U.S. Army 1st Lt. Francesca Hamilton, a key member of the 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command (13th ESC) front office, is pregnant with her first child and excited to be a mother-soldier in the U.S. Army. She said her leadership has been extremely supportive since she found out six months ago. She has seen peers, leaders and subordinates tackle parenthood in the military, and recognizes the lifestyle of being an expecting soldier in the world’s most robust military.
“One of my mentors is dual military,” she said. “They have six kids, and they’re both deployed to Poland right now.” She said these field-grade officers used their Family-Care Plan—a soldier’s written guide given to commanders for situations like deployments or extended training. In this case, their children had to move in with their grandparents and other family members. “They said their leadership gives them ample time to call their kids before they go to school and go to bed,” said Hamilton, a native of Houston, Texas. Their situation is a true sacrifice since being away from their families allows them to serve in career-advancing positions.
Motherhood is challenging for all Americans. In a 2007 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 71% of women reported that being a mother today is harder than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Yet in 1997, 81% of women surveyed responded similarly. The data showed that mothers of children under 18 years old report more difficulty in balancing family and work than parents of adults (14% versus 6%, respectively). In a February 2022 Pew survey, 58% of mothers said the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to handle childcare responsibilities, compared to 43% of men surveyed. Furthermore, all soldiers—including mothers—are expected to be available 24/7 and put the mission first, which can add further strain.
Hamilton said one of her sergeants major deployed only a short time after giving birth, an obvious hardship. This example must be seen in context to a 2019 Pentagon report that said women are overwhelmingly harassed for becoming pregnant.
“Part of this stigma stems from the perceived negative impact of pregnancy on the unit because pregnancy may lead to a reduction in workload or time away from the unit,” said the study by Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services. It also indicated many female soldiers are accused of seeking to become mothers to avoid deployment.
But conditions are getting better, argues 1st Lt. Erin Flaherty, who shares and office with Hamilton in 13th ESC. She says for years conditions have still been better for mothers in the Army compared to mothers in the civilian sector. “They give mothers the time that they need,” she said, speaking about the 12 weeks the Army allows them. “And it gives them the resources like daycare to continue on with their career and be successful.” Service members pay a reduced rate for childcare which is based on rank, time in service, and combined income.
She agreed that while a soldier isn’t deployable for almost two years—the nine months before delivery and the year after when she’s re-establishing baseline fitness—it shouldn’t be viewed as a burden for the unit. “New mothers should be non-deployable because they need time to be with their newborns,” said Flaherty, a native of Rochester, New York. She said forward units need a lot of support from the rear and doesn’t see the conflict. “I don’t think it really holds anyone back from defending the nation. You’re always helping regardless of where you are.”
Yet conditions are getting even better. This January the Army updated its regulations on pregnancy and parenthood, with changes that include up to 12 months of deferred deployment, extended leave for miscarriages, and not requiring pregnant mothers to wear dress uniforms until 12 months post-partum. A white paper with roots on social media helped implement these changes. One of the authors, Lt. Col. Scott Stephens, said failing to accommodate pregnant soldiers was similar to failing to allow a paratrooper time for a broken bone to heal. Both instances would damage readiness to fight.
Flaherty said these changes are heavily embraced by her unit and its command team. “Working at 13th ESC—Brig. Gen. Ragin is so female-empowering,” she said. “One of the first things he said to the new lieutenants was, ‘We love mothers here!’” She said the one-star general, Ronald Ragin, who departs this summer for Army Materiel Command in Alabama, acknowledged that other units in the Army have not been supportive of motherhood. She remembers him saying, “I mean this from the bottom of my heart, we support you – mothers are incredible.” For her, hearing that from a general officer was “huge!”
“I believe the Army is one of the most progressive organizations in this field,” Hamilton said. “Most working mothers in the civilian field receive half of the maternity leave we are allotted, and I am still able to do my job to the best of my ability while expecting.”
Stephens said the investment in pregnant soldiers will have high returns, with their “lifelong love of the profession.” That kind of commitment gives the U.S. Army its edge, he said. Less than 18% of soldiers are female, with fewer than 6,000 of the 182,000 of them pregnant at any one time, according to Maj. Angel Tomko, an Army spokeswoman.