On Being Pregnant in a War Zone Pt 2

Spring 2007 continued

Finally, two days after discovering I was pregnant, I received my ‘Call Forward’ to fly to a US Military Hospital in Kuwait.  By this point, I had made my excuses to colleagues (An Ovarian Cyst that probably needed surgery), eaten just two crackers, hid under my bed from another five rocket attacks, slept a lot, caught up on several episodes of 24 and thoroughly read up on pregnancy and ectopic pregnancies.  I was exhausted and feeling weak.  I could barely pick up my daypack, body armour and rifle; the bag was packed for only 2 nights – that officially made me pathetically weak.

I waited for my ride to Kuwait in the helicopter departures lounge.  I was the only one there waiting.  A crew member called my name and asked me to follow him, he took my bag from me (he probably thought I was actually a real medevac patient).  My pre-deployment training was running through my head.  How to get on and off a helicopter, depending on the type of helicopter, depends on where you can and can’t load/unload.  This helicopter, a lynx, had its engine off anyway, so it didn’t matter.  There was no chance of getting my head chopped off or sucked into the intakes.  The crew member showed me to my seat, he was overly jolly considering it was 0130 AM.    It looked like I was getting the helicopter all to myself.  The crew member turned out to be the door gunner.  The two pilots arrived shortly after and introduced themselves.  They were HILARIOUS, typical Army Air Corps pilots.  I was given a headset so I could listen in to all their intercom chatter.

As the engines started, I began to feel nervous.  Last time I flew into Iraq, we got shot at and rocketed.  A nice welcome from the Insurgents.  But suddenly my nerves were overtaken by pain.  Pain in my shoulder.  I read about this in ectopic pregnancies.  Just as I started to worry and think the worst, the gunner handed me some night vision goggles.  He pointed out the window.  I looked through the goggles and I could see the shimmering lights of Basrah City, and the oil fields.  It was magical.  It was bitter-sweet.

As soon as we crossed the border into Kuwait, the gunner closed the door and removed his body armour, indicating to me I should do the same.  The comedy pilots debated where they should land in the US base.  Is this not something you would know before taking off??!  We flew over at least 25 parked up black hawks.  Do we even have this many helicopters in the British Forces??  After a few laps of the base we found somewhere to land.  No one was there to greet us. Well it was 0230AM, I wasn’t too surprised at this!  Whilst I received a comedy show, one of the pilots managed to call through to the hospital.  We were at the wrong helipad.  No shit Sherlock!  Of course, this base was big enough to have two helipads.  We were told to wait there and a nurse would come pick me up.  I could have been sleepwalking at this point, the next hour was a blur.

Somehow, I woke up lying down on a hospital bed, trying to answer the doctor’s questions.  I was immediately put on an IV drip as I was severely dehydrated.  Wow, I felt almost instantly better, but it was temporary.  Next was the vaginal ultrasound.  The whole reason I was in Kuwait.  I had no clue what to expect, no one really explained what was going to happen and that the nurse would be male.  The nurse told me I was about 6 weeks pregnant, and he printed out a picture of the ‘blob’.  Because that is all it was, I wasn’t really experienced in ultrasound photos at this stage of pregnancy.  He reassured me that everything looked just fine.  No ectopic pregnancy.  Phew!!!  So what now?

Well I had a few more hours with the IV drip, and I was ‘quizzed’ by one of the nurses – what was I going to call my baby?  Had I thought of names?  Would I name the baby after him?  Would I email him to let me know how the baby was? He was genuinely excited for me.  Bless him, because he seemed to be the only one.  I was given a prescription for the nausea (no idea what the drug was called), some folic acid and vitamin D and told I HAD to eat, for the sake of my baby.

I was taken to a temporary bunk where there was one other British female who was recovering from surgery from Appendicitis.  She was an Officer so I kept myself to myself.  The next day, I was driven to the ‘weekend spa resort’.  This is where battle weary soldiers were sent to from Iraq at least once in their 6 month tour to get a break.  It had a makeshift Jacuzzi (more like a paddling pool), sunbed loungers, massages, decent internet, volleyball, and computer games.  Lots of computer games.  Everyone was in civvies (civilian attire), I had not packed any civilian clothes, so I walked around in my pyjama shorts and a T-shirt.  I felt free!  No, body armour, rifle or rocket attacks.  I still felt nauseous so I didn’t even get to enjoy one of the ‘two cans of beer’ we were allowed.  I tried to eat, I really wanted to, so I took one of the tablets I was prescribed.  That seemed to do the job, and I managed to get half a plate of food down me.  The nurse would be proud of me.  Despite the ‘spa’ environment, it was lonely and I tried to get on the earliest flight back to Iraq, I missed my squadron, I missed my friends and I knew I was letting them down right now.  After one more night in Kuwait and I was back in Iraq, feeling a little better, but the pains were still coming.  This sucked.

Back in Basrah, I had an appointment at the medical center to discuss what next.  I had a completely different doctor, so had to start my story from the very beginning.  I think this doctor was the first to show any compassion.  He also told me that I was lucky to get the prescription for the nausea because it was not allowed in the UK, it was up to me if I wanted to keep taking it.  To date I still have no idea what this drug was because I threw it in the bin after the British Doctor told me this.  Of course the next step was to ‘medevac’ me back to the UK because I was not allowed to be in the theatre of operations anymore, it was too dangerous for my unborn baby.

A total of seven days had passed since I discovered I was pregnant.  The only person who knew I was pregnant was my boyfriend (and of course the doctors and nurses I had met).  As I sat in the hospital’s morale, welfare and recreational area waiting for my pre-flight checkup, I read many letters from random people wishing our soldiers well.  It’s amazing so many people care to take time out of their day to write to ‘unknown soldiers’.  Although the letters were clearly not aimed at pregnant female soldiers, their words were comforting.  But this comfort slowly turned back to guilt.  And the biggest guilt was yet to come.  As I boarded the C-17 aircraft to fly home with the other 20 ‘Medevacs’, I sat down amongst people who had broken arms, missing legs, wounds and scars to their face.  Then there were the two bed patients, one of whom was in a controlled coma so that he could fly back and be with his family.  He was probably not going to live for much longer.

I hadn’t told anyone I was flying back to the UK, I couldn’t; I was shamed, confused and exhausted.  I just needed some time on my own to figure out what was going on.  My life was never going to be the same again.

On Being Pregnant in a War Zone Pt 1

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