Rachal "Featherstone" Featherston is a non-binary Army veteran who served under Don't Ask, Don't Tell from 2008 to 2010. They talk about their experience in the Army as a Military Police Officer and their transition out of the military to what she is doing today. They suffered postpartum depression after the birth of their first child and it ultimately led them to leave the military.
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Check out the full transcript here.
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Welcome to Episode 148 of the women of the military podcast. This week, my guest is Featherstone. They are a non binary Army veteran who served under Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And in this interview, we talk about their experience of dealing with postpartum depression while serving in the military. The diagnosis and challenges they faced from postpartum depression were what ultimately led them to leaving the military behind. We talked about what they're doing today and how don't ask don't tell affected their time in the military. It's another great interview. So let's get started. You're listening to season three of the women on the military podcast Here you will find the real stories of female servicemembers. I'm Amanda Huffman, I am an Air Force veteran, military spouse and mom. I created women in the military podcast in 2019. As a place to share the stories of female service members past and present, with the goal of finding the heart of the story, while uncovering the triumphs and challenges women face while serving in the military. If you want to be encouraged by the stories of military women and be inspired to change the world, keep tuned for this latest episode of women on the military. Women on the military podcast would like to thank saburo coding boot camp for sponsoring this week's episode Sabio coding boot camp is a top ranked coding boot camp that is 100% dedicated to helping smart and highly motivated individuals become exceptional software engineers visit their website at www.sabio.la to learn how you may be able to use your GI Bill benefits to train at Sabio your tuition and monthly BAH stipend may be paid during your training period. They are also 100% committed and helping you find your first job in tech. So don't forget to head over to www.sabio.la to learn more. And now let's get started with this week's interview. Welcome to the show. Rachel, I'm so excited to have you here.
Thank you, Amanda. I actually go by Featherstone. It's my last name, it's a bit of my my military heritage or, or something like that. But it's also really androgynous. So I prefer it as a non binary individual because it's more gender neutral.
I'm sorry about that.
No, no problem at all.
So I'm really excited that we finally connected because you feel my waitlist for quite a long time.
Yeah, I think it's been over a year.
It's has either way things work out. Why did you decide to join the military?
So it's kind of a funny story. I was a really smart kid growing up. And I loved school. And I definitely identified with sort of like a geeky, nerdy sort of subculture. But when I went from high school to college, I was just not prepared. Like I was not mature in the ways that I needed to be to succeed as an independent adult. And I was working as an EMT, like for an ambulance service, and I loved it. But I dropped out of school, I just wasn't really ready to haul my education and pay my bills. And it was great. But it wasn't really like financially putting me in the best spot. So I was waiting tables as well. And I actually worked for this is so funny for people who have known me, I was working as a Hooters waitress, and I am just like, not what people stereotypically think of as someone who would be successful. But I think because I was different from a lot of the other women that I worked with just sort of a quirky sense of humor, and didn't really bend over backwards to please people or be appealing. And I think it was just so different. It was great in terms of money, and it was fun. And I got to talk to people but eventually got really tired of being disrespected. And I just got to the point, both in my EMT career and in my waitressing job that I was like, I'm so done with not being respected. I'm going to go get a job where I'm gonna like kick ass and take names. And no one's gonna bossing me around anymore. I want authority. And so I had like this catastrophic Li terrible Valentine's Day. And it was like four in the afternoon and a recruiter called called me and I was like, You have no idea how good your timing is. I said, I've already taken the ASVAB and I basically maxed it out, and I know exactly what job I want and I won't find out for anything else. And he's like, you really wouldn't be an MP. And it became sort of like this running joke at the recruiters office where I live and I think from the day I talked to him, to the day I left, it wasn't even two weeks. Like it was very expedited. I was like, I'm done with Richmond, I'm done with school, like, I'm just ready to walk away from my life here. And so I shipped out in February of 2008. And I went to boot camp, and I just loved it. It was like summer camp on steroids. And I'd never been that fit in my life. And I always kind of felt like an awkward kid. Like, I always felt like, Oh, well, I don't really fit in, it's probably because I'm queer. It's probably because at that point in my life identified as bisexual, and I was like, it's just because like, I'm always looking at some of my girlfriends, like, Oh, I really want to, like kiss you, not just like, braid your hair. And so is this funny, like, push pull. But when I got into the army, and it was like, you know, everybody wears the same clothes. And the culture is much more like masculine focus, like femininity just kind of got like, pushed off to the side, that wasn't really something they dealt with. So I felt like I fit in a way that didn't really happen for me, you know, in high school, and growing up was sort of that ugly duckling phase. And I didn't really identify it as a part of my gender. I was just like, Oh, I like it here. I feel good here. I fit. And I hadn't had that before, which was something that in hindsight, I should have paid more attention to. But I ended up getting married to a guy that I dated back home and got pregnant, and had really uneventful pregnancy really healthy, a little bit unexpected. Because I was so fit, I wasn't really having periods. And so we were like trying for a while and not successful. So we're like, maybe I'll like deploy and come back. And maybe I'll like, put on some weight. And it'll, maybe it'll happen then. But then, of course, when you stop trying, that's what happens. Then I was like, Well, now I can't do my day to day job. Like the day my unit found out, I was pregnant, they yanked me off the road. So I lost my road partner who was sort of like my job best friend. And I was taken out of my platoon and put in headquarters. So I was like, not only last, like my bestie. But I was moved to where a whole bunch of people that didn't know me and a totally different job. I felt like it was being punished for being pregnant. And I was so frustrated because I was like, no one even knows that I'm pregnant. Like, I'm not acting different. My body doesn't even look different. Like, I was like four and a half weeks pregnant. Like I just missed my period. And then they like banished me to a back room to file papers.
And how long have you been in the military when you got pregnant?
It was pretty soon into my first duty assignment. I want to say I was like six months into my contract.
And how old were you?
I just turned 21. I was so young. And I'm always someone who's looked really young. And so like I think it it helped like being in that job and doing you know, being a military police officer because I worked on a really sleepy little base overall, I was in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Not a whole lot going on there. There's like a Walmart and Lowe's and a couple chain restaurants. But like on post, it's a lot of like hunting and fishing areas like they shut down some of the shooting ranges seasonally for hunting and fishing. Because there's so much wildlife, like there's a lot of square miles to that base, but not necessarily a lot of people to give you context like the film super troopers had just come out very recently when I had gotten in. And so there was a lot of shenanigans in you know, lower enlisted stuff, like saying silly things on the radio occasionally. And my unit was brand new with a lot of mo Sq for people who don't know what that means is people who have transitioned from one job to another. And so it's sometimes felt like the blind leading the blind, because we had sergeants and people in leadership positions who'd never been a military police officer before. So starting up this new unit was just like, it was very disorienting. A lot of people fresh out of boot camp who were just sort of not used to the discipline aspect yet. So even though I was only 21, I felt like I was much more adult than a lot of my peers.
But like two years is a lot when you're that young.
There were so many 18 year olds from like really rural areas. And I'm not from like a giant city by any stretch of imagination. I'm from Richmond, Virginia, but Richmond is a bigger city with like 800 or so 1000 people and it tends to be a little more liberal. And so I was already kind of set up with a bit of a different background from a lot of the folks that had signed up to be military police officers. It was very jarring when I got pregnant, how people started treating me differently. I even had one incident where there was a NCO who like as I was walking through a hallway was like, I'd tap that because I can't get you pregnant. And I was like that's the grossest thing. Like I can imagine someone just like saying in passing, like, Why do people think this is okay? But it was just so like that sort of sexual harassment was so commonplace like there was, it felt like there was no fighting.
Yeah, it was in at the same time as you so I understand exactly what you are saying
we were both like don't ask, don't tell era. I think at that point, like I'd heard a lot of comments from especially other enlisted soldiers, like you're not somebodies wife, like you're probably a lesbian, like, there was like sort of this very black and white view of female soldiers. And at that point, I still wasn't connecting the idea of like, Oh, I feel super confident and comfortable in this very masculine environment. I was just like, I'm a woman soldier, like, that's just what it is. And I ended up having my son and going on maternity leave, and I had terrible postpartum depression. And my first marriage ended up ending, right after my maternity leave ended. So I was like, depressed and going through a divorce and trying to figure out like, what that meant for my military career. And I had some people who were really supportive. But there were some female and CEOs, incidentally, who were like, you're pretending all of this, like you're just trying to get out of having to like, go back to work. I had one actually accused me of pretending my divorce like that my divorce was real. And it was just like, who wants to get divorced, seriously, like, my husband had moved back to Virginia. And it was just me with my baby, trying to figure out like childcare. And I'll just never forget, like they told me they were sending me on a two week training exercise, like basically a glorified camping trip. And I was breastfeeding. And I was like, how am I going to do this, there's no power. And the first day I was out there, like, I ended up having to send my son back to Virginia, to stay with my parents for two weeks. And I was just like, horrified. And I'm like, I guess I'm just gonna have to like pump my breast milk and like, figure it out. And that was actually when I found breastfeeding and combat boots. I think it was somebody at the WIC clinic on post, who was like, this might be a thing that will help you like, you're not alone. And thank God for my medic, I had an incredible medic in my unit who we were pregnant at the same time. So we're kind of going through postpartum at the same time, and I would pump sitting at the generator in the middle of the training exercise site, I plug in and cover myself with my Poncho, and I pump because I'm like, I'm not gonna stop doing this. This is how I want to feed my baby and Obamacare had just been signed. So my right to do so was covered. And I was very much like, Come at me, bro. Like we can we can have this fight. I'm happy to fight it. And so eventually, I got my way, but like I was having to come into your printer closets to pump when I got back, like to the office and stuff was ridiculous.
And how old was your son when they sent you to the training?
He was six months old, like he just had six months. So I guess technically like it was okay. You know, it wasn't like a TDY assignment, I was still the same post. But it was like, I couldn't find anybody to take my six month old overnight for two weeks, there's no amount of money that's worth that amount of sleep deprivation. Like, let's be real, taking care of someone else's six year old is is brutal.
I came back from that training exercise. And I went and talked to my psychiatrist. And she was like, so you can wait for your single parenting stuff to go through. But I really think that you're depressed enough to just take like a medical discharge. And I was like, whatever will get me to my baby faster, I'll do it. And so I ended up getting out. And I was like, No one deserves to be treated like that both like how my birth went in the Army Hospital, or how I was treated with my postpartum depression by my unit. So both of those sort of guided my career from there because originally I was like, I'm going to be a lifer. Like, I love law enforcement before I really knew what law enforcement was going to be like, for me, as a woman and in the army. I just really like the idea of being like the first person on the scene when there was an emergency to help.
So how long had you been in when you discharged out of the army?
I had been in over two years. Yeah, but not much over two years. I think I'd had my automatic to your promotion just like six months prior.
Do you feel like the Army and they're like not supporting you as a single mom was like one of the biggest in like separating you from your child when for a training exercise, not for like a deployment, but like, Oh, you need to be out on the field. It's like instead of I've been reading a lot of articles about how the military has to adapt and change because like when you serve, they treat Did people like crap and now people are like, I'm not joining or I'm not staying in because I'm tired of this crap. And like that was probably a big factor. Because if they had worked with you and supported you, it might have you would have at least paid for your contract. I mean, depending on how that depression was.
Absolutely. I definitely think that just with my personal values, and how I have the attention to detail, like, there were so many things about the army that resonated with me personally. And I definitely felt like I was on a track to do really well, if it hadn't been for how all of that went down. Because from day one, when I told my platoon sergeant, you know, as yanked for my job, I wasn't allowed to do that again. And then I was the pack clerk in my unit. So I was doing all the paperwork, and just because of my attention to detail, like, I was good at admin stuff. So even after I was back from having my baby, they never let me be an MP again. They just kept me there. Yeah. And so like, it felt like, there was like, no winning, you know, I had people accusing me of not actually being divorced, and I had people who were like, rolling their eyes and sighing exasperatedly when I was like, Okay, I got to go pump like, okay, now I got to go throw this in a freezer somewhere. I had people accusing me of like, wanting to, like, be exposed in front of other soldiers when I went to pump by the generator, and I was like, I have a poncho. And this is not a sexual thing. Like, this is not me just rolling around topless. Like, that's not what this is. So it just felt like it was not a woman's world in any way. But it was such a contrast, because I felt like it was making me miserable. And then I got out, and I missed so much of it. And I know that's like a universal experience for so many vets is like there always going to be parts of it that drive you crazy. But then when you don't have that, like innate understanding, and that shared cultural values and, and things like that, it's like what's wrong with people like you go back into civilian world, and you're like, This is so weird. And I had the double culture shock of going from the army, which was like such a male dominated environment to nursing school. It was like all women, and here I was, you know, 22 single mom, veteran, who used to be a cop, and like the other people in nursing school were like, straight out of high school had never gotten a B. And I was like, I feel like I've lived a whole life before I came here. And I'm sitting next to you. And it was like, the only people that I really connected with were like second career, people who were like in their 40s, or the military veterans, those are the like, the only people that I was like, okay, we like understand each other.
Have you heard of Student Veterans of America?
I've heard of them. But I haven't like read about them. What do they do
I know that they have like groups to connect veterans and resources to provide to help people as they're in college. And I know they have a convention that people go to, to connect, I watch it from the sidelines, and I'm like, I wish I could be there. But I haven't gotten to school after because I got my degree before I went into the military. So I haven't gone back to school yet. And I'm like, I go back to school, I want to become a member. Because I think like what you said, like you could connect with other veterans, but like, you kind of probably just stumbled on them by chance. And I think es VA is trying to connect veterans on purpose so that you have that community that you're looking for while you're going to school.
That's awesome. Because there was one guy that I knew who was a Navy vet who was my buddy in nursing school, but he was the only one. And it wasn't until I went to grad school that I started meeting a lot more vets. And it was funny because I originally started grad school as a midwifery student, because I was gonna focus on people having babies and their families. So I met some there. But when I started my psych program, that's where I ran into a lot of military vets, because so many of them saw firsthand how untreated PTSD and substance use just like wrecks vets lives. And the suicide problem with that is just staggering. So we would really connect when we were like, oh, you're Yvette here to come work in mental health to like, hey, join the club. There were several of us just in my cohort and my cohort wasn't, but 30 people.
Wow, that's really cool. I didn't get diagnosed with PTSD, but I have trauma from my deployment that I went on 11 years ago, and I'm currently meeting with a counselor and going through therapy for that, but she's been giving me a lot of resources on grounding, but I've been doing meditation for almost a year consistently and and like everything that she's sending me that I'm reading, I'm like, Oh, yeah, cuz she's like, you need to tell me which meditations you like which ones you don't and like try them out this week. And I'm like, I don't like this one. But like, I don't have to do it because I've done them all because I've been doing meditation for so long. And it's interesting because like my last panic attack I had, I knew where I was, but I couldn't bring myself back. And I haven't had one since I started meditating. And I think back to that situation, I was like, I was so close, because I knew I wasn't in Afghanistan. But I, my body felt and I think with the meditation, I could have like, focused on my breath, and like, been grounded. And so it's really interesting to go through therapy, and then see how much the meditation on my own without therapy has really been helping me the past year.
That's a message that vets need, because a lot of us don't want help. Because there's the thought that if I need help, I'm weak. You know, there's a lot of things that you hear when you're active duty about what the VA is like, and what mental health care is, like at the VA. And it's not just stigma, it's like a lack of faith in the system. And I know that since I got out in 2010, you know, so much has changed from not just the military, but the VA and how like the whole system works and how they guarantee you get care within a certain amount of time. Because I remember serving during don't ask, don't tell it, it was lifted, like within a year of me separating, and I ended up writing about it when I gone back to school, and I was like, This is such a thing that I have feelings about because I was almost like sour grapes, like I was I was a little bit bitter. It wasn't while I was in, because like, there were some people in my unit who were openly gay. It just was kind of like, ignored by leadership. And then the rest of us felt like if we hadn't curried that favor, we couldn't be out because it would be used against us. It was like the favoritism among the queer folks in the unit. And it just it felt very selective and strange.
Yeah, that's really interesting, because it was a favoritism, like, Oh, it's okay. You can you can be open about who you are. But then like the person standing next to you, if they did the same thing, then they'd be like, Oh, well, you're not supposed to tell me that. So you're out. That adds like a whole nother layer of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Absolutely. We had such like enforcement. I feel like gender norms. That was really bizarre. I had another soldier in my unit, who cut her head, cut her hair on in like a very like, like a high and tight. Like, she gave herself a male haircut. And she was disciplined for it. And now I feel like you know, that's that's gender expression. And, and that, I don't know what it would be like an active duty army now. But I feel like things are different.
Yeah, they've just overhauled their whole hair standards this year. Oh, yeah, ar six, seven day? Well, I mean, one of the big things was women can wear ponytails and braids, but they also changed aspects of like, the different type of haircuts that you can get, because I did a whole YouTube video about it. And I was doing research and it was originally just focused on the Air Force change. And then the army change came at the same time. And I'm like, the army has so many roles about women and their hair. And like how strict it was, it was like you can only have a button. And that's it. And like, it was really interesting. The more I dug into it that I ended up doing, this is an overview of the changes because so many changes and I really just wanted to focus on the braids and ponytails, but it was really interesting.
I don't know if you remember this, if you had done all that research about like hair and dress codes. Did you ever read about Command Sergeant Major full Nori. So she was the Command Sergeant Major for the eighth military police brigade at Fort Leonard Wood. So she was like, you know, echelons above me. But she was at my formation every morning that I was in. And she had hairstyles that sort of changed how her headgear SAT. And she was a woman of color. And she was really fierce. Like, she was awesome and a lot of ways, and I love that part of her. But there was sort of the sense of like, yeah, she's definitely not adhering to 670 dash one. And there was a lot of like, poking fun at her and her hairstyles amongst the ranks, but she ended up being like, publicly made fun of and there was a news article about it because the Command Sergeant Major of the Army ended up counseling her about the blue book, and it was like a meme on the internet that I saw after I'd gotten out. It was very, very bizarre because it was like years later and someone on Facebook that I'd served with, like had it and like tag me and I was like, can't believe like my former leadership is like an internet meme. And now looking back, like I recognize that there are definitely elements of their racist under Current so that like, we have a lot more discussion today about what is professional hair for people, and how women of color in particular have been targeted for certain hairstyles and being told it's not professional. But you and I both know that the military is like, the white man's world. And so there was a lot of like, pretending that there wasn't racism when I was in the army, like they'd say things like, oh, but everybody's green. And it's just such a, like, a privilege stance to just pretend that race doesn't exist, like colorblindness does not help the army. I hope that's better now, but I can't speak to that personally.
Yeah, I think there's a lot of change going on in the military, but it is a white man's military, for sure. And it's even like, it goes even deeper of like personality traits that the military expects, like, if you're an introvert and you're quiet, it's really hard to excel in the military. And they the leadership because those people who are extroverts and are loud, get promoted, see introvert newness as like a weakness. And so I think it's, it goes deeper than just like race, but also like, what and like why you have to be more assertive as a woman because they don't see like the traits that women bring as a string, they don't see like, being an introvert and like watching and seeing things as a strength, they only see themselves at all the people who got promoted around them as a strength. And so it builds this, like, culture of this one type of person is the only person who can lead effectively. And that's, I think that's where like, it's not just like a race issue. It's like, it's so much deeper into the culture of like the person and the personalities that they want to promote. And,
Absolutely, who gains power, essentially, because that's what leadership is, it is literally more pay, it is literally more authority. And so you know, it's definitely intersectional it's not just race, it's not just gender, it's the people who have more education, when before they came in, you know, they're automatically put above. And so if you want to get technical, it's like the carrier gates, like all the different ways we can be oppressed, or just like funneled into this system, literally promoting or demoting people. And it was just very, very interesting how it was all executed.
Episode 145 with Daniella Mesnick young, he's working on a book called uncultured and she was raised in a cult, and she compares the military to a cult and so many things that we talked about in this interview, because I just edited her episode. So it's like fresh in my mind tie into this interview. And it just dives even deeper into like the culture and she has so much information, I can't wait for her book to come out. Because I just think it's gonna be fascinating to see everything she put together. And I really loved the interview of like, all the different aspects of military life that we covered, just like we're covering here and how like, it's not just race, it goes so much deeper than that.
It was really interesting for me to see how my military spouse was treated differently. Because I felt like he very much, you know, wanted to have friends because we had moved away from our families of origin. And some of like, like my road partner and a couple other people who lived on the same street as us on post were very warm and welcoming. But in general, there was this sort of like strange elitist, like, if you're a man, but you're not in a service and you're married to a service person, like you must be emasculated, you must not be good enough to be in our, you know, boys club. And it was just so bizarre, because like, a lot of times, my command would give directives, like your spouse has to come to this event. And I was like, my spouse is a civilian, and he did not sign up to come to your party. So I'm, you know, his his partner, not his parent, and I'm not going to tell him what to do. And that was very much met with a lot of resistance. But it was also seen as like him not being good enough and not being a part of it. When in reality, most military spouses are women. And of course, it would be strange to be like the one or two men out of an entire room of women if you feel like that's not where you want to be. And so it was just such a such a strange, like, amalgam of situations where gender was such a role.
Yeah, I just read an article and I shared it on LinkedIn about what it's like to be a male military spouse, and it's talking about everything that you talked about and how the culture of people towards male military spouses affects how women are treated in the military and like, what can women be leaders, when people look at male military spouses and think like the same thing that you just said that they're emasculated and they're not doing The man's job or whatever. And so it's really interesting that you brought it up because that article I thought was really interesting and how he shared his perspective of like what he's doing. So I'll put that in the show notes if people want to read it, because it was really interesting.
I feel like gender roles just aren't talked about in the military, like the just, no one talks about that. Like, they just assume that the service member does X, Y, and Z and you know, earns the money. And the spouse, you know, follows them around and takes care of the children. But it's so much more nuanced than that. I know, I connected with some other women from our veteran entrepreneur group, who are military spouses who focus on supporting and advocating for both spouses. And then one of them was talking about how spouses aren't involved in I think it's Jennifer Pascale, who was talking about it about how mill spouses are involved in transition activities. Like they're not always required to come to those seminars. And I was like, oh, my goodness, like that stuff is so important to know, like, how to navigate the VA and services after the fact. Like, because it's all coming at you so fast. When you're going through, you know, transition assistance, there's no way for one person to remember all of it.
Yeah, it's really interesting being a military spouse and being a veteran, because the military does, like they just assume that you're there. And I'm like, No, I have a life too, right? They're like, No, you know, your job is to pick up the slack and your spouse is going to work crazy hours, and they're going to travel a lot. And like you don't have a say, but it's kind of funny, because in the last like, since COVID, my husband just started traveling again, and he came home and he asked me, he was like, Hey, I might go TD wise, it's okay with you. And I was like, why are you asking me? Like, do you have a choice? And he was like, yeah, the way that it's changing, like, I actually have a say of like, I can sit virtual from home or if I could travel, it was just so weird, because I was like, why are you asking me this question? Like you've never asked me before you always come home and said, Sorry, I have to go TD why and and I think COVID has really changed the military, because that kind of verbiage was never part of the equation before.
No, I never remember anybody talking about TDY as an option. That's so like mind boggling. That's so interesting. I know, it's been very interesting for me interacting with the VA with my current partner now, because he's a Navy vet. And we both got out in 2010. And he is very masculine, presenting and tall. He's six, six. And for contrast, I'm five, four. So it's just funny, like with the size difference, it's very exaggerated. And I present as very androgynous I have short hair, and I don't work dresses or anything like that, because I identify as non binary. And it's so strange to me when we go to the VA separately versus when we go to the VA together. I'm treated so differently. everyone assumes I'm not a veteran when I'm with him. And it drives me crazy. Because even one time we were taking him in for a procedure, and the person at the door is doing like COVID screenings. And he takes one look at me after asking my partner all these COVID related questions. And then he just strikes a line through all the questions and scribbles at the top of the paper caregiver and hands me my slip. Like I can't possibly be carrying COVID because I'm a caregiver. Like I'm not even worth his time, because I've been labeled a caregiver. And it was just like such a small thing. But it was so indicative of how I was being written off because of how my gender was being perceived. And it was like my blood was boiling.
And when you go by yourself, you get a whole different experience.
Absolutely. No one assumes I'm a caregiver. They're like, thank you for your service. After they asked me my questions and asked me for my first letter of my last name, and my last four. It's entirely different. They assume I'm a veteran if I'm there by myself, but if I'm with him, oh, no, I'm just a caregiver.
That's really interesting. See, I think stories where you can see both sides of it, because that's like one of the cool things about being a military spouse and being a veteran is like, I remember what I was treated like on our duty and I was married the whole time. So like, nothing's changed. But everything's changed. And so it's interesting that you can go the VA by yourself and have this like positive experience where you're, like, respected and people expect that you have served and then when you go with your spouse, then they're like, Oh, well, she's a woman. So she's the caregiver.
It was particularly bad and we had to go to the VA several times in a row for these procedures because they were sort of back to back and the waiting area for same day surgery was filled with nothing but women. And so the first day I was like, a woman only environment like sometimes like sometimes it doesn't bother me, but sometimes I'm just like, man, I am more than just a caregiver. And so it became the running joke like the next time we had to go I was like, okay, you're gonna go do your thing, and I'm gonna go to estrogen program. Tori, like where there's not even a TV. And all we have is like a screen of like names of people and where they're at and like surgery or post up. And he was like, Oh, isn't that bad? And I was like, Yes.
It's that bad.
It feels super weird. And just, I think like, there's a gender element of like, feeling like I don't fit in, but like not being recognized as a trans person, like, who doesn't fit in. And so people just assume like, you're comfortable with being the identity of just a caregiver. And you know, when you're a veteran, like, you have a lot of pride and your identity as a veteran and not being seen is really frustrating.
Yeah, I've written about that a lot.
I know, I've read some of it. And so it's like having that happen at the VA is just like, come on. But so much of it is not military culture so much as just gender.
It's interesting how much change has happened within the past year and the different conversations we're having. And I think the world is changing. And people, I think part of it is like hearing stories, I think that stories is how we're going to be able to change the world and opening the door through conversation I watched in the heights recently, and I've never been exposed to new york culture of like, the low income I've only and I don't even I mean, New York is pretty out there for me, but like I've never seen like an inner city story. So like, it was so fascinating for me to see their stories and hear their stories, and then be able to understand some of the things that I've been hearing that I can't compute, because it just doesn't fit into like my small town, white girl growing up in America. And then I see the story. And I'm like, I see what you guys are saying now. And I think that's a really good example of like test stories. Once you talk to someone, you understand their story better. But when we're just yelling at each other, and like not listening, it makes it really hard to understand.
Absolutely. Having someone that you are close enough to that you get their their honest story will change your life, if they've walked a different path. I hear parents stories every day in my current work, because I work with folks now who have like postpartum depression or anxiety. My practice focuses on parents or LGBTQ folks, which is what I really, really know and love and care about. And I hear so many stories. And I'm like, Man, I wish sometimes I could like get patients together and have them tell each other their stories, because sometimes I feel like with mental health struggles, everybody feels like they're the only one. And the sad truth of it is that a lot of it is just so so common. And it's not that we want to normalize it. It's not normal to suffer. But it happens to a lot of us. And so when you colonize it with heavier quotes there, it makes people feel less alone. And, and there's power in that and feeling, you know, connected. There's a lot of pain and feeling isolated.
Yeah, I did a recovery program. And like, one of the aspects of it was like, we had a group meeting, and then we would did women and men separately, and we would talk for three minutes. And it was like, Oh, I'm not alone. Oh, I'm not crazy, because you hear these stories. And like, it was like the soundtrack that was in your head coming out of someone else's. And I think you're so right. And it makes sense why group therapy works so effectively, because then you're not alone and you don't feel so alone?
Absolutely. When you talked about like a recovery program? Was it like a 12 step program? Or was it something else like through the VA,
It was a 12 step recovery program.
Okay, I I'm a huge, huge fan of 12 step programs, even if you're not a person who has, you know, an addiction or a problem with alcohol or other compulsive behaviors, so so many people I feel like can benefit especially from the Alcoholics Anonymous family groups. allanon helps so many people. And the beauty of COVID was that those groups became so easy to join, like anonymously, you didn't have to drive anywhere your car wasn't gonna be in front of this church at this certain time. So the anonymity was, like more guaranteed than it used to be. And it was so much more accessible, like you could listen to a meeting almost any hour of the day. And I grew up at the knee of a grandmother who loved a more than anything else, like a and the Good Book were like her Bible. She took it very, very seriously. And she became sober when I was born. And so I grew up hearing about how great it was. And eventually I found myself in Al anon and I was like, I think this is fantastic. And I recommend it to all kinds of my patients who I feel like have really difficult like growing up experiences because a lot of the traumas they go through are just like a lot. Other people deal with with alcoholic family members?
Yeah, it was an offshoot of Al anon. That's fantastic. Yeah, it was for hurts hang ups and habits. I'm so fascinated, that sounds wonderful. Mine was not for addiction. It was for my anger and my deployment trauma So, so I really enjoy getting the chance to talk to you and talk about all your time in the military and a lot of how you transition out of the military, and how it shaped the life that you're living today. But I like to end the interviews with what advice would you give to young women who are considering joining the military, or you could even say to like non binary,
I think it's important to look forward to what you want your future look like, when you're considering military service. Because being a single soldier, or being like a married soldier who doesn't have children is a very different life from trying to give birth or conceive children through artificial reproductive technology, and then grow and raise those children and, and be able to be as involved as you would like to be. Because the military really does demand a lot of you, it gives you so much in return the benefits for the rest of your life and the community and the skills, there's so so much value, but you you need to have a good idea of what you're sacrificing on our personal level. And so talking to other people who had the like the MLS or the job that you want to do, and have a clear idea of where you want to go as far as enlisted or officer. I think that's really important.
Yeah, that's really good advice. And there's a reason that I went from airman to mom, because it is it's totally different when you serve without kids. And then when life changes, or even without a spouse, my husband was military. So I think it was easier because we were both that duty. It's just the more you add, it makes him more and more complicated. And then the sacrifices are greater. Yeah.
But I think also, like so many people in the military, marry military, it's hard to be married to a civilian who doesn't get it who, you know, dual military has its own challenges. But I think keeping in mind that if you marry someone military, like how will that play out? Because you have to have all this other support. If you have children. It's so so complicated. And it's a lot to juggle in, in the civilian world. You know, you can cobble things together and plans I feel like are more fluid, but in the middle of like, you need to have all that stuff planned ahead.
Yeah. Like you talked about having to send your son to your parents for two weeks for a training exercise.
He ended up having to stay for six. Oh, wow, I missed first teeth. I missed first crawling like I missed first with my first child because of it. And you know, those are things you can't get back. Are they huge in the scheme of things? Maybe not. But I had a lot of grief about it. And I was really resentful for a while because it was training I didn't really need because we knew I was getting out.
Well, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate you being on the podcast and being so open about your experience in the military. So thank you.
Thank you, Amanda. Have a good one.
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