Heidi Murkoff, best-selling author of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” visited Fort Bragg Nov. 13 to help host “Special Delivery,” a USO baby shower, at the Iron Mike Conference Center.
The baby shower at Bragg is one of the 35 Special Delivery events being hosted across three continents by the USO and Murkoff. Shanna Helf, USO Inc. program management specialist with military Family programs, said the USO goes everywhere there is a U.S. military base to throw these showers and support all branches of service.
“I like to call this program a baby shower disguised as a networking event because you come together to celebrate yourself and celebrate what you’re going through because being pregnant is stressful enough — let alone being in the military and all the variables involved in that,” Helf said. “We want to want you (mothers) to come and feel like it’s a day you don’t have to worry about making a meal, you can make some friends and celebrate a time in your life that is important.“
Helf has seen through the many baby showers she has coordinated, a majority of the mothers who attend end up making friends and leave establishing a network of support system through their commonality of motherhood.
“By the time they leave, we hope they feel more connected, more informed and more empowered to go forth and be a new parent; it’s kind of our goal but it’s masked in fun and food,” she said.
Being pregnant, a mother and away from a familial network of support is hard on military moms, Murkoff said. So instead of missing out on being celebrated during a special time in their lives, Special Delivery brings the celebration to them because military moms deserve it.
“They’re serving for two after all, whether they’re active duty or spouse” she said.
She hopes that the mothers who came feel supported through the resources given to them at the shower.
“We’re here also to say you don’t have to be alone, — you shouldn’t be alone — it’s a sisterhood,” she said. “I think military moms are always trying to be strong, almost to a fault, in that they think they have to tough it out no matter what they’re facing, and it isn’t easy to be a new mom in a strange place that isn’t your home.”
Among those who attended the shower, was Allyssia Keeling and her 6-month-old baby, Evelyn Keeling. Allyssia is an Army spouse and a veteran. This is her second time meeting Murkoff.
“I met Heidi the day (Evelyn) was born,” Allyssia said. “She came up to the hospital at Fort Campbell (Kentucky) a couple of hours after I delivered.”
The baby shower event was special to Allyssia because, like most of the other mothers who were in attendance, she was lives away from her Family.
“They don’t necessarily get to have baby showers or get to know other moms,” she said. “This way, moms get to have both and have something special because they had a new baby or are having a baby.”
For Allyssia, meeting a figure of motherhood like Murkoff is inspirational, especially because she’s part of the military community.
“The fact that (Murkoff) has it in her heart to take the time out for military Families, I think is very special,” she said.
During Murkoff’s visit to Fort Bragg, she also had the opportunity to tour Womack Army Medical Center’s (WAMC) labor and delivery unit where she visited with a laboring mother, neonatal intensive care unit where they visited with a mother and her premature infant who was born seven weeks early, and several classes including the new centering pregnancy class.
“(Murkoff) is really excited to look at our centering program, the way we take care of our patients here at Fort Bragg and see how we do it differently but similar than a lot of other military institutions,” said Lt. Col. Jacquelyn Cline, nursing and section chief at the maternal child health unit. Cline had met Murkoff years ago when she attended one of the USO baby showers while stationed in Germany.
Murkoff sat through the centering class for expecting mothers between 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy. During the class, she listened to their questions and shared experiences from being pregnant and having a newborn, to parenting and the Couvade syndrome, also known as sympathy pregnancy usually experienced by partners.
Perhaps one of the more special interactions a WAMC beneficiary got to experience was when Murkoff surprised Jackie Richard, a military spouse, who was laboring in her room. Richard has read and is a fan of Murkoff’s books.
“I used to work with the New Parent Support program, so I’ve given a lot of (Murkoff’s) books out and read them and met (Murkoff) at conferences before,” Richard said.
Murkoff said, this world is a small place, particularly within the military since she’s meeting many people again after hosting baby showers with the USO for several years now.
“Me being here is probably my greatest honor, but also my greatest pleasure,” she said. “We have no military (ties) in our family. I’ve learned so much from these moms and they inspire me every single day in so many different ways.”