It is common knowledge that human brains aren’t fully developed until well into adulthood, the late 20’s or early 30’s. The science behind how younger brains are lacking is pretty straightforward: myelin is a substance that covers the nerves that transmit information between brain cells. As a child, a teenager, and a young adult, this substance is thin and causes the transmissions between brain cells to be weak and inefficient. This is especially important in function of the prefrontal cortex, where we make our decisions and solve our problems. When a young adult makes a decision that is less than optimal, it might simply be because their brains aren’t capable of transmitting the signals between their brain cells.
“So the best thing to do is take a shitload of underdeveloped brains and place them into a warzone to deal with isolation and death and the dregs of the world.” –the U.S. Government
Please read the beginning of this story as shown within the “Afghanistan Story” tab above.
Afghanistan, July 2010, Camp Delaram
My pregnancy began to overtake my brain. All of my other problems slid to the back burner as I struggled to survive in 120 degree heat at almost two months pregnant. Isolation, unanswered emails from my husband and family, Tim getting someone else pregnant while we were dating, Dumaw’s death, William’s actions…all of it faded to the background as I scrambled to decide what to do.
Facing the music for my bad decision as a 20 year old was something I couldn’t accept. I began to sink into myself further and further. Every second my brain was whirling, trying to figure out what to do to avoid jail and a dishonorable discharge. I stopped eating; I stopped talking to the few people who would even still interact with me. I spent hours researching prior court martial cases, the laws that people were prosecuted under, and ways I could get help. I researched how many ways I would be screwed if I was dishonorably discharged, including losing my GI Bill. In the past, women who became pregnant while in the Marine Corps had the option to leave the service. However, that was before the two wars affected force readiness necessities. I had never heard of it happening.
I sat on night watch, alone in the TCF building. The wiremen had disappeared.
If I manage to convince the Marine Corps to let me leave active duty because of my pregnancy, I will be in the clear. If I can hit my three year mark in the military in December, then I will be able to retain my GI Bill benefits. If I manage to hide how far along I actually am by December, I will be able to leave the service, have my baby, and retain my education benefits. If I lose my education benefits, everything will be ruined. That’s the only decent reason I joined the Marine Corps.
If…if…if…my underdeveloped brain swirled.
I will be forced to leave behind everything and everyone I know in order to not be prosecuted under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The UCMJ’s statute of limitations is five years. I will cut everyone off for five years. I can do that, right?
How will I live? How will I pay for anything? How will I pay for the birth? Diapers? Getting out after three years in the military as a pregnant 20 year old won’t offer me many options, regardless of how useful my job had been while in the service.
I looked for jobs. I wasn’t qualified for any of them.
My mind replayed our interactions.
This IS his child. He has a house already. His first daughter needs a mother and I am already in love with her sweet little fat rolls. He seems like an amazing father. He will marry me; he said so already. He will treat me well. We can be happy.
I ignored the tug in the back of my brain.
You can’t doubt this decision. How else will you be able to have this baby?
I gently laid my hand over the bottom of my stomach while I pondered other possibilities of my future with William.
But…what if I had a miscarriage? That would solve everything. That would solve….
I walked outside.
The night sky glittered like diamonds being rolled around a darkened blanket. Silence permeated through the FOB and I felt like the only person in the world.
I wonder if there’s another world out there with another me standing outside and looking at the night sky who isn’t pregnant, who didn’t join the Marine Corps, who stayed on Camp Leatherneck, who believes in God…
My mind thought about the various ways that I had read about miscarriage throughout the years. Scarlett O’Hara had been shoved down a stairwell. Another woman drank an herbal tea that caused contractions. Blunt force trauma seemed to be the cause of a few miscarriages.
There aren’t many stairs around here…
It began to feel like my mind was at war. Two very different parts of me fought back and forth between an intense desire to have and love this baby and an intense fear of punishment and abuse. My mind volleyed thoughts like a tennis match between two different opponents and eighty different tennis balls. Back to this side, back to that side, back, back, back. Each voice began to get louder to be heard over the others.
LISTEN TO ME!
My mind screamed. I placed my hands on either side of my head and squeezed hard until I saw stars.
JUST FUCKING SHUT UP!
My mind seemed to go numb as the voices silenced, although they seemed to still be there, silent but there. I walked to the concrete bunker that had protected me from mortars for the past few months. My eyes stared straight ahead without seeing as I balled up my right fist. I pulled my hand up over my head and, with voices beginning to scream again, rapidly slammed my fist into my lower abdomen. My abdomen quickly clenched tightly around my child, my body automatically protecting the thing I loved.
No, fuck, stop protecting her. I can’t do this. I can’t get into trouble. I can’t do this, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!
Bursting into tears, I pulled my fist up and brought it down again. Again and again, I tried so hard to hit myself with full force but my body would double over and my fist would slow before making contact mildly.
Doubling over in pain, I openly sobbed and laughed insanely at what I must look like, like my arm was possessed, trying to hit its wielder.
Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself.
Images of my sister forcing me to punch myself in the face when I was younger flashed through my mind.
Stop hitting yourself.
I laughed at the utter insane nonsense that I was doing. I laughed and then sobbed in a wild, animal-like tone of despair. Snot ran from my nose, and I wiped it on my sleeve as I slid into the sand in the bunker.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I love you, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
I held my lower abdomen, full of sharp pains, and cradled the baby inside of me.
Suddenly, the MCMAP instructor wireman stepped into the bunker. He looked down at me, sobbing and holding my stomach alone in the dark. He was silent for a few seconds before he spoke.
“You need to get help.”
He walked out of the bunker, leaving me alone in the sand.