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I was on vacation from work to attend my family baby shower in Iowa. We had been living in California for almost 6 years and it truly became home for us. More than anywhere else we had been in the world, and as much as the term “home” applies to a military family. We were about to become parents for the first time and learn how to PCS with a baby.
Getting the News
It’s funny how I can recall exactly where I was and how my husband sounded every single time, he broke the news to me. He had received orders to move to a new base (permanent change of station or “PCS” in military terms). It’s a frantic, surprised, scary, excited tone all at once. Of all places and always, we were shocked to find out that not only were we about to have a baby in 2 months, but we were now going to be planning a move to Wyoming soon after. I remember cussing. If I hadn’t been in denial I probably would have cried, but there was a lot of cussing.
We are an Air Force Family
My husband has been active duty in the Air Force for over 11 years, and we have now moved a total of 4 times. It’s always a stressful thing but adding the uncertainties and our lack of confidence as new parents to the mix and this was easily the most least welcomed, terrifying move yet.
Our baby girl was born in June 2018, and I was honestly so busy trying to make it through each day as a new mother that I was in complete denial about leaving our home in a few months. It was like a distant thought among sleepless nights, anxiety and uncertainties that is caring for a newborn.
There were so many Questions
Will my baby even get to sleep in her crib here? What’s the point of hanging pictures on the wall now? I hated that it felt like I had to pump the brakes on setting up our girl’s nursery the way I had envisioned it. And what in the world were we going to do without access to all this new baby gear we just bought? Through other PCS moves I knew it could take months to get our belongings shipped to a new house.
Thank goodness this wasn’t an overseas move, or we would be in real trouble. It was going to take a whole new level of planning to sort out the necessities we would take with us. We weighed our options to drive or fly, later deciding that we needed the car’s extra cargo space. Who knew where we would end up living? On base? Off base? Renting or buying? So many questions and lots to consider now that our family had expanded.
Everything in Our Lives is in Limbo
I waited before telling my family about the news in case a miracle happened, and the orders got cancelled (this has happened before). Then I waited even longer to tell my coworkers that I wouldn’t be returning after my maternity leave. It felt like I was living a lie for a while there. We finally got the official orders on paper, and then it was “go time.” Booking hotels, planning a baby-friendly route, and working with the base housing/transportation offices to arrange packing/moving dates.
My husband and I spent our (very little) free time purging, getting organized for the movers, and cleaning for our eventual move-out. A lot of this was done with a baby strapped to one of us. It became more chaotic as the months flew by, juggling our growing baby’s needs and trying to get things done around the house with what little time was left.
Mil Spouse Tip #1:
- Look into free childcare options on base if you ever must go through a PCS with children. Both the base we left, and our new base offered 20 hours of free childcare during the period right before and after our PCS. It is a huge regret of mine that we didn’t take advantage of this out of fear of leaving our little girl. Doing so would have made the packing, cleaning, and organizing exponentially less stressful. Moving is already hard enough!
Saying our Goodbyes
Finding time to make sure I said goodbye to friends and coworkers became an impossible feat. I was still nursing around the clock and life revolved around feeding and nap-times. Making plans on top of plans was overwhelming and exhausting but felt obligatory. There was just so much to do, and I already felt stretched thin as a new mom.
It became a sad reality with every goodbye knowing I wouldn’t have my amazing support system of friends around me for much longer. I was still in denial and didn’t fully realize how much this would affect me. That is, until I later found myself in a new place as a new mom who didn’t know a single soul.
The Dreaded Day
Moving day eventually rolled around and the entire thing was a total blur. Men in and out, packing and loading our whole house within hours. The nice thing about a military move is that you really don’t have to lift a finger on moving day. You’re just kind of there directing traffic.
Packing is even taken care of, but it takes a lot of prep work getting to the point where you feel comfortable letting someone else go through all your belongings. An effort was made to clear out all our accumulated crap. Suddenly we were sitting in emptiness with our baby rolling around in the middle of what used to be our living room. Now cue the hotel stays, road life and living out of suitcases for who knows how long.
Traveling with Baby
Even when I knew nothing about the places we got stationed at in the past, I still looked forward to the travel and moving around that is inevitably part of military life. It kept things interesting and new, and travel has always been a common bond that my husband and I share. But it wasn’t just us anymore and we could no longer power through a road trip like we used to. Things were more methodical and less spontaneous. Boy did we also have a lot more baggage!
Pit-stops for backseat nursing sessions and diaper changes became the new norm.
Our daughter was too young for the toys and books that now keep her occupied. Luckily, naps were still a big chunk of her day and this worked in our favor (…until it didn’t). We broke the trip into 4-hour increments and would arrive at our new base on the 4th day. Keeping baby cooped up in her car seat for any longer would have been tough. We took advantage of base lodging facilities as much as we could because they always offered family friendly, apartment style layouts with full kitchens.
Breastfeeding Mom Tip #1:
- When traveling, plan and specifically look for hotel suites with kitchenettes! This made all the difference in the world to a breastfeeding mom trying to travel with her stash of frozen breastmilk. In fact, this basically dictated every hotel we stayed at along the way. I bought a heavy-duty cooler and ice packs for the car, then unloaded the goods into a freezer at each of our stops. No way was I going to let that liquid gold spoil!
Breastfeeding Mom Tip #2:
- If tip #1 fails and you don’t have a fridge or freezer in your hotel room, ask the front desk for an accommodation. Indicating that you need to store something for a medical purpose should be a non-issue. I did this once before we moved. After a brief explanation, I labeled my cooler bag and handed it to the front desk agent. They kept it in their staff refrigerator until I checked-out the next morning.
A Change of Pace
After stops in Nevada, Utah and halfway through Wyoming, we were all alive and had reached our new base. It was bittersweet (mostly bitter), and in that moment all the change finally hit us. We had been so busy and constantly on-the-go that we shut out the reality of our situation until it was staring us in the face. The adventure of traveling was over, and things were already starting to slow down. What a change of pace. You’d think that would be a good thing.
Home is Wherever I’m With You
We had decided to live on base after being offered a house from the wait-list. This was new to us but seemed right considering we had a child now. We planned to have our household goods delivered as soon as possible once the house was officially ours. This was still a few weeks out, and we were stuck in a hotel until then. Unfortunately, we found out our planned move-in date could not be accommodated by the moving company.
Weeks were begrudgingly added to our hotel stay, which meant we wouldn’t spend Thanksgiving in our new home as we had hoped. Making the best of it, I still went out and bought all the holiday fixings and made our hotel room a little slice of a home. On the bright side, it’s sure easy to get used to free breakfast in the morning and daily housekeeping!
Mil Spouse Tip #2:
- Ask about an inconvenience claim if you are ever hassled during a PCS. I never knew about this before, but out of our frustrations we were fortunate to find out about this option. About half of our long hotel stay was reimbursed, plus a per diem rate for meals.
Coping with Change
Throughout all this change, I’ve coped by grasping for a silver lining wherever I could find one. This, and leaning on (i.e. venting to) family. It would be a lie to say I haven’t complained, because I totally have. But I also cling to the idea that we must have been sent here for a greater reason. It’s hard to stay positive at times, particularly since my husband’s job requires him to be gone a lot.
I try to consistently remind myself of the good things that have come out of this, like the fact that I went from being on maternity leave to becoming a stay-at-home mom. This probably wouldn’t have happened in California, and I am incredibly thankful for this. Being closer to family has also been super helpful, especially now that we have a little one. Perhaps we did need a slow down to create a better environment to raise our daughter in.
Pursuing a Passion
Honestly, this unexpected change also led me to write this blog post. I had been such a workaholic in the past that I never found time to pursue my love for writing until I was forced to step away from my 9-5. Now, I’ve created Olive Rae on the Go and have completely put myself out there in a refreshing way.
More than anything, I have a means to positively express myself through the challenges of motherhood and military life. I’m sure all stay-at-home moms can relate to how isolated you start to feel after a while. What started as a reason to snap out of the baby talk and use my adult brain, may be leading me to a passion. At least that’s what I choose to believe.
My Challenge to you
So, my challenge to any military family going through a dreaded PCS is to consider the larger picture. As military spouses, we know our significant others sacrifice so much for us to live comfortably. We also know what we signed up for and have the privilege of coming along on these crazy rides. I certainly don’t take any of this for granted and wouldn’t have it any other way. Life would be so boring without these stories to look back on and share.
Are you PCS’ing soon? PIN IT for later!
About the Author:
Kimberly Smith is an Air Force wife of over 10 years and a new mom to daughter Olivia; the inspiration behind Olive Rae on the Go. Her blog is a lovingly crafted blend between mother and daughter and she also enjoys writing about her family’s travel experiences. #MomLife with a Taste for Travel!