kids

'Going to war was easier than having kids.'

This ANZAC day, three brave women share their stories about being part of our defence force and managing babies.

The Hero

Tamara Sloper Harding was getting married in 1999, when she got a call on her chunky mobile phone to say she would be deployed to East Timor.

“I knew that something was going to happen but I was really hoping I’d still be around for the wedding.

“During the wedding reception, I got a phone call from some of the guys in my group saying they’d already deployed to Darwin and we’d be heading to East Timor with General Cosgrove,” she said.

“I don’t even know why on earth I had the mobile phone on in the middle of the wedding – at least it didn’t ring in the church part.”

The bride gets a call during her wedding reception. Image supplied.

The naval intelligence officer said she went into shock and spent the rest of the reception writing down notes about what she needed to do before leaving.

A week later she was in Dili, a war zone. "Everything was absolutely destroyed and everything was burning."

"It was one extreme to the another - suddenly going from being a bride to getting shot at a week later."

Ms Sloper Harding was the first group to deploy to East Timor, she was loaned to the Army and given a gun.

"You're much safer in the Navy. [The Army] is a whole different type of combat. I'd never been trained to fire a rifle  - I'd been on a ship  - and they gave me a rifle and said: 'Here you go'.

"I didn't know what to do with it," she said.

Tamara in East Timor 1999. Image supplied.

The experience had a massive impact and when Ms Sloper Harding became a mother - everything changed.

"In '99 I was very emotional about all the children that had been killed and women who've been raped and tortured, it was horrific and I was moved by it  - but [after having children] I really understood what mothers must have felt having their daughters taken away -  all the children starving to death -  and that's where my PTSD set in.

"When I had the kids it triggered a more emotional response to what I've seen and that's why I've just got to do something about it now."

The experience led her to begin her charity - Pittwater Friends of Soibada Inc.

Mrs Sloper Harding and Adrian Harding married in 1999 but it wasn't until 2006 that the pair were finally able to live together and that's because they briefly both quit working for the defence forces.

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Her husband had served 21 years in the Army and she's served over 18 years for the Navy but they couldn’t get posted to the same locality. After a lot of mucking about between postings, Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane and seven years of being apart the pair had enough.

Tamara Sloper Harding and her family. Image supplied.

"He moved in with a wife and three kids and I was pregnant. It was just really strange and it took us a long time to adjust."

"We had four kids in four and a half years – I don’t know if I’ve really recovered from that yet."

"Now I look back and think having kids was so much harder than being at war."

The 47-year-old now has five kids - including a foster child - an Order of Australia Medal, runs a charity and is in the Navy reserves.

"I wanted to have babies all my life and I wanted to give myself completely to them but then I couldn't because I missed the Navy too much. It's really hard."

The Military Wife

There is a kind of solid commitment to the military that is hard for the regular worker to grasp.

Stacey Gleeson is another woman who has made huge sacrifices for the defence force.

After meeting her husband in a 'Dear John' scenario the pair have also struggled to live together.

"Nic has been constantly going to sea in patrol boats.

"We’ve been together for just over six years and we’ve never actually lived together for longer than four months."

During his last deployment, Stacey had to revive their 11-month-old daughter after she fell seriously ill.

"Giana was hunched over and wheezing quite heavily and I remember thinking - 'I need to get her some water and try and help her out' and I was that exhausted that I feel asleep again.

"I woke up under ten minutes later and the video monitor had come on and she looked in a similar position but she was very quiet very still so I immediately thought something was wrong.

Stacey and Nic. Image supplied.

"When I turned on the light I could see that she was hunched over almost curled into a ball and when I picked her up he was completely lifeless, a bluey-purple colour all over face she was just not there, she didn’t look like she was alive."

Mrs Gleeson was able to revive her baby before calling emergency services.

"I was in shock-mode for a long time. So when that was going on I was trying my hardest to keep everything together for my little family as best that I could, when [my husband] got home I absolutely fell to pieces."

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The baby's father was over 7000 kms away - it took 54 hours and four different airports until he could get home.

"I wished that I was not alone during this time. I wished that I had support and that I had a husband who could be there by my side during a crisis," she said.

Getting cuddles with dad. Image supplied.

But when her husband, Nic Gleeson, finally arrived home he was "an angel".

"He took care of everything as soon as he got home," said Mrs Gleeson.

The family of four are now reunited and will be for a while.

The Military Family

Leanne Wakeling was born into a military family - both parents served and she joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) when she was 17.  She has been married twice, both her former and her current husband are serving members of the military and her son is now in the RAAF.

The mother of four has made a huge commitment to military life.

When her four children were young she moved to Washington after her second husband, David, was posted there with the Navy.

Leanne Wakeling's son Neil as a baby and recently at work. Image supplied.

Her eldest stayed behind at a boarding school but while the family were on their way to the US he had a motorcycle accident.

It took five days to find out that her 16-year-old son, Andrew, had been in hospital and had his finger amputated.

Experiences like that have led her to develop a course to help support families in the military.

"I felt the need to build the program because there are women who do amazing things both in uniform and who are spouses. The military actually needs the family to be resilient because they don’t need their members on operational duty worrying about their families at home."

These personal stories suggest managing a family, babies or even a relationship when you are in the military is tough. But Mrs Wakeling says planning a family in the military is achievable.

"It's really about attitude, you can't make the military hold life."

"So if you’ve got plans and things you want to do, it’s building that resilience and knowing that you can adjust to anything and saying -  'I want to have a baby or I want a career' and then you work out how to do it."

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