This year, on the Wednesday before Mother’s Day, the Trident VA Outpatient Clinic held its very first baby shower to honor and support local Veteran patients of the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center as they prepare to welcome new children into their family.
Eleven female Veterans attended—two who had recently given birth and had their newborns in tow.
“When I got the call from the clinic I was very excited,” said Veteran Ashley Bakoz.
Ashley served in the Air Force for four years inspecting aircrafts and during that time she deployed to Kuwait. She’s now pregnant with baby number three, a little girl named Willow, due June 22. Her oldest child is a 13-year-old girl and she has a son who just turned one in April.
“This was a surprise baby,” said Bakoz. “My other girl is much older, so it’s like I’m starting all over again with girl things. I was 22 when I had my first baby, now I’m 35.”
The Trident baby shower is part of a larger initiative by VA to help ensure Veterans have what they need to focus on the joy of growing their families and supporting them through the stress that can come along with parenthood. More than 60 VA Medical centers across the country held similar events.
Sandra Walker-Hallman, MSN-RN, is a clinical nurse educator at Charleston VAMC and spoke to the expecting mothers during the shower about free classes she offers. Each mother can sign-up for classes in infant CPR, baby basics and infant choking. Walker-Hallman is also a certified lactation consultant and leads breastfeeding classes. Spouses and partners are encouraged to attend any classes.
A social worker from the Trident Clinic, Emily Vanderweit, also spoke to the attendees, sharing information about available mental health support. She is a behavioral health specialist with the primary care-mental health integration clinic and offers services related to depression and anxiety. She reviewed how Veterans can get an appointment directly with her.
The baby shower included moms in various stages—first time moms, a mother expecting baby number five, moms early on in their pregnancy, and one mom whose due date was just one week away. During the event these moms, who had never met, shared stories of motherhood and their pregnancy; experienced moms shared advice with those embarking on the journey for the first time—it was a true community of women there to support each other.
Thanks to national VA partnerships with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Philips and Veteran Canteen Service, and generous local donors, the Veterans were showered with gifts to help them care for their little ones.
“I got more stuff here than I did at my own baby shower,” said Chloe Green, a Servicemember in the National Guard who just had her fourth baby in April. “I was hoping to get bottles and we got a lot here. I needed that.”
Each mom received five bags filled with baby bath products, bottles, pacifiers, onsies, bibs, quilts, burp cloths, a diaper bag and much more. The Carry On Project also donated a ring slings for baby wearing. There were two donated items raffled off too—a postnatal massage and a hand-knit baby girl outfit.
The shower concluded with each mom getting to “shop” for their baby. New baby clothes were donated from local churches and organizations in sizes 0 to 12 months—an incredible donation that will help support these mothers through their child’s first year.
“There were six of us that worked on coordinating this baby shower,” said Jackie Brumley, the nurse manager at the clinic and one of the event organizers. “It’s important that we celebrate our female Veterans and their young families, and this is one small way we could help do that. We hope that this event lets them know that the VA is here for them during their pregnancy and during any stage of their life.”
The Charleston VAMC serves nearly 9,000 female Veterans and hopes events like this increase awareness of VA’s comprehensive Women Veteran Program, including maternity care services.
To learn more, contact Charleston VAMC’s Women’s Health Program Manager at (843) 789-7260.