WASHINGTON – Two days after Jennifer Aparicio gave birth to her daughter last month, she packed her husband on to a plane so he could rejoin his Maryland National Guard unit as it prepared to ship out to Iraq.
And Pfc. Jose Aparicio was of the lucky ones.
He was on hand for the birth of Avyana Aparicio, one of at least five babies born this year to soldiers in Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 115th Infantry, which headed to Fort Stewart, Ga., in January to begin training for deployment to Iraq.
“There’s a lot of new babies,” says Elaine Borakove, a leader of the unit’s Family Readiness Group, which helps support the families left behind.
Not all of the new fathers were able to get back before their babies were born.
“It’s not ideal,” said Sgt. Jacqueline Ray, who is one of about 125 members of the Guard unit. While soldiers expecting a baby may be most concerned about the birth, Ray said, “sometimes the Army doesn’t quite look at it like that.”
Spc. James Butler only learned that his fiancee, Christina Rice, had given birth to their son after a phone call home in January. Rice said Butler did not believe her at first, and she held the phone up while a nurse coaxed a cry from the newborn so Butler could hear his son’s voice.
“It was hard on him,” said Rice, who has moved in with her parents in Cumberland.
“I only got to talk to him for like 10 minutes and that was it,” Rice said of the call in the hospital. “But it was nice.”
Keri Beam, a Hagerstown mother of two, said she talks by phone to her husband, Pfc. Patrick Beam, every few days. They have typical married-couple conversations with updates on the kids, including daughter Kylie, who was born in February.
Beam spends her day juggling naps and meals for Kylie and her older son Caleb, who has Down syndrome and cannot yet walk or talk. It is a challenge, but when Beam lies down on the couch to fall asleep, her mind sometimes drifts and she thinks about how dangerous her husband’s work in Iraq could be.
“He is the reason I am strong and I can hold it together,” she said. “I know how much he needs to know that everything is OK here, and that I can take care of things. Otherwise he couldn’t concentrate on what he’s doing.”
Rice, who works part-time in a coffee shop, said she and Butler plan to marry at a courthouse in May before the unit ships out for Iraq. They have put off buying a house and car — and delayed plans for a big wedding celebration — until his deployment is over.
The Aparicios, who were married in a Virginia courthouse in December, are also holding off on a church ceremony until he returns.
“It was exciting, although it was kind of in a rush,” says Jennifer, a 20-year-old Montgomery College student. When the deployment is over, she says, they will move in together and “work on being a family.”
Aparicio said it “was really surprising” that her husband could get home for Avyana’s birth. She said the baby is comforting to her now while Jose is gone: Avyana and her father make the same faces and they have the same noses.
“I just knew that I would always see him in her while he was gone,” Aparicio said.
The prospect of raising her daughter for a year by herself was scary at first, but Aparicio said she has adjusted to Avyana’s schedule, stealing naps whenever the baby sleeps, and she expects to return to school this summer.
“It’s a lot of pressure but, you know, I’m willing to do it,” she said.
All three women said they are getting by with help from family and friends.
“Some days . . . it’s OK, and other days you just sit down and cry,” Rice said. But overall, she said, “We’re all going to get through this.”
Butler came home several weeks after his son, James, was born, a first-time meeting that Rice said unfolded with “a lot of hugging and crying.” Butler also came home in March — which is when he asked Rice to marry him — before heading back to training yet again.
“For once I don’t think either of us cried,” Rice said of the most recent goodbye. “We were just like, we’re going to be OK.”
-30- CNS 04-01-05