Over the past seven years, my husband Allan and I have moved six times. We’ve gotten used to moving so frequently because Allan is in the Navy, but nothing could have prepared us for our move to Japan in the middle of a worldwide pandemic — only two days after learning we were pregnant with our daughter.
We arrived on Okinawa, a small island some 400 miles south of the Japanese mainland, in early September 2020. After a strict two-week quarantine, Allan and I began our new life here in Okinawa, and the next few months progressed uneventfully.
Then, in March, our daughter Alice arrived. She was six weeks early. At 4 pounds, 5 ounces, Alice was the definition of a “little girl.” Delivered by cesarean section, she was whisked away to the NICU shortly after Dad cut the cord, where she spent the next three weeks growing and learning to eat properly. The hospital staff was incredible, and even if I had space for 10,000 words, I still couldn’t sing their praises enough.
Becoming a mother under any circumstances is a rollercoaster of emotions, and I was counting on having the full 40 weeks to prepare for my new role. Not only did Allan and I not have many of the things we needed to welcome Alice, but I lost six weeks to prepare myself emotionally for her arrival. Being away from home, from my friends and family, made the transition to motherhood more difficult. Okinawa is 13 hours ahead of Washington, D.C., so when it is 3 p.m. here, it’s 2 a.m. at my parents’ house. Not being able to call whenever I needed to talk to them made this time even more difficult.
Luckily, the military community in Okinawa came to our aid almost without my asking. A friend set up a meal train for the three weeks after Alice got out of the NICU, so we wouldn’t have to worry about dinner while figuring out how to have her home with us — especially since we were running on only a little bit of sleep. People I had never met gave us preemie clothes, so Alice would have little onesies and sleepers that fit her properly. A neighbor offered to go grocery shopping for us.
Throughout the entire NICU ordeal, Allan was just phenomenal. While recovering from my c-section, he happily bounced back and forth between my hospital room and Alice’s little bassinet in the NICU, never once complaining about being tired or overextended. He brought me sandwiches from Subway to give me a break from hospital food and enthusiastically fed our tiny daughter. He laughed when changing her diapers — and still does. I couldn’t ask for a better partner to have by my side during such a stressful (though joyous) time.
Throughout Allan’s Navy career, I have made lifelong friends within the military community, and it was members of that community who provided us with the resources and the time to make it through Alice’s NICU stay. I could never have imagined giving birth prematurely to a tiny baby halfway around the world during a global pandemic, but when it happened, I’m glad I had my village to support us.
This story first appeared in our July 2021 issue.