Two things happened when PFC Lee went to urinate at 3 a.m.: she discovered a light tinge of blood on the tissue when she wiped; and she vomited – seemingly everything she’d eaten in the last few hours.
Like other pregnant soldiers in the military, PFC Lee is miles away from her familial safety net. Twenty-one years old, five months pregnant with her first child and housed in the barracks with mostly male soldiers, she was unsure what to do, and scared.
The first thing she did was panic. After her roommate talked her through that, she picked up the phone and dialed the hospital.
First, second or third trimester issues can be minor or extremely complicated. While by themselves nausea, cramping, back-pain or spotting might invite a host of reasonable explanations, when those symptoms team up, they could mean critical problems and require immediate attention.
Just as it’s important to be armed in preparation for defense, a pregnant female soldier living in the barracks is more readily empowered when she arms herself with information from a variety of sources such as those listed below to help her remain calm if issues arise. Rather than focusing on eliminating fear, this will stimulate a rational thought and decision-making process – a plus when you’re pregnant, in the Army and your support system consists of a cadre of superiors and other soldiers you’ve only known for seven months.
Ask questions: Don’t suffer in silence. Call a medical professional who is knowledgeable about pregnancies and particular issues you may have during the trimester you are in. Most times, just talking to a medical professional can provide another point of view and alleviate fears. Giving accurate information can also alert your health provider of a potential emergency.
Know what to expect: Knowledge is power. While you don’t want to be afraid of every change you experience during your pregnancy, you want to know what symptoms require immediate attention. Asking your doctor questions and consulting the Internet on your own will give you a general idea of what you need to look for.
In PFC Lee’s case, there were a few extremes that could identify what her slight bleeding might mean.
An Incompetent Cervix – A weak or damaged cervix means that the walls have thinned and the vaginal part of the cervix has shortened. As a result, it’s not strong enough to support a pregnancy, but treating it is possible. If caught in time, doctors can perform a cerclage (stitching the cervix) so that the cervix can support the pregnancy. If not stitched, the dilating cervix could lead to premature labor or stillbirth if the baby is not yet strong enough to survive outside of the uterus.
Placenta issues – normally during pregnancy, the placenta is located in the upper portion of the uterus. But occasionally it travels and may cover either part or all of the cervix. If that happens, the mother may experience light to heavy bleeding and medical attention is necessary.
Pre-term labor – It is possible that noticeable bleeding can be a sign of pre-term labor and should not be ignored. Reasons for pre-term labor vary: age (under 17/over 37); smoking, drugging or drinking during pregnancy; cervix or placenta issues; high blood pressure or fetal death are a few.
Remind yourself that every pregnancy is different and that only medical intervention can determine what your particular symptoms mean.
Connect with family/friends – It’s important for female soldiers to have someone near them for support, as well as available when they call home. Keeping stress as low as possible during pregnancies is as important for fetal development as it is for the mother.
For families with a female relative in the military: if you get a hysterical call from your pregnant daughter, it’s crucial that you remain calm and provide concrete instruction. Remember that she is miles away and scared already. Showing your fear will increase hers.
PFC Lee’s initial symptoms faded: the vomiting turned out to be symptoms of the flu that got better before they got worse; and she didn’t see any other signs of blood – light or heavy.
The episode spooked her and its presence remained. But instead of marinating in a paralyzing state of ignorance, she properly armed herself with knowledge: how to access information; how to relate that information to her individual pregnancy experience; what emergency symptoms to look for and how to think before she acts.
A soldier at her best.