Pam Chavez has an honest conversation with Amanda Huffman about her transition from service member (airman) to mom.
Amanda had a vision of motherhood that included ease and fun times. The reality was her mounting feelings of failure and unhappiness with her new role.
Join us as we have an honest conversation about the challenges of motherhood and transitioning from the military to mom.
Did the role of motherhood come naturally to you? Or can you relate to struggling to find the ease and flow? I know I certainly can relate.
Here’s the full Facebook Live, or you can read the full transcript below. You can also see the rest of the episodes here.
Full Transcript: Being a Mom Doesn’t Always Come Naturally with Amanda Huffman
Pam: Hi and welcome to Military Spouse Spotlight, Honest Conversations. I’m Pam Chavez. My guest today is Amanda Huffman and we are going to be discussing transitioning from service member (airman) to motherhood, and then really diving into what it’s like when motherhood doesn’t necessarily feel like this natural fit that you thought that it was going to be. I can completely relate to that and going from service member to military spouse. So hello, Amanda. Welcome. How are you doing?
Amanda: I’m good!
Pam: Thank you for joining us today. Let’s dive in. So you didn’t know you were going to join the service and then you joined the service and then… is that when you met your husband? When you were in the service? Or take us back to that time.
Amanda: We met in college doing the reserve officer training corps programs. So we weren’t technically in, but we were kind of in because we were both committed to doing their course. I think we met in my second semester of ROTC.
Pam: Okay, so when you got into the service, you weren’t planning on getting in. And then you did, and then you got married while you were in the service, I guess?
Amanda: Right before I commissioned.
Pam: And you really fell in love with being in the Air Force, right?
Amanda: Yeah. From the moment I started ROTC, I felt like I found something that I had been missing all my life. It was the people and the camaraderie and all the stuff that we did. And then when I went on active duty and worked as a civil engineer, getting to maintain the base and do all sorts of projects… I really loved what I did and what I got to do.
Pam: So then were you planning on staying in longer? Because I know that then you ended up starting a family and that affected your decision to get out.
Amanda: I’ve been talking to people about it actually. The ROTC kind of gives you the mindset that you should stay in for 20 years. It is still ingrained in the way they talk about your service as a career and not like a four-year thing. It was actually interesting when I talked to you, you were like, “Yeah I did my time and then I got out.” And I was like, “Oh, you can do that.” From the moment that I started looking into ROTC, it was like… you have a four-year commitment, but it was always talked about in terms of your career. And because Michael and I were dating, people would be like, “One of you is going to have to sacrifice your career.” But no one ever said one of you might get out. They were like, “Oh, one of you will have to take a lesser assignment.” That sort of thing. The mindset was always that we would both stay in for 20 years. I don’t really know why, because it’s not really practical.
Pam: I guess it is for some people, but yeah. So Amanda actually has a blog called Airman to Mom (we’ll get into that more later) and a podcast called Women in the Military, and I recently recorded an episode with her, so we will definitely be sharing that as soon as that is live. So yeah, when I joined the army, I never had this vision of going into the military. It was a life circumstance of… selling everything, traveling the world, coming back, not having anything, and now I wanted to get back into college, and what am I going to do? Well I just learned I can do hard stuff traveling the world, so I joined the army. I just did my initial term and my whole plan was to always get out. And then that’s when we started our family. So what was your mindset? You got pregnant and then you were like, “Okay, now I’m going to get out.”
Amanda: I decided when I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, that when we had kids, I didn’t want to be gone. I was gone for a year with the training and the deployment. I left on November 6th and I got home on November 1st, and when I got home my husband had moved to his next assignment. And the complexities of what it’s like to be both in the military and have stuff like that when you’re both married… you know, you figure it out because you’re both adults so you can work with it. But when you have kids it makes the whole discussion of how you’re going to make everything work a lot more complicated. So that was what caused me to think, “Hmm, maybe I should figure out getting out of the military and doing something like that.” So we did a list of pros of staying in and getting out, and it was evident that I should get out. And it was still really a hard decision to make.
Pam: Right. I know dual military is such a tough thing. The hours are long, it’s a stressful career, and then to have both parents in it… I am very in awe of people that do it because it really is challenging. And then when you both deploy… because it’s going to happen. Deployments are still always happening. I deployed myself, and the thought of, “Gosh, if we both have to be away…” And then your kids are going to be raised by someone else. It is a really, really tough decision to make. So talk to me about becoming a mom.
Amanda: Well, I was planning on a natural birth and my son was almost 42 weeks and not interested in joining the world until I was induced. And I had a really long labor – over 24 hours. And so I was able to give a vaginal birth and not a caesarian, but it was really not the birth that I anticipated. And I was so focused on the labor and natural birth… so I came into motherhood feeling like I kind of failed because I didn’t get that natural birth that I was hoping for. I also was also like, “Well, the birth didn’t go as planned but now I’m a mom and it’s going to be easy.”
Pam: That’s funny. It’s funny because our story is very similar in that I was reading all of the birthing books and really wanted to do a natural labor. And I was reading all of the breastfeeding books too. That’s really what I was focused on at the time. And yes, I ended up getting induced and was upset that I didn’t get my natural labor. And then the whole birth situation was pretty traumatic with each of mine. Then all of a sudden you’re a mom and you’re recovering and your body’s going through so much already. But then when it didn’t turn out the way that you had thought that it was going to be, especially when you had prepped yourself, you felt like you had like learned things and educated yourself… yeah, I completely get that. And so how long did that go on, where you were stuck in that whole, “Wow, this is reality now and it’s a lot harder than I thought.”
Amanda: It was actually not so bad the first two months because I had family visiting and my husband was home for part of it. And my son slept really well. By two months he was sleeping for a solid eight-hour chunk. And then I’d feed him and he’d go back to sleep for four more hours. I was like, “I’m the best mom in the world!” And then my husband left for two months of training right after he turned two months old, and the first night he was gone, he woke up every hour. He would sleep for two or three hours and I would have that alone time where I would try and do stuff on the internet or whatever. I think I was making scrapbooks and stuff. Then I would go to bed at nine or 10 and he would be awake again at like 11, 12, one, two, three. And I was just like, “What am I doing? What’s going on?” So I struggled through that eight week period of him being gone. For part of it, I went home to see family, but it was still really hard to be alone with a two-month-old baby and feel like every day I wasn’t doing a good job because I couldn’t get him to sleep. I read every book and my kid would not follow any of the books. And so I started to throw books away because I realized, like, he’s a person. And then when my husband got home two months later, I was like, “Okay, we survived. He’ll go back to the way he was.” But he never was a good sleeper after that. I thought, “Oh, my husband will come home things and things will go back to normal and then I’ll be able to figure this out.” And he came back and he is still up all the time and it was just exhausting and not what I expected.
Pam: So was it mostly the sleep that was the struggle for you?
Amanda: I mean, the sleep made it a lot harder I think. But you know how you’re supposed to breastfeed and then they’re supposed to take a nap for two hours and then you’re supposed to be there every three hours breastfeeding… I had an app and it would tell me how long it had been since I breastfed him. I knew he was hungry and wanted to eat, but the app said I just fed him an hour and a half ago. He was a bad napper from the very beginning. He never took more than an hour long nap, so I would, at the most, be two hours between feeding. And I saw the feedback showing me how much the average between my feedings was, as a way to judge if I had successfully completed a day. And at the end of every day it would say you failed because you didn’t even meet this imaginary… Anyway, so I had all this pressure on me and I remember telling my husband, “He’s eating way too much.”
Amanda: And my husband’s like, “Well maybe he’s hungry.” And that was really hard to relax and to let go. I think I need to let go of my Type A personality. The book says, “do this” so I do this, then this happens… Because that’s not the way parenting goes. I wasn’t meeting the outcome that I expected. I felt like I was failing over and over every day. That’s all I would see. Like, your baby’s not sleeping? Failure. Your baby’s eating too much? Failure. Like, everything. He’s not meeting this milestone – because he’s two months old, he’s not rolling over fast enough. I put so much pressure on myself to be the person who made my kid be a person, when I didn’t just allow him to be a baby.
Pam: I think that’s a lot of the shock when you become a parent. Especially because you have watched other people and had your expectations and the way you saw them doing it, and how it was going to be for you and your family and how you were going to do things. Or, you know, watched people do it with such ease and then that’s not always the case. It’s funny that you felt that he was eating too much because my mind went to when my boys constantly, always wanted to eat. I feel like that’s a part of breastfeeding that people don’t tell you. That, especially in the beginning before you get your rhythm and you’re sorting out this whole new world adventure, you’re exhausted and tired. I thought that he wasn’t getting enough. And we dealt with colic and reflux and every one of my boys had something on top of just being a newborn and, you know, already being a lot of work. I was always fearful that they weren’t getting enough and wondering what was wrong with me because of that. And I think a lot of times, they just find comfort in being there, and so first of all, it gets painful. It’s exhausting. And you feel like you can’t do anything because then you’re stuck with that. And I kind of became married to the breast pump because I thought I had to prove to myself that I was producing enough milk and it just looks like this minuscule amount and you’re like, “Oh, I’m not making anything. They’re starving.”
So that was a lot of what I went through, especially the first time, second time, and even still somewhat by the third. But I was like, “I am not doing the pump. I’m going to try to live my life.” And it was a much better experience with breastfeeding because I took the pressure off of myself and thought, “Okay, my body knows what it’s doing. I don’t have to have a freezer full of milk.” Because I would see women posting that thinking, “Oh my God, what’s wrong with me? I don’t have a freezer full of milk.” You know? But finally, I had a friend Karen, who was like, “Your body is producing enough to feed your child. You don’t have to have a freezer full of milk, you know?” And it was like, “Oh, wait a minute. Yeah, I guess you’re right. I really don’t. My kid’s getting enough and that’s what he needs.” But there’s so much comparison and with motherhood it’s tough. Very tough. And so how far apart are your boys?
Amanda: They’re about two and a half (almost exactly) apart.
Pam: Okay. And so how did everything go on the second go round?
Amanda: Well, even when I got pregnant with Jacob, I still didn’t feel very good about myself. I still thought I wasn’t doing a really good job. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough for my son. And then when I got pregnant and we’ve been trying for about six months to get pregnant… Once I got pregnant I was so in love with this baby and I was so ready for him to be born. And with my older son, I was still in the military and I was trying to hold onto being pregnant as long as possible so I could get out and work and do all this stuff. So I think I felt a little guilty for that for some reason. But then with my second, I was like, “Okay, we’re pregnant.”
Amanda: While he was growing inside of me, I had so much love for him and so much love that I didn’t even really know I had for my older son. Through that whole pregnancy I realized how much I loved my kid (my kid who was already born) and how I actually was a good mom. And we would take time to go be silly and have fun, so a lot of the healing came through my second son’s pregnancy. I also had a natural birth with him. That’s a whole other story. Which is beautiful and painful, but I remember when he came out I was just like, “I’m so glad you’re here.” And it was just like a fairytale. It was just really special the way that he brought so much healing to me. I was a lot more laid back with him. I co-slept from the very beginning because I found that worked really well with my older son because he really just needed the comfort. I didn’t use any apps to keep track of how often… I knew that he was getting enough milk because he was gaining weight. I wasn’t worried about when he met the next milestone, I just kind of went with the flow and took a lot of the pressure off. I didn’t read any books. It was a totally different experience. I knew through how much I loved him before he was born, that I was a good mom and that I could follow my gut and take care of him. It was also a lot more fun because I had a two-year-old with me.
I think one of the hardest parts of being a mom with a baby is how lonely is. Especially when you go from working to staying at home, and you’re surrounded by people… I was so excited because my parents were going to take my oldest to Disneyland because we lived in LA and I was like, “Oh, I’m going to have free time cause I’m only gonna have one baby. It’s going to be so great.” And then I realize an hour after he was gone, like, “You entertain this baby!” So I actually was able to get a lot more done with two than with one because my two-year-old would dance around the house and be silly with this little baby. He took naps so I had a little time, but I was like, “Oh, this made it a lot easier.” It was him leaving when I realized, “Oh, between the two of us, we’re able to take care of this baby.” Even though he’s only two. So that was eye-opening too. Between big brother and me, we were able to split the load even though he was so little.
Pam: So funny. My experience was a little bit different than that! Also being a military spouse on top of being a new mom, where you’re potentially in a new place without friends… I mean, it’s tough when you’ve got a local tribe and you have a baby, to get together with them and all of that, but at least it helps to mentally know they’re there. But if you have moved recently or your spouse is deployed… I haven’t had that experience, but I know so many military spouses have. If you’re watching and you have had a baby while your spouse is deployed, let us know in the comments. That is just something that’s hard for me to even comprehend because my placenta got stuck each time I had my babies, so they kind of went really crazy traumatic. So I wasn’t living in this idyllic, “I’ve got my baby!” I was reeling in pain and finally got the baby out, and much like yours my births were extremely long. The first two were induced because of high blood pressure in the end, so already that was something I didn’t want to do. And Cruz was my biggest baby yet at just over eight pounds.
Amanda: Was he really? Oh my gosh. Wow.
Pam: Yeah, my water actually broke on its own and so he was my more natural birth. By that point, I was like, “Okay, no, we are getting an epidural for sure.” Even though I had originally not wanted to do that. But yeah, so there was always a lot of trauma going on and no pretty birth story. I mean, I’ve never really even told them. I couldn’t even think about them for a while after because they were so… with one of them, my placenta was stuck and they broke the cord, so it was like an emergency. They almost had to take me in for a caesarian after I’d spent all this time pushing a baby out, so not ideal. I was really kind of reeling physically and mentally afterwards and then your hormones are all over the place and then you’re not sleeping because you have this newborn with you. So yeah, motherhood is definitely an interesting ride.
Amanda: And I think one of the things I did was read a lot of natural birth books, like you said, but people who have traumatic birth stories or caesareans often don’t talk about it because in the natural birth community, it’s kind of like, “No, like there’s no reason.” It’s good that they’re doing all the advocacy and I still believe in natural birth, but I’m more aware since I wasn’t able to have it the way that I wanted, sometimes intervention is necessary and that’s why it’s there.
Pam: Yeah. I was glad that although I had my goal of what I wanted it to be, I just had to go with the flow when it wasn’t that way. So your boys are close. They’re best buds, are they?
Amanda: They are. I mean, this morning they were killing each other. I have a kindergartner now and so every time he comes home they, like, give each other hugs and so happy to see each other.
Pam: That’s so cute. My first two are 16 months apart and they are very different. How about your boys? Like, personality-wise and stuff?
Amanda: Yeah, they’re really different. But they’re both pretty laid back. My oldest is very, like, “go, go, go”. He’ll come home from school and be like, “Okay let me go now!” And I’m like, “You were at school for eight hours, eat dinner.” And then I’m an introvert and he’s very extroverted, which is good as a military kid because he can just make friends wherever he goes. My youngest is introverted but not 100%. He’s really quiet. But, you know, his brother talks for him a lot. Yeah, they’re really fun.
Pam: Yeah. We had kindergarten roundup last night for Cruz, so the last one’s going to be starting school next year, which is exciting. And they kept saying how, “Oh, by the time they get home from school, they’re going to be exhausted. There’ll be falling asleep on the way home.” And I was like, “Who… what kids do you have?” Because mine are just… My three boys are just “go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go”. The energy doesn’t stop. So yeah, I was like, “That would be nice.” But especially Cruz, he’s my late nighter and wants to sleep in, so Kindergarten is going to be a challenge for him.
Amanda: You talked a little bit about having your community and I wanted to talk about that a little bit because I definitely didn’t have that when I left the military. I didn’t really know very many moms, especially moms who didn’t work. And most of the moms that I knew had older kids and so I didn’t really have anyone who was, like, near the beginning. I think for new moms, everyone’s kind of like, “Everything’s fine!” So having the community that I found when I moved from Ohio to LA… A year and a half after we moved there, I had already made some really good friends. We all were in the early motherhood stage and so we constantly were able to encourage each other and one person would be like, “I’m having a bad day.” And everyone would be like, “Yeah, me too.” And so the community I think is really important for new moms and I’m a big supporter of MOPs (mothers of preschoolers). It’s a faith-based organization, but the real purpose of it is to connect mothers of preschoolers and make it so that you’re not so alone. I got connected with a lot of my friends.
Pam: That’s great because you had the shift from going from service member to military spouse to parent and that’s a lot of big changes there.
Amanda: Yeah. Losing my identity of being a military member was really something that I didn’t really realize how much it was ingrained into the way I was. Because before, people would ask me what I do and I’d be like, “Oh, I’m in the military. Oh, I’m a civil engineer.” I had this whole script of what I would tell them that I did and then people now will be like, “What do you do?” And I’m a stay-at-home mom. And I’m like, “There’s more!” But they never ask me like, “What did you used to do?” And so that was a big shift to go from being in the military and then being a military spouse and mom, and people not really being as interested as before.
Pam: Right. So how long has your husband been in?
Amanda: 13 years.
Pam: Okay. And where are you all stationed at now?
Amanda: We’re in Virginia. We’re connected to the Pentagon but not located near the Pentagon.
Pam: Nice. All right. So I’m going to ask you a few rapid fire questions. So… your favorite duty station and why?
Amanda: Well, we were in LA and Disneyland’s there, which, if you know anything about me, you know that I love Disney. Plus the beach and the weather.
Pam: And you went to Disney all the time too. I would see that on Facebook. I mean, you have to take advantage of it if you’re that close.
Amanda: Well, I ended up kind of glad when we were moving because the annual pass price kept going up. Like it was around $600 when we got there and it was over $1,000 when we left.
Pam: That’s a high rise, yeah!
Amanda: And I think it’s even more now because that was over a year ago. So we would use our tax return, but we almost to the point where the tax return wasn’t going to cover it. And then there were also now four of us instead of just three.
Pam: Yeah, no kidding. So what’s your dream duty station?
Amanda: I really want to go to Florida next, to Cape Canaveral. My husband foes space stuff, and so I’m like, “Can’t we go to Florida?” I was over winter in Virginia after being in LA for four years. So maybe it was the winter that also made me want to go to Florida. Because I don’t want to go back to LA because it’s so expensive. Florida is close to Disneyworld, it’s not cold, and I think him doing something at Cape Canaveral would be really cool.
Pam: Yeah. I know. I see a friend stationed in Tampa and when I see the photos I’m like, “Oh my gosh, a sunroom and I want all of the fun places that you’re going to.” So how many deployments have you been through as a military spouse?
Amanda: My husband has actually not deployed.
Pam: But I’m sure he’s done lots of trainings and stuff.
Amanda: Yeah, he’s in a career field that doesn’t deploy very often. Especially lieutenants and captains, they don’t get hit very often. There are two different numbers of 62 and 63, and 63 billets deploy more. And the last job he was on a 62 billet, so we never got hit. Because he was like the senior captain, and then right now he’s on a controlled tour so he won’t deploy. He travels a lot though.
Pam: Do you have a morning routine?
Amanda: It’s kind of silly, but my boys like to snuggle with me and I really should get up and work out in the morning, but since they want to come in and snuggle at like 6:45, I haven’t been getting up to it. The five-year-old doesn’t come anywhere as much but the three-year-old comes in almost every day. And I’m like, “Well, they’re not going to do this forever.” This morning they were both in bed snuggling with me and so I know I should get up earlier and be more active, but I’m also waiting until they stop coming in. So I play with them for 15-20 minutes and then we’re lucky because school doesn’t start until 9:15. It doesn’t finish until four, but yeah. So I don’t have to be at the bus stop until 8:45, so we get up at around 7:15 and then we just get ready for the day. And then usually I have somewhere to go to, like MOPs or my youngest son’s preschool two days a week.
Pam: Gosh, my boys’ school starts at 7:45.
Amanda: My five-year-old sleeps until like eight and I have to wake them up. But yeah, it’s really nice. This is a really nice gift. We don’t start until 9:15 so we have relaxed mornings where we just slowly get ready and play… and some days they hit each other, but yeah. So the main thing I do every morning is snuggle with my kids.
Pam: That’s awesome. What do you think is the hardest part of military life?
Amanda: I think the hardest part is that everyone’s going through different things. Some people are facing deployments, or some people are in really hard situations and from the outside you can look and be like, “Well, they should be able to handle it because blah blah blah.” I feel like when we play the comparison game, and we don’t just say like, “No, this is hard…” Because my friend, her husband was supposed to go to Korea for a year and they had had a really hard command and so they decided he was going to get out and she was afraid to tell me because she was worried I was going to do a, “Well you should have stayed in the military. Why are you getting out?” But no, you have to do what’s best for your family. So I feel like sometimes times there’s a lot of judgment of like, “Well this person did it and they’re fine.” Instead of having more empathy and sympathy.
Pam: Oh yeah, absolutely. Completely agree. And I think so many times we use that to build ourself up, in that good way where it’s like, “Yes, but all the other military spouses go through it.” But then we also can use that against people like, “Yeah, but everybody else does it.” And there’s not the empathy there and we don’t know what the heck they were dealing with when they were going through it. They may have also looked like they were flying through it with ease and it could have been, you know, that they were really needing somebody very badly. So yeah. That’s a tough one. So what is your favorite part of military life?
Amanda: The people are my favorite part. I love going to the events that I’m lucky enough to go to and meet people from all over. I mean, with the assignments and then the people that I’ve met online… Well actually one of my closest friends that I talk to once a month, she lives in South America but we’ve never met in person and yet we’re best friends. We’re really close and we have this connection and I love all of the people that we know and that we’ve gotten to meet through this experience.
Pam: Yeah. And that instant connection that you understand what the other one is going through or has been through. Yeah. So you mentioned your blog. I’m putting your links up right now, so yeah, tell us about Airman to Mom and Women of the Military.
Amanda: Airman to Mom is what I started when my son was between four to six months old and it started out really simply. I was following a blogger, her name’s Lisa-Jo Baker, and she was doing something called Five Minute Friday. So I made it a goal that every Friday for whatever month it started, I would write for five minutes each week. And that was my goal and that’s how my blog started. It kicked in my writing excitement and so then I started writing about everything because that’s what you do, right? You write about everything. But my military stuff was the most popular and so I kind of bounced around a lot. But in 2017 I did a series on deployments and I expected to get responses from men because most people in the military are men (and a lot of the people that had emailed to fill out the form were men), but I only got one response and then the rest were from women. And I was really shocked because I was like, “Oh yeah, women are in the military.” I deployed so I should have realized it, but it just was like an epiphany. And I contacted lots of different guys and none of them really wanted to share their story. But then women that found out about this series, they responded and they told me their story. And so then I started collecting stories that I’m working to put together in an Ebook, just women of the military. When we moved last summer, I was going to do the 31 days series (they do it in October where you write every day), and I was talking to my friend in South America and I was like, “I feel so overwhelmed. I don’t think I can do one story every day. We just moved and we’re trying to get settled and my life is crazy.” And she’s like, “Why don’t you just do one a week?” And I was like, “Oh, that’s a good idea.” And then somehow we came up with the idea to do a podcast, and I’m going to take the stories I collected last year and work on editing and formatting them to make an Ebook.
Pam: Yeah, and I love that you’re doing Women in the Military because it’s not covered that much. And there are so many stories to tell and women can come at it from an emotional side, whereas the men will probably be maybe a little bit more logistical or something, you know?
Amanda: And it’s really great to talk about your experience of being in the military because so many women don’t ever get a chance to talk about it just because people will tell you, “Well, you don’t look like a veteran.” And I’m like, “Well, it doesn’t change the fact that I am!” Those people don’t assume that I’m a veteran, especially because my husband’s still in. If I’m standing next to him, they’re not going to assume that I also served. That’s a lot of people that don’t ever get the chance to share their experience.
Pam: Yeah, and I loved doing my episode with you because I tapped back into memories that I had completely forgotten about. I spent a year in Iraq, so there was a lot that happened emotionally and it was interesting to go back. I grew up with a dad that served and never really shared the stories, so I just had in my mind that you don’t really talk about it. So it was fun to talk about it. I enjoyed doing that. I am excited to get that out when it goes live. We have to share that with everybody. But thank you so much for being here and sharing your honest conversation about being a mom. I hope that we can continue sharing the realities of motherhood and how it is not always by the book. Thank you for being here and if you would like to download some of my recipes, I’ve got my 20 Minute Meals Recipe Bundle. You can go to https://healthonthehomefront.com/20-minute-dinners and get your copy and that will help you out and give you a little bit of extra time in your day to spend with your kiddos. And thanks, Amanda!