SALT LAKE CITY — Jennifer Decker is a navy veteran, has degrees in psychology and creative writing, is certified in home inspection and teaching English as a second language, and aspires to become a member of the clergy; but her biggest life dream has always been motherhood.
"I think being a veteran is a blessing and a benefit because it's important to structure yourself throughout your life to be good role models so your kids can aspire to be greater," said Decker, who's pregnant with her third child.
The Department of Veterans Affairs celebrated local veterans welcoming new children into their families in 2018 with a baby shower Friday at the George E. Wahlen Medical Center — one shower of dozens thrown by the V.A. around the country this Mother's Day weekend.
Women make up approximately 10 percent of U.S. veterans, and nearly half of the nation's 2 million female veterans are of reproductive age, according to the V.A. But sometimes women veterans do not get the recognition they deserve, said Jamie Clinton-Lont, Women's Services medical director of the Salt Lake City V.A.
"I think that money is finite, and so from a business perspective it makes sense to give the majority of resources to the majority, which happens to be men right now," Clinton-Lont said. "And the women get adequate resources, but because the numbers are smaller it's often easier to not give them their own services and own recognition, so we try very hard to fight that and help them to be recognized."
Clinton-Lont said there are some simple things anyone can do to support women veterans.
"Women veterans need support just when you meet them," she said. "Just a simple hello and thank you."
Selma Hercinovic, a licensed clinical social worker with the Salt Lake V.A. women's program, said mothers are a minority in the armed forces.
"They are brave and diverse and unique and have to withstand many challenges being women in the military," she said. "They definitely present a unique perspective on what it is to be a veteran."
Hercinovic said she also sees veteran mothers facing unique challenges.
"When you're (an active) female veteran, you're devoting your whole life and your whole time to being a military service member, which is very demanding," she said. "So being a mother on top of that, there is minimal family support."
Hercinovic said women are often stationed in places away from their families, which poses a significant challenge to mothers.
Clinton-Lont said that in addition to being deployed while having young children, women veterans may be single mothers or be married to a husband who is also deployed.
"So it's really not the picture of complete stability," she said. "There's a lot of moving parts. And as many of us know, kids themselves are moving parts, and then you add the military and deployment on top of it and it can really be quite overwhelming and difficult."
Decker, who joined the Navy at 25 and is no longer active, said she loved attending the Mother's Day baby shower the V.A. threw for her and other local mother veterans Friday.
"To feel appreciated after you've served your country is so important," Decker said.
Clinton-Lont said the motivation behind planning the event was to celebrate and honor women veterans and provide them with the help they might need in motherhood.
"Being a mom is very important," she said. "If we don't feel prepared or don't feel support, we really impact the life that comes into this world."
Clinton-Lont brought up in her opening speech the struggles mothers, veterans and non veterans alike, often go through.
"What I've observed is that most moms worry an awful lot about being normal," she said. "Really, we don't know if we're doing it right. There's no book. Are we going to screw our kids up?"
She added that too often moms compare themselves to ideals seen in the media.
"There is no ideal mom, and there's many, many ways to roam as a mother," she said.
Clinton-Lont added a caution to moms to avoid setting an ideal of perfection, comparing themselves to their neighbors and denying themselves their passions.
Jill Atwood, director of communications for V.A. Rocky Mountain Region, said the Salt Lake V.A. is ahead of the curve in the nation for women's health care. Since May 2017, it has taken care of 53 expectant moms, she said, and the numbers continue to grow.
"How unique you are," Atwood told the group of veteran mothers. "We're celebrating you today."
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