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Engr. spouses support new moms

864th Engr. Bn. Public Affairs

Published: 11:57AM July 25th, 2013
Baby Massages

1st Lt. Elizabeth Lewis

Members of the 864th Engr. Bn. Pacemaker Pregnancy Support Group receive hands-on instruction on the art of baby massage for new and expecting mothers while their husbands are serving overseas.

Stories that come from deployments often speak of the camaraderie and teamwork formed among Soldiers while pushing through the hard times to accomplish a mission. Rarely, however, is the camaraderie of spouses acknowledged, who are also pushing through difficult times while they wait for their loved ones to return.

When the subject of a family readiness group is raised, many people picture the 2002 Vietnam-era based movie “We Were Soldiers,” in which wives are gathered around a table in a small living room discussing how to improve their lives as temporary single parents while their husbands are fighting in a distant land. These women found camaraderie while forming a spouses’ support system.

If you walk into the monthly meetings of the new mothers of the 864th Engineer Battalion “Pacemaker Pregnancy Support Group,” you will find a similar support system to the one depicted in the Mel Gibson movie — women sharing their hardships, leaning on each other and finding friends.

The Pacemaker Pregnancy Support Group is designed to be a support system for expecting and new mothers of the 864th Engineer Battalion where, at monthly meetings, professionals from installation organizations provide classes on pregnancy, birth/infancy, newborn/infant care, toddlers, parenting skills, and dealing with the stresses of not only being a mother, but being a mother while the father is deployed in Afghanistan.

However, it’s not all classes. The group also provides the mothers with an opportunity to interact with other new mothers in the unit, share stories and simply relax.

“I love getting together with the other moms in the group,” said Amanda Wagg, member of the Pacemaker Pregnancy Support Group whose husband is currently deployed with the battalion. “It is so nice to be able to meet and talk about babies for an afternoon. Also, I don’t know many people in the Joint Base Lewis-McChord area, so this support group has introduced me to new friends that I may not have otherwise met.”

The concept of the Pacemaker Pregnancy Support Group started with the announcement of the battalion’s most recent deployment. Rest and relaxation leave are normally not authorized during nine-month deployments, so spouses in the battalion scheduled to deliver during the period came together to form the group. Some eventually become the leaders for the Pacemaker Pregnancy Support Group, having determined the 864th Engr. Bn. needed a support group for the expecting, new and first-time mothers.

“The Pacemaker Pregnancy Support Group builds family teams, or at least builds new friendships,” Wagg said. “We are all in this together, and having the support of other moms is helpful ... It is an open environment where there is no need to be embarrassed about how we look-no makeup, hair is not perfect, spit up on our shirts and baby bellies because we’re all in the same situation.”

At the first meeting, held a month after the main body of the 864th Engineer Battalion deployed, the group arranged for professionals from Army Community Service’s Family Advocacy New Parent Support Program and Madigan Army Medical Center to come and present classes to the new groups of mothers.

In subsequent meetings, the group also recruited help from the Madigan OB/GYN Department, Families OverComing Under Stress, the 555th Engineer Brigade Military Family Life Consultant, and other support agencies on JBLM.

One focus area became instruction on how to improve their resiliency and how to create good habits for building strong family teams.

JBLM support agencies weren’t the only organizations working with the 864th Engr. Bn. spouses and families. Quilts from the Hearts donated crocheted, hand-made blankets and baby hats for the newborn babies while the Puyallup Post 2227 VFW Women’s Auxiliary, the From Our Heart Organization and Support America’s Armed Forces donated items for Baby Bundles-baskets for new mothers.

“The unexpected support and overwhelming sense of volunteerism that has flooded in from this very supportive military community has been very humbling,” said Amy Henderson, the 864th Engr. Bn. family readiness group adviser. “We cannot possibly thank all the (base) agencies, local organizations, and our selfless volunteers enough for all the enduring, positive impact that they have had on our families.”

Word of the support program and extensive training opportunities provided for new and expecting mothers of the Pacemaker Pregnancy Support Group is spreading. “As far as I am aware,” said Army Community Service Family Advocacy Program Specialist Priscilla Nastasia, “the Pacemaker Pregnancy Support Group is the first of its kind. However, I know that two other units heard about it and asked Family Advocacy to help them start their own! That’s a win for our Army.”

Overall, the reaction to the Pacemaker Pregnancy Support Group has been positive.

“At a time when our Army is being asked to do so much, there is a real need for grassroots assistance for families, and frankly, this is how it is done,” Nastasia said. “We know that our service members live a lifetime of stress in the first six years of their service to our country. That is real, and our families are living that experience too. This support group has a definite feeling of family, and I have been witness to the amazing warmth and friendship that is shared in this setting, along with the linkages to real services and support.”

“I love this group and look forward to the monthly meetings,” Wagg said. “This is really an amazing group of women that come together to support each other. I think it has helped by making this deployment a bit more bearable.”