant wives of deployed soldiers face everything from the fears of combat death to having to make important medical and financial decisions without their mate's immediate input, said Dr. Jeffrey Weyeneth, the University of Kentucky Medical Center's chief resident for child psychiatry.

And while the women watch the war play out on television, expectant fathers aren't there for prenatal doctor visits, shopping for baby gear or to offer a quick massage for swollen feet and sore backs.

Women who give birth during the war know it's doubtful their husbands will be able to get home or to even know when they go into labor.

Dr. Cornelia R. Graves, an associate professor who works in maternal fetal medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., said many of the wives with deployed husbands she sees "seem to be very well adjusted."

Kim Suarez, 25, of Fort Campbell, thinks that's because women living in the military have no choice but to deal with their husbands being gone for long stretches.

Aside from caring for their 4-year-old daughter, Hannah, Suarez is expecting their second daughter in early May. Her husband, Staff Sgt. Kenneth Suarez, left for the Middle East in late February.

"I'm a pretty independent person. You have to be if you're going to be married to someone in the military," Suarez said. "Of course I'm emotional, but I have a four-year old. So I have to be strong."

For support, many women turn to family, friends and base support groups. Others rely on Operation Special Delivery, which provides volunteers to help pregnant military wives.

Patricia Newton, national director of the nonprofit organization, said volunteers have helped about 100 pregnant military wives nationwide since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Within the last month, applications for their help has increased to about 10 per week, Newton said. The program offers women prenatal support and someone to be with them in the delivery room, Newton said.

"The most important thing for any husband to do during labor is to be there and to touch her and hold her hand," Newton said. "But if that person is not there to do those two crucial points then they're already starting out with a great loss."

Thurber's mom, Susan Skirvin said she plans to move in with her daughter, who also has three dogs to care for, within the next month. Her daughter's due date is in early June.

"The biggest thing I think is trying to keep her spirits up, because he's not here," Skirvin said. "Mom and dad can do so much, but we can't replace Mike."

Ideally, couples who have time to plan for a lengthy deployment can prepare by anticipating some major decisions, said Weyeneth, who's wife, Jennifer, went through parts of her pregnancy while he was away in the Navy.

Thankfully, Thurber said, she and her husband had time to settle on the twins' names, Breyan Reed and Brentin Allen. She also had her sons' room decorated in a Winnie the Pooh motif, and already has the cribs and dressers ready to go.

"We made sure we discussed all that before he left," said Thurber, who has spoken to her husband just once since he deployed.

Meanwhile, Taylor said she hopes to speak with her husband before her June due date because she wants to change the baby's planned name from Savanah Grace to Lana Ashton.

"I've been joking that if I don't get to talk to him before then he'll just get a Red Cross message that says, 'Sorry honey I changed the name,'" she said.

On the Net:

photo credit and caption:
Pregnant with twin boys, 19-year-old Shawna Thurber stands in her Clarksville, Tenn., home near a photo of her and her husband Army Spc. Michael Thurber with the 101st Airborne Division Saturday, March 29, 2003. Thurber tries the best she can to keep her husband updated on her progress with a delivery date in late spring. While she tries to comfort him that all is well, she and countless other military wives must cope with dealing with all the trials and tribulations of pregnancy knowing that their husbands are thousands of miles away fighting a war. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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