Ariane Audet

Catherine, Woodbridge VA (USA)

Ariane Audet
Catherine, Woodbridge VA (USA)

If there was a thesis to being a mom in the Army, it would be that you feel alone and you are not allowed to look weak or vulnerable. I got married when I was 26 and we both had the same job. We were senior rated and even our paperwork was filled by the same guy. It was awkward because they would often make us compete for the same promotion, but we made the best of it. I was warned by many of my bosses that you couldn’t get pregnant in this job because it would make our non-deployment numbers look bad. I was like, "I can physically do whatever I want," but I also needed this job. Then you wait for the next tour and you try to plan around it, but it doesn’t always work like that. It took us five years before we were able to get pregnant. I was super stressed, thinking it must have been me. The pregnancy was fairly easy and I thought that maybe this would be ok. By then, my husband and I were both tactical officers stationed at West Point. It was super misogynistic. You are very aware that you’ve been hired to fill a demographic as a woman and as a minority. After I had my son, my boss told me that I had six months to take my PT test and not make it look like I was dragging the team down. My son was also in daycare from six weeks on. There were two older women that I had worked with who told me they went in during their 6-week convalescence leave to show their commitment. I just couldn’t. That time with my baby, this is all I was going to get. So from the get-go, you really feel like you have done something wrong. A man could break a leg and be out of commission and nobody would say anything. But because this is tied to gendered organs, that’s bad. Back then, I didn’t know that and I just beat myself up to try to meet the standard. Everybody was the priority except for my kid. I chose that for my child. Still today, this thought hurts.

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I tried to pump during the day while at work but I was so busy it didn't work very well. I was leaking everywhere. I remember shoving coffee napkins up into my bra during an endless meeting and having to wear long cardigans even in June, to hide the stains. I had this giant Medela suitcase that I would carry with me in a disgusting bathroom because it was the only one with an outlet, pumping sitting on a toilet. I dried up after three months. I wasn’t nourishing myself, sleeping like 4 hours a night. The daycare situation was fine up until we started getting post notes that said, "Your son rolled over today. Your son started walking today." When he was 15 months old, I just couldn’t do this anymore. He was always the first kid in daycare and the last out. I was always late to pick him up. My husband almost never did because of this hyper-male culture. They would tell him that it was why men had wives, that he wasn’t really committed to the mission if he was "bailing" to go get his kid. It pissed me off because there was a lot of things I know I was better at than him. I knew my shit. I wasn’t a slacker. At the same time, there were no templates for us, two working people in this hyper-aggressive corporation. We worked 85 to 95 hours a week for the first two years of our son’s life. He had a closer emotional attachment to other people that I paid. It made me feel sick. I knew I didn’t want to do that forever, but then the war started. Nobody was allowed to get out and I owed them an extra year on my scholarship. But I got pregnant again and I thought, "I’ll resign due to pregnancy." I always thought it was dirty to get out like that, but I petitioned and signed the paperwork. Then, I got a miscarriage.

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I went in at 11 weeks and there was no heartbeat. I had to come back a couple of days after to check my HCG level. All this time I remained on duty because I wasn’t sick enough to get any leave. I think they gave me one afternoon for the appointment with the doctor. He said, "We don’t want to do a D&C because it’s not big enough. Just bring it in a Ziploc bag when you pass it. But make an appointment first, because there are no walk-ins." All I could say was "Ok. I’ll see." I know now that miscarriage is fairly common, but then I thought it was my body's fault. I waited for it to happen and went back to work the same day. That’s what was expected. All-hands-on-deck, every Viking must row. Passing it didn’t hurt, but I was in enormous pain for two or three days afterward. I couldn’t sit. I had to take back my request to get out on the pregnancy. I was very depressed but didn’t understand why. I had no affect. Didn’t talk about it to anybody because nobody wants to hear about your female problems. It took me almost four months after the miscarriage to say ‘It hurts’ out loud. I was on the phone with my mother in law, telling her I didn’t know why I didn’t have any energy and she went, "Catherine, you lost a baby!" I cried for an hour after that. A couple of days after, I was home and felt like I wanted eggs. The weirdest thing. I went to the pharmacy and bought myself a pregnancy test. Sure enough, I found out I was pregnant with our second son. It felt weird as I was finally grieving but also carrying another child. I knew I couldn’t do this Army thing anymore. I didn’t want to get out, but I had because it was untenable.

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There was one incident that was particularly horrible. I had bronchitis but still was working 90 hours a week. My OB from had yelled at me for losing weight and prescribed a workweek of "only" 40 hours. Like a good soldier, I walked into my boss’ office with my little piece of paper. My boss – let’s call him Colonel S. – looks at it and throws the paper away. He goes, "This is why women don’t belong in the Army. You can’t handle anything," and he went on. I was appalled, but I just started to cry. I went back into my office and he followed me, yelling, "This right here, this crying thing… this shows that you’re weak!" After that, I talked to a friend who was also a lawyer. He tried to help, but in the end, my boss played golf with the three stars. What are you going to do? He was also my husband’s supervisor and we needed the paycheck. You have to take whatever abuse they throw at you. There is no recourse. We had to have some kind of resolution for the incident and I was advised to leave and to never look back. I did, but it felt like I was in PTSD afterward. I loved the Army and I was good at my job. Then three months after I gave birth, we moved to Germany. I was resentful of my husband for going to work and talk to grownups. It was really hard on our marriage. Then he went to Iraq for a year and I think it was a good thing. I met this group of women who were very honest and we clicked. I still didn’t want to be an army wife and bake casserole, but they made me feel better. Now, almost 15 years later, I have a career of my own. As rocky and sucky as this has been, I’ve also got these two awesome kids. They’re really phenomenal human beings, and they were phenomenal once I stopped. I still had to go through grieving my career and I wish I could do a lot of stuff differently. Now my husband and I are older. He is at the end of his career and I feel more entitled to be vocal. It fed us for a long time, but it was also very hurtful and toxic for both of us. We share a lot of scars, but we’re using them to help, I hope, people that are younger than us. I felt so alone. Nobody should ever feel like that