An ex-soldier has written about her ordeal of becoming pregnant while on deployment in Iraq – and how by choosing to keep her baby, she went against the Armed Forces’ unwritten moral code.
Bethany Saros, 27, from Apple Valley, Minnesota, described the disappointment she felt from her commanding staff when, despite using protection, she conceived while on tour.
Writing on Salon.com, the mother recalled learning the unexpected news of her pregnancy in her desert camp: ‘If pregnancy tests had bells and whistles on them, mine would have alerted the entire post. I felt the blood draining out of my face as I looked down at the positive result in my hand.
Iraq baby: The ‘unspoken rule’ is that soldiers on tour will have abortions and get back to the job at hand, writes Bethany Saros.
She describes how rumours fly about the small community and how she felt unable to make eye contact with even the medical staff, afraid of their judgements.
The problem, Ms Saros explains, is that ‘one of the stigmas attached to a female getting pregnant on a deployment is the assumption that she did it on purpose.
‘The unspoken code is that a good soldier will have an abortion, continue the mission, and get some sympathy because she chose duty over motherhood. But for the woman who chooses motherhood over duty, well, she must have been trying to get out of deployment.’
Ms Saros joined the Army after High School and had looked forward to a year in the desert, she says. A failed, abusive marriage, alcoholism and rape were enough the drive the Midwest girl to see Iraq as a spiritual and mental break from home.
Unspoken rules: Despite disappointment from commanding officers and her boyfriend turning his back on her, Ms Saros decided to keep the baby and left the Army to bring him up away from military life..
Her boyfriend, on leave at the time, announced that he was getting back together with his ex. And, despite the Army’s attitude towards deployment pregnancies, Ms Saros felt she could not go ahead with an abortion.
Keeping the baby came with the judgements of others.
‘No one ever said to my face that they were disappointed in me, but I could see it in the eyes of my commander, my first sergeant and my boss. They all congratulated me but I sensed I had let them down in some way.’
‘Instead of being seen as making a responsible decision, you are seen as a faker, a soldier who couldn’t take the pressure’
An unlikely olive branch was handed to the young soldier by her most feared senior, a Commander Sargeant Major. The man, infamous for his bad temper and strict punishments, instructed Ms Saros to be ‘at ease’ and sympathetically encouraged her to think about giving up military life.
It was the nudge she had needed to leave, but the backlash was far from supportive elsewhere.
‘Instead of being seen as making a responsible parenting decision, you are seen as a faker, a soldier who couldn’t take the pressure and went to extreme lengths to get out. I’m sure there are some women who have.’
Ms Saros, a writer who is now married with a second child, believed she had let everyone down.
‘But,’ she says ‘…my son was the only person I would have to explain myself to.’
Shining Service Worldwide is a charitable organization that supports all women connected to the United States Military Family.