Being away from home is a universal part of military service.
From training to deployments, the men and women who protect this country give a lot.
Erin Mish would know. She’s an 11-year vet who served in the Army National Guard, alongside her now-husband. She wanted to make it a career, but got out early, in 2019, after having her first child.
“Once I found out I was pregnant, we immediately hit problem after problem,” Mish said.
She’s not alone.
A recent survey from Blue Star Families found more than four in 10 active-duty respondents said the military created challenges to having kids.
“I think we both just assumed that everything would fall into place because when you join the military and you have a family, you’re required to have a family plan,” explained Mish.
But she couldn’t attend training events, faced issues with child care and felt pressure to step away.
“Looking back on it feels weird. I was filling a slot that a slot within the unit that they needed someone present for,” she said.
While her situation was just in the last few years, it’s an issue service members have faced for decades.
“The saying was, ‘you didn’t get a kid issued in your sea bag’ or ‘you didn’t get a kid issued when you went through boot camp.’ So why would you have one now,” recalled Renie Bolyn. She retired from the Coast Guard in 2014 after 16 years and two kids.
Her then-husband was also in the service when she got pregnant with her first, but she felt eyes were on her to leave.
“I felt like I didn’t matter,” she said. “Like my country didn’t want me…my country didn’t care.”
She stuck it out and saw some improvements through her second pregnancy and to today.
“Now I hear that there are actually lactation rooms for women at units. It’s starting now. We’re what? 2022,” Bolyn remarked.
While she wouldn’t change her military service, Bolyn thinks more should be done to support modern families, like offering day cares and more support during transfers.
Mish’s husband is still in. She has doubts there will be any significant change.
“We want just one more [child], but maybe we’ll wait until he does get out and it won’t be quite as hard,” Mish said.
Maybe, though, tomorrow will bring something different.
“The military mission is is very big. This is our country we’re talking about,” said Bolyn. “But the mission I don’t think should overshadow that much the decisions of how to support the men and women in the military.”
Among military-connected respondents, 67% also reported issues with family building, mostly impacting women and members of the LBGTQ+ community.
That ranges from meeting the criteria for infertility or not having coverage for IVF under the military health care plan to navigating the adoption process.
Efforts are ongoing on the congressional level to help with these issues, including increasing parental leave and strengthening mental health resources.
Spectrum News 1 reached out to Congressman Brian Higgins who emphasized, “It is critical that we continue fighting to protect the rights of these servicemembers and their families, to ensure that they have equal access to the healthcare and family planning services they need regardless of where they are stationed.”