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Women Offer Help to Pregnant Military Wives

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WBFO News photo
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Polly Thom (left) offers lactation consulting, and Cindy Whittaker (middle) offers doula services to military wives

By Sharon Osorio

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wbfo/local-wbfo-956848.mp3

Lancaster, NY – Childbirth can be an exciting but worrisome event. Imagine what it's like for military wives whose husbands or partners are deployed and won't be home to help during the delivery.

WBFO's Sharon Osorio tells us about an organization called Operation Special Delivery, which offers free help to make this milestone easier on mom.

"Seeing the hearts of those mothers laying there, giving birth," says Cindy Whittaker. "I feel honored that I was asked to be their doula and I feel it was a privilege to do so for that family."

Cindy Whittaker is a mother of four boys, but she's experienced plenty more births than that. She's a doula, someone who acts as a coach and a supporter while a pregnant woman is in labor. Oftentimes husbands serve this role in the delivery room, but for women whose military husbands are deployed, Dad might be on the other side of the world, unable to be there for the big event. That's where Operation Special Delivery comes in with doulas offering their services for free. Cindy Whittaker is one of them.

"Every mother is fearful of what the process of birth is," says Whittaker. "They're afraid, they're not sure of the outcome. So to have someone to reassure them who has attended many births, who has even experienced birth themselves, this is a way that they can go in, comfort them throughout the birth process, let them understand what's going on moment by moment, helping through massage techniques, relaxation techniques. We help through changing positions to help baby to rotate to come down, giving them all the comfort they need, and just the feeling of someone else being in the room with them that they're actually missing from Dad not being there."

Operation Special Delivery began after 9/11 as a service to the pregnant widows of firefighters and other responders in the New York City area. When troops were deployed in response to 9/11, the group expanded its services to military families. Word spread quickly among doulas nationwide, and so did their willingness to donate their time.

"Why charge somebody who's willing to give their lives for us and who's protecting me and giving me the freedom that I have here in the states?" she says.

To qualify for the free help, the husband or boyfriend must be deployed elsewhere. That includes within the United States. Operation Special Delivery also offers free services to women whose military partners are home, but severely injured. In that case, the couples do need to show a financial inability to pay for a doula themselves. Whittaker, who is also an EMT for the Big Tree Fire Hall, says it's an honor to help these military wives.

"You become a friend of that mom," she says. "You nurture her through the last few months of her pregnancy. So, yeah, it's very emotional. And it's very emotional when you're taking pictures of her, she's talking to Dad on the phone, and she's holding the baby, and you're trying to snap pictures and trying to get things together to write their little birth story. It's hard."

In that case, the phone call was thanks to the American Red Cross, who helps to connect deployed military personnel to their families for events such as childbirth. It's another free service to the troops.

"I also take many photos while they're also in labor, Whittaker adds. "I record a lot of the birth process so Dad actually has a story to come home to, or we send the story off to Dad, and things with the computers right now, it's just nice to be able to ship pictures off right away to them."

Polly Thoman, the owner of Baby Sweet Beginnings in Lancaster and a lactation consultant, has also joined in to help these moms with breastfeeding.

"They're in a very stressful situation when Dad's away from home and stress plays a big part in breastfeeding," says Thoman. "So we try to just smooth that over and make sure they're in the right direction."

But there is one problem. Whittaker says many pregnant military wives don't know about the program. Due to the nature of the military, families can move into - and out of - regions rather quickly, so a mention of the program in a military bulletin 6 months ago might not have been seen by a current expectant mom. Since it's a free service, there's no local marketing budget, but Whittaker says they've even paid for advertising out of their own pockets to reach more military moms.

"Call me," Whittaker laughs. "Get a hold of me or go to the Operation Special Delivery web page. They do have paperwork that we do like to have them fill out so that we can get the process taken care of. There is a paperwork process just because it is through an organization. "I've also taken on some moms at the very last minute that couldn't get the paperwork done, as long as I know they can show me their valid ID, I'm on board with it."

Even if that means another long, sleepless night for Whittaker in the delivery room.