Miracle of Life on War-torn Soil: UK Soldier Gives Birth in Afghanistan
Military service has been the domain of men in all countries since their formations. Men went off to war, while women waited for their loved ones' return. But, times change and attitudes change. Women work outside the home all over the world. Occupations that were thought to be suitable only for men are now open to women as well.
One of the last barriers that most countries have tackled, including the United States, is the role women would play in combat roles the military. American women cannot serve with ground units that engage in direct combat, and so cannot join the infantry or work as special operations commandos. However all other areas of the military are open to women, who have been allowed to fly combat aircraft and serve on combat ships since Congress lifted a ban in 1994. Currently women serve in 91% of all army occupations and make up about 14% of the active army.
The main concerns about women in the military are whether they would affect the cohesion of a fighting unit, if there would be romantic entanglements which could affect a soldier's ability or the treatment of female prisoners of war.
One other concern is what to do if the female soldier is pregnant or becomes pregnant during her time in service. A female British solider gave birth to a baby boy this week, hours after complaining of stomach problems. The solider, a Royal Artillery Gunner is the first British soldier to give birth while on active duty.
The soldier, who arrived in Afghanistan in March, delivered the child Tuesday at Camp Bastion, the vast desert camp in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province where Prince Harry is deployed and a Taliban attack last week killed two U.S. Marines.
"Mother and baby are both in a stable condition in the hospital and are receiving the best possible care," the ministry said in a statement. It said a team of doctors would fly out to Afghanistan in the coming days to help the soldier and her son return safely to Britain.
The U.K. does not allow female soldiers to deploy on operation if they are pregnant. Although the soldier's child was conceived before her tour of duty began in March, she is not likely to face censure. Britain has sent female soldiers home from wars after they became pregnant - including about 60 from Afghanistan - but hasn't previously had a servicewoman go into labor in a war zone.
Patrick O'Brien, a consultant obstetrician at University College London Hospital, said cases of unnoticed pregnancies were unusual, but that he encountered at least one each year.
"There are some women who have very irregular periods, often women who are very fit and exercise a lot. There are women who don't have sickness during pregnancy. Some women - particularly those who are overweight - don't recognize they have put on weight, or feel the baby moving," O'Brien said.
Many cases involved women who refused to accept that they were pregnant and attempted to disguise it, particularly young women living at home.
"It's not just that they hide the pregnancy from their parents, they often become in denial of the pregnancy," he said.
"If you have a combination of any or all of those things, a pregnancy can go undetected, or the woman can be in denial of it if the implications to their life are so great," said O'Brien, a spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist.
Whether you agree that women can serve in all capacities in the military or not, everyone agrees that the battlefield is the absolute last place in the world for a baby.