When a spouse goes off to war, it's hard for families to cope. However, being on the other side of the globe does not mean that a family cannot be together at childbirth. Troops have increasingly been using Skype to watch overseas births. Thanks to the portability of modern iPads and smartphones, and quiet promotional efforts by both hospitals and the Defense Department, the practice has been becoming much more common.
At one remote Afghan airbase, members of the 445th Combat Communications Squadron set up a secure system for watching childbirths. Using a CheetahNet mesh network in order to receive high-speed Internet access, one of Shindand Airbase's computers was then dedicated for Skype use and placed in a private area. Meanwhile, laptop computers or smartphones back in the States filmed the birth. While the troops might be stationed in Afghanistan, they can at least be there for the birth of their child.
The Defense Department has made a promotional video where troops from the 445th discuss being able to watch childbirths via Skype.
While the Defense Department is actively informing troops of how they can participate in the birth of their children, individual servicemen have been using Skype on their own initiative for some time. Joshua Sanchez, stationed in Afghanistan, was able to watch the birth of his first child via Skype. Sanchez arranged to borrow a computer and use the Skype account of a civilian contractor working alongside his unit in Afghanistan, while his girlfriend Monica Leal bought an iPad with her to the hospital in Seguin, Texas where she was giving birth.
Chaplain (Capt.) Joe Palermo, who is also serving in Afghanistan, used Skype to watch his wife give birth and to conduct videoconferences with their doula:
A lot of work went into getting everything set, he said. Friends helped by donating their laptop so Palermo could see everything that was happening from the delivery room. They also had a doula (a pregnancy coach) on hand to help.
"One held the computer and encouraged Katherine, and the doula was present to coach her along," he said.
Palermo said Katherine was in labor for 24 hours before Anna was born. During that time, he was able to watch as his wife was giving birth on the other side of the laptop, also offering encouragement and support along the way.
Palermo's daughter, Anna Grace, was born at Alaska's Elmendorf AFB Hospital. Elmendorf has a specialized program that allows spouses stationed overseas to watch childbirths via Skype; this is an option that is becoming more and more commonplace at both military and civilian hospitals. Oregon's Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend offers a Skype birth program, as do military hospitals including Southern Maryland and Ireland Army Community Hospital.
Over 800,000 U.S. children under five years old have a parent or parents on active military duty or in the National Guard and Reserves.
[Image: U.S. Army]