Carrie and Karl welcomed their first baby. Not long after, he had no choice but to leave.

Parenting is hard at the best of times but for Carrie, and thousands of others in similar positions to her, they face a unique challenge that brings a whole new dimension to raising a family.

They are the partners of service men and women.

Carrie’s partner Karl joined the Australian army in May 2017. Not too long after that, the pair discovered that Carrie was pregnant with their first child. Although away for the majority of Carrie’s pregnancy, Karl arrived home the morning of Carrie’s induction just in time for the birth.

Their son Jai was born happy and healthy and they were together as a family. But unfortunately, as the reality is for many who are a part of Australia’s Defence Force, being away from their family is all a part of their duty and responsibility, so this sense of ‘togetherness’ didn’t last long.

After the birth of Jai, Karl soon returned to his service position where he would stay for the next ten months. Carrie was left as a first-time mother, in a city where she had no family to call upon for support to navigate the world of motherhood alone.

army mum
Carrie and her son Jai. Image: Supplied.

“Having to learn how to handle our first child on my own, I found really hard. Knowing I had to make all the decisions that would impact his life became a lot of pressure. I missed not having someone to second guess things with or to help,” Carrie told Mamamia.

As well as caring for a newborn, Carrie soon returned to full time work.

“Learning how to juggle a baby and work was difficult. I learned to accept help from friends and I had a great Mothers' Group which helped to keep me sane. I also became ridiculously organised to keep on top of things."

As well as the practicality of parenting solo and working full-time, it was the feeling of loneliness that Carrie said was one of the hardest things she had to cope with.

“The loneliness of Karl being away was extremely challenging. During the week it was okay, but the weekends were tough."

For Karl, missing his first child’s first months of life was also obviously also hard. The first few months of a child’s life are filled with milestones and changes. Karl found missing Jai learning all these new skills particularly difficult.

army mum
“When we were able to talk I would put the phone on speaker, so Jai could hear his voice." Image: Supplied.

The option to communicate with those within the Defence Force isn’t always possible, nor is it consistent. So when the opportunities did arise, Carrie ensured that she made the most to strengthen the bond between Karl and his son.

“When we were able to talk I would put the phone on speaker, so Jai could hear his dad's voice. We also videoed whenever possible, so Jai could see his dad’s face and Karl could see Jai’s."

Yet seeking support from those who are in a similar position to Carrie, she believes has always been a big help.

“I met another woman who was going through exactly the same thing as me and her husband was serving alongside Karl. She has been an amazing support whenever the boys are away, we always check in with each other," she said.

"There are lots of groups for army partners set up to offer support. I haven’t utilised them yet but plan to this year when Karl returns from his break.”

When Karl has returned home, it has been fairly easy for Jai and Karl to bond and find a connection together. Carrie attributes this to Jai still being so young.

army mum
Carrie and Karl with their son Jai. Image: Supplied.

"The next trip will be hard as he has such a strong connection with his dad and he understands so much more now," Carrie  said.

Carrie’s family has now relocated to Brisbane where both sides of her and Karl’s family live. This has meant a whole new support team has been available to her to rely on and help take some of the pressure off. This stability isn’t guaranteed for the future though and for Carrie, this is the hardest part of being a partner of someone in the army.

“The hardest part about being in the army is the unexpectedness. We often don’t know where we are moving until a few weeks before which is really hard."

Despite the enormous challenges faced by Carrie and her family, she believes this is the right journey for them.

“It is worth it when Karl comes home happy and wants to talk about his work. He is doing something he loves. I also am filled with a sense of achievement that I have managed it all and we are all doing so well.”

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer from Victoria. A mother of goats, cats and humans, she is trying her best to raise them all. You can follow her on Instagram right here.

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