Family planning

New York veterans discuss the military’s impact on family planning

Being away from home is an integral part of military service.

From training to deployments, the men and women who protect this country give a lot.

Erin Mish would know. She is an 11-year-old veterinarian who served in the Army National Guard alongside her husband. She wanted to make a career out of it, but exited early, in 2019, after having her first child.

“Once I found out I was pregnant, we immediately ran into problem after problem,” Mish said.

She is not alone.

A recent survey from Blue Star Families found that more than four in 10 active duty respondents said the military created challenges for having children.

“I think we both assumed that everything would fall into place because when you join the military and you have a family, you have to have a family plan,” Mish explained.

But she couldn’t attend trainings, faced childcare issues and felt pressured to move away.

“Looking back on it, it’s weird. I was filling a slot in the unit that they needed someone to do,” she said.

While his situation was only in recent years, it’s a problem service members have faced for decades.

“The saying was, ‘you didn’t get a kid in your duffel bag’ or ‘you didn’t get a kid when you went to boot camp. So why would you have one now,” recalls Renie Bolyn. She retired from the Coast Guard in 2014 after 16 years and two children.

Her then-husband was also on the ward when she first became pregnant with her, but she felt her eyes were on her to leave.

“I felt like I didn’t matter,” she said. “Like my country doesn’t want me…my country doesn’t care.”

She stuck it out and saw some improvements during her second pregnancy and until today.

“Now I hear that there are actually lactation rooms for women in the units. It starts now. What are we? 2022,” Bolyn remarked.

While she wouldn’t change her military service, Bolyn thinks more should be done to support modern families, such as providing child care and more support during transfers.

Mish’s husband is still there. She doubts that there is a significant change.

“We just want one more [child]but maybe we’ll wait for it to come out and it won’t be as difficult,” Mish said.

Maybe tomorrow will bring something different.

“The military mission is very big. This is our country we’re talking about,” Bolyn said. “But I don’t think the mission should overshadow decisions about how to support men and women in the military so much.”

Among military-related respondents, 67% also reported family building issues, primarily affecting women and members of the LBGTQ+ community.

This ranges from meeting infertility criteria or not having IVF coverage under the military health care plan to navigating the adoption process.

Efforts are underway at the congressional level to address these issues, including increasing parental leave and bolstering mental health resources.

Spectrum News 1 contacted Congressman Brian Higgins who stressed: ‘It is critical that we continue to fight to protect the rights of these service members and their families, to ensure they have equal access to health and planning services they need, no matter where they are stationed.”