I became a mother at the age of 22. I was stationed in Yokosuka, Japan completing my first tour. I was serving on board a warship when I found out that I was pregnant by my then boyfriend who is now my husband. I remember feeling scared, but confident that I could do it. I was already in a great place in my military career and felt that I was doing well for myself. 

I had my son six weeks early at 34 weeks due to preeclampsia. He weighed four pounds and nine ounces. He spent eight days in the NICU after being delivered via emergency c-section. What a scary experience that was. I was so scared of motherhood. I was not ready at all.

I remember being scared to breastfeed and wondering how I was going to be a mother and an active-duty service member at the same time. How was I going to go to work and leave my precious little boy at daycare all day? Taking care of him was supposed to be my job.

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I suffered from postpartum depression and, of course, mom guilt. My husband was stationed on another warship on the same installation we were on, but he was always gone for work. I spent months on my own with my little boy, Googling every possible thing I could think of so that I wouldn’t mess up. I got the hang of things as the months passed. 

Our next set of orders was to San Diego, California. We were excited to be back in the states and closer to family. My husband would be fulfilling his next set of orders as an instructor at a military schoolhouse, and I was going to my next warship to serve my sea time for three years. Upon arriving, I learned that my ship was leaving for deployment. This would be my second career deployment, but my first as a mother and a wife. There was nothing anyone or anything could do to mentally prepare me for that. But I had no choice—I had to go.

This is a hard life, but motherhood in general (for anyone) is rewarding.

I left my 16-month-old on the home front with my husband, and I flew out to Singapore, Singapore to meet my ship. I was going to be gone for six months. My biggest fear was my child forgetting who I was.

I went on an all-around-the-world deployment where I was able to see Thailand, Bahrain, Dubai, France, and Colombia. I also experienced going through the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal. It was all so cool, and I enjoyed being a tourist. But there was one thing, though—I could not enjoy it with my family.

Related: Why some days I don’t want to be thanked for my sacrifice

Every time I hit port, I would FaceTime my husband and I always felt that my worst fear was coming true. My son would never care that I was on the screen talking to him. 

I returned home from deployment six months later, where I was greeted on the pier by my husband and my precious little boy who was now 22 months old. He had no idea who I was. I was so heartbroken.

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He was scared of me and avoided me around the house for about two weeks. After about two months, we were finally back to normal—but during that time, I felt like I had failed him. I was happy that our relationship and bond were coming back—all for me to leave again for another two months.

I was leaving to go to Seattle, Washington, and Vancouver, Canada. During this time, I enjoyed being a tourist but hated that I was experiencing it all without my family. 

Related: How to make a house a home—from a military spouse

A​t the age of 27, I became a mother to my second baby boy. He is four months old now. I am still on active duty with the same feelings I have had for the past five years. It doesn’t get any easier, but I am thankful that I get to spend the next three years on land with my children while my husband fulfills his next tour on a ship.

Throughout this journey, I have realized that I could be given the world (literally) for free as a “perk” of my job, and none of that would matter because it would mean leaving my children behind.

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A​s a leader to other service members in my unit, I have been a mentor to other female sailors that are mothers. We discuss the mom guilt of having to be away from our babies, the empowerment of being able to breastfeed while serving, and raising children. This is where I have learned that each mother lives their own unique lifestyle.

This is a hard life, but motherhood in general (for anyone) is rewarding. As mothers, we are willing to do what it takes to make sure our babies have the best and are cared for. Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or a working mom, no matter the career field, I salute you because being a mom is not easy at all.

It comes with anxiety and postpartum depression—yet so much happiness. The roller coaster of emotions does not stop us from being able to fulfill our role to our children. So please remember that you are an important part of their lives—and always take care of yourself.