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Pregnancy offers opportunity for reflection for military couple

A couple stand in an orchard bathed in sunlight. The wife is with child.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Rachel Pearson, 60th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron public health technician, and her husband, Gavin, pose for a photo May 21, 2021, in Dixon, California. Currently 40 weeks along, the Pearsons are excited to continue the tradition of military children with their daughter, Addison — a tradition starting with Gavin whose father was in the U.S. Army. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christian Conrad)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – “When I was in basic training, every letter my mom and I would write to each other, whether it was zero week or eighth week, was signed the same way: ‘One more week.’ Like, ‘If I can just get through this week I’m in right now, I’ll be good—that’d be a win.’”

At 40 weeks pregnant, Staff Sgt. Rachel Pearson, 60th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron public health technician, expects to deliver her child this week, but it’s that same mantra she’s found herself repeating throughout her pregnancy.

“I’d rather focus on the here and now,” she said, her arm resting on her baby bump. “You always plan for the future, but worrying about it? There’d be no end.”

Although expecting, Rachel and her husband, Gavin, who works as a machinist in Fairfield, California, find time to decompress, exuding a surprising air of calm.

“There will always be that certain level of anxiety, sure, but we’re lucky enough to be afforded the time to focus on what’s important,” Gavin said. “I think without the military’s help, there’d be a lot more to worry about—how will our finances look after the hospital stay, are we doing this right, are we ready for when the time comes? Instead, that same amount of headspace can be devoted to” –he gestures to Rachel on the couch who’s already flanked by pillows—“making sure she has enough pillows around her. We’ve been fortunate.”

Gavin, whose father retired as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, is no stranger to the kind of amenities that are offered by the military. It being Rachel’s first pregnancy, however, much of the resources available to her were introduced to her by her coworkers.

“I’m lucky to have the kind of support system I have with the people in my office,” Rachel said. “The women’s health clinic in (David Grant USAF Medical Center) has especially been helpful these past months. We practice a lot of labor and delivery techniques, we learn what to be expecting at what times. It’s helped to remove some of the quesswork for us.

“It beats consulting Dr. Google,” she laughed.

According to a Business Insider article published in 2019, families in the U.S. can expect to pay over $10,000 to have a baby, not including pregnancy classes. It’s a reality that Gavin and Rachel, 22 and 21, respectively, need not fret over.

Their good fortune isn’t something they take for granted, though.

“Gavin and I have both worked jobs before our life in the military,” Rachel said. “In both our workplaces, we’ve worked alongside friends—people our age—and even people much older than us. I joined the military to give me and my family a better life, and Gavin, too, has had the chance to begin a career of his own. I’m happy to be able to bring Addison into a life where her parents are financially independent and not stuck in a job just spinning their wheels.”

Addison Leigh, the Pearsons’ chosen name for their daughter, is a family name, Gavin said. It was a way for her to share a middle name with her dad and grandfather, who share the “Lee” moniker as their middle names.

For Gavin, though, the sharing of a name is less impactful than what qualities he and Rachel will pass onto her.

“I think it’s inevitable for kids to pick up things from their parents—the good and the bad,” he said. “Do I think Addison will pick up my penchant for taking turns a little quicker than some people like?”

Gavin glances over at Rachel who shoots him back a long side-eye.

“Possibly. But just like my dad did for me, it’s not a matter of if she picks up our habits, it’s a matter of guiding her in a way that shields her from the potential downsides of them.”

As a military man, Gavin said his dad was strict, though he made a point of tempering his stoic exterior with kindness and compassion towards his children.

“I think I’ve taken over my dad’s—I guess some people would call it ‘steely’—disposition, but as it stands, I think Rachel will end up being the real ‘take no crap’ parent out of the two of us,” he laughed. “Maybe that’s because of the military, maybe it isn’t.”

But where their potential parenting styles illicit no head-scratching from the couple, the navigation of parenthood within the military remains slightly ambiguous—even more so for what it will mean for Addison.

Gavin reflects on his own experiences as a means of gaining insight into the murkiness of the subject.

“Being a military child isn’t this overwhelmingly positive thing all the time,” Gavin said. “There are tough moments. My dad was gone a lot of the time, but I think the one constant during all that time was…We were taken care of,” he said. “It’s not always easy being a kid or a spouse in the military, but where there’s difficulty, there are resources to ferry you through it, and as it was for me, I hope that’s something Addison grows up to realize too.”

“I’d say Gavin turned out pretty great through it all,” Rachel added with a smile to her husband.

Now four years after trading those basic training letters with her mom, Rachel hopes to pass along the same mindset that carried her through to the moment that she’s found herself in.

“Addison will grow up knowing that if she believes herself hard enough and puts enough of herself into something, she can be anything she wants to be. Even if that means just taking it one week at a time.”

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