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Oh Babies! As Troops Return Home From The Iraq Surge, The Stork Trails Just Behind

Perhaps you’ve bumped into them or maybe you’ve just seen them – pregnant bellies and baby strollers are everywhere. They clog walkways in the mall, and every restaurant is littered with high chairs turned upside down to accommodate all the baby carriers. Fayetteville, always a fertile community, seems to be chock full of expecting women and newborns.

“People leave, they come home, they decide to start a family, they get pregnant,” explained Shannon Lynch, spokeswoman for Womack Army Medical Center on Fort Bragg, where many military couples deliver their babies.

The entire 82nd Airborne Division was deployed in 2007 for the first time since the Gulf War. Soldiers from the 82nd began returning home that October. Add to that the other 29,000 soldiers who work on Fort Bragg, many of whom were also returning home from deployments, and it makes sense that by last August, Womack was seeing a 50 percent increase in births from the previous year. Two lactation counselors were added at the hospital just to help all the new moms learn to breastfeed.

In November, Fayetteville Cares and Operation Homefront partnered to host a huge baby shower for 1,000 of the new military moms. Boots & Booties was billed as the largest military baby shower ever. People in the community and national manufacturers donated gifts, including a new car, for the military moms.

Military baby booms are nothing new; an entire generation got its name when World War II soldiers came home and started their families. Some modern military families even brag about spacing children a deployment apart. But what makes Fayetteville’s current baby boom exceptional is the record-setting month of August when nearly 300 babies were born at Womack. It’s no coincidence that August falls about nine months after the first troops from the “surge” force in Iraq began arriving back at Fort Bragg. It means that what we’re experiencing now is not so much a baby “boom” as it is a baby “surge.”

Lynch says that Womack currently averages nine births per day. With only 11 labor and delivery beds available, all it takes are a couple of slowpokes and some pregnant women may find themselves laboring in the triage unit or elsewhere.

Col. Flavia Diaz-Hays is the chief of Womack’s maternal health department and a certified nurse midwife. She said the increase in births has forced the hospital to “get creative” in utilizing staff and resources. Diaz-Hays said that when it becomes apparent that more health workers are needed in the labor and delivery unit, they are shifted from other departments. Likewise, when deliveries slow down but more help is needed to care for the newborns, staff is shifted from the labor and delivery unit to the mother-baby unit.

Diaz-Hays said that the hospital has capped deliveries at 260 per month in order to provide good quality service to patients. This means that additional patients may be referred elsewhere to give birth.

“We’ve never had to turn anyone away because of not having a bed,” she said, “but we have had to get creative.”

The potential for cramped conditions at Womack doesn’t bother Brandee McReynolds. She plans to give birth to a boy in March and expects to deliver at Womack.

“Even though it will be inconvenient to give birth on post due to the limited space, it will be very exciting to be a part of the Bragg baby boom,” McReynolds said. “I feel a certain sisterhood with the other women that I come in contact with and it makes for a great ice breaker.”

McReynolds said that she conceived her baby during her husband’s 18-day R&R trip home from Iraq. They hadn’t planned for it to happen that way, but she’s glad for it. “There will be a lot of on-line shopping due to the shortage of baby items sold on post,” she said. “But truly I feel blessed to have my R&R pregnancy story to tell. I think we will be making history.”

The baby surge doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon. At Womack, the staff expects to deliver between 250 to the hospital’s maximum of 260 babies each month through summer. And despite the 260-baby limit, Diaz-Hays says Womack expects 294 new arrivals in May alone.

Likewise, Lynch said she doesn’t expect the rush of babies to end in the near future.

“Fort Bragg soldiers are going to continue to deploy and nine months after they get back they’ll have babies,” she said. “It’s just the way things happen here.”