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When moms go to war


On September 11, 2001, as I listened to minute- by- minute coverage of the terrorist attacks on the radio, I was six months pregnant. I remember rubbing my swollen belly and wondering what made me think bringing new life into this world was such a great idea.

Since that time, we've been a country at war. And in those ten years, 250,000 women have been deployed. Half of those soldiers are mothers.

Yet we hear little about these active-duty mothers, many of them single, who have to leave their children behind for months at a time to fulfill their military commitments. What is it like for them to hand their children over to someone else? What if they can't find a caregiver when they get deployed? And how do they make the transition from nurturer to soldier?

Related: Dramatic photos of military family reunions on BabyCenter

Double Standard?

It's much easier to wrap our minds around the reality of a man shifting from father to warrior. But is this because we see and hear so much more about male soldiers - and commonly see images of male soldiers reuniting with their families - or is there something more to our refusal to accept that women can be both mothers and warriors? Something stubborn and sexist in our thinking?

As a new mom, when I first heard about mothers of babies less than a year old being deployed, my first instinct was to judge:

"That's horrible. That's not natural. How could any woman do that? Why would any woman do that?"

This ignorance is exactly what motivated Laura Browder to create the website, and the documentary film in progress, Mothers at War.

With her website and documentary, Browder hopes to open up a national conversation about something that borders on taboo. She also wants to bolster support for military moms.

While interviewing women soldiers, she noticed that those who were mothers were hesitant to discuss post-traumatic stress disorder and the struggles they face adjusting to being back with their families. They don't talk about it for fear of being judged as bad mothers. Sound familiar?

But if you watch the video on Browder's site, a segment of the documentary, that profiles soldier Erica Lewis, you will see anything but a bad mom. What you see is a woman committed to her son and her work, work that is not nine to five, but 24/7.

When we talk about a woman being more than just a mother, this is it in the most in- your -face way imaginable.

Related: Talk to other military moms on BabyCenter.

Military moms deserve our support

What struck me the most while watching this video was the contrast between the softness of motherhood, and the hard cold reality of war. So much of motherhood is about protecting our children, keeping them safe, telling them that everything is going to be all right. When Lewis describes getting off the plane in Iraq and feeling as if she had died, she says it all.

That being an active-duty mom is not just hard but heart wrenching is evident from the number of times Erica fights back tears as she talks. I can't watch the video without crying.

As I go about the business of being a small-town American mother, often complaining about the relentless nature of motherhood, these military moms focus on staying alive for their children while working to make the world a better, safer place for all of us. They deserve our respect. They've got mine.

If you are looking for ways to support our troops and their families, the national initiative, Joining Forces, backed by First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, is a fantastic place to start.

Besty Shaw contributes to BabyCenter's Momformation

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