Eight and half years ago, we adopted our son with just one week’s notice. The profound joy of welcoming a baby into our household was tempered by anxiety about how to handle the significant expenses related to the adoption – and the need to quickly acquire a vast quantity of tiny baby items. Ten months later, I was overjoyed to find myself pregnant … and also facing down the reality of needing another car seat, a double stroller and what seemed like an endless flow of diapers.
Memories of those early months when our family was growing, simultaneously full of intense happiness and gnawing nervousness, are among the reasons I’ve been so thrilled to raise awareness of VA’s expanding services for Veterans on the journey to parenthood. For example, Veterans with a service-connected disability that results in infertility can now receive in vitro fertilization or reimbursement for adoption related expenses.
Women Veterans using VA for health care are also eligible for an amazing array of benefits, ranging from preconception care to pregnancy support through seven days of newborn care, all managed by a dedicated Maternity Care Coordinator. Nursing moms can receive not only a breast pump, but also nursing bras, nursing pads, nipple cream and breast milk storage bags– extraordinary support that goes far beyond what I got from private insurance when my daughter was born.
“It was surprising and a bit overwhelming when we got there; it was a REAL baby shower,” said Angela Mao, a U.S. Marine Veteran. “We went to meet new people, and be engaged. We had a great time and it was good to see other first-time parents get what they needed.”
VA wanted to both enhance the support we are provide new Veteran parents and spread the word about these phenomenal benefits and the 2018 VA Nationwide Baby Shower provided a way for us to do both. At 62 VA medical centers around the country, we were able to send Veteran families home with an array of helpful items for mom and baby thanks to incredible partners Philips, Veterans Canteen Service, The American Legion, The Carrying On Project, The Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Burt’s Bees Baby,The Red Cross, The Veterans of Foreign Wars, Halo, and First Quality Enterprises. Many sites, like Hines VAMC in Chicago, where I had the privilege of attending a shower on Friday, were also able to provide additional items including strollers, car seats and more from local partners. Educational tables also provided training on infant CPR, proper car seat installation, VBA benefits, local resources, and more, so parents went home with supplies and know-how.
Excitement about the showers also led to media coverage around the country, helping raise awareness among folks not yet enrolled in VHA healthcare that this is “Not your grandfather’s VA,” fulfilling the second key goal of this initiative. Veterans and their supporters in cities including Reno, Salt Lake City, Baltimore, Sioux Falls, West Texas, and Memphis got a chance to learn more about how today’s VA provides wraparound services to those we are honored to serve. I still encounter women Veterans who think VA is not for them or doesn’t provide gender-specific services, and these baby showers are an important part of our campaign to educate and encourage them to enroll in VA care.
It was an incredible privilege and honor for me to take part in the Hines shower, where I was able to meet some of the Veterans being served and some of their adorable babies. I also got to see first-hand what amazing work their Woman Veteran Program manager, maternity care coordinator, Voluntary Services coordinator, public affairs officer and amazing team of volunteers and community supporters are doing. In honor of all the moms we served in the weeks surrounding Mother’s Day this year, help us spread the word about the terrific resources VA offers, and encourage the women Veterans in your life to Choose VA.