By Sandi Gohn
They say having a baby changes everything.
But what about meeting your future husband online, moving to a new country, getting married, becoming pregnant, coping with the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and learning that your new spouse is deploying soon – all within the same 12 months?
That is a tidal wave of change – and the everyday reality for Ariela Neistein, who is stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, with her active-duty husband, Army 1st Lt. Sholom Neistein.
“For me, it’s very hard just to think about it [all], because I don’t have anyone here,” Ariela said. “It’s my first baby. I’ve never lived in America … It’s too much.”
Becoming a First-Time Mom in a New Country
Ariela, who is originally from Guatemala, only recently moved to the U.S. in September 2019. Shortly after marrying her husband, Ariela found out she was expecting the couple’s first child, a boy, in July 2020.
Overjoyed, but understandably nervous about her first baby, Ariela started to settle into life in the U.S. and on Fort Hood. She even attended base events like the MilSpouse Fest, where she discovered the USO and even won a USO-branded coffee mug that has since become a family favorite.
“The best coffee mug I have ever used in my life, just hands down. My coffee is hot for like two or three hours,” said her husband Shalom, in a joking tone.
Then, in the spring of 2020, everything changed when the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world and social distancing rules were put into place.
For Ariela, this also unfortunately meant there was little chance that she could have a traditional baby shower to celebrate her new baby boy. Thankfully, that changed when she stumbled upon an invitation on Facebook to attend a virtual USO Baby Shower and she immediately signed up, not knowing what to expect.
Military Moms-to-Be Celebrate their New Babies Together, But Apart
While the USO has a long history of offering traditional, in-person baby showers for expecting and new military moms, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization has decided to take this program virtual for the foreseeable future.
These virtual baby showers are hosted using group video chats and are designed to celebrate military moms – both service members and military spouses – as this might be their only baby shower during this pregnancy.
During the showers, which are held for small groups stationed together near specific geographic locations, attendees get a chance to digitally meet other new moms local to them, strengthening their support system and community network.
Just like at a traditional USO baby shower, these new military moms get an opportunity to win prizes, ask questions and even play games in virtual, private break-out “rooms” that simulate the individual tables they would have been sitting at in-person. Expecting moms can also invite their spouse to join them at the shower, as many attendees, like Ariela, did at the May 5 virtual USO Baby Shower for Fort Hood.
“It’s my first and probably my only baby shower, and I don’t have anyone here, no family,” Ariela said.
“It was really nice.”
Expecting Mom and Singer-Songwriter Ciara Joins the Party
During the virtual USO Baby Shower for Fort Hood, attendees were also delighted to discover a surprise guest – singer-songwriter Ciara — had joined the party after the first breakout session.
Ciara, who is also a military child and was born on Fort Hood, chatted warmly and openly about her journey as a two-time (and soon to be three-time) mom.
“I am so grateful for you all and your sacrifices, you are some bomb ladies,” she said.
The group talked about a variety of topics, including staying fit during and after pregnancy, adjusting to parenting multiple children, parenting during COVID-19 and how she felt performing during her first two pregnancies.
“It was really awesome, and she seems really, really down to earth as well,” Sholom said.
Some participants even got to ask the singer-songwriter their own questions.
Knowing that her husband would be deploying soon, Ariela asked Ciara how she copes with being a mom when her husband, NFL Seattle Seahawks player Russell Wilson, is away from home. Much to Sholom’s delight, Wilson hopped onto the call as Ciara answered Ariela’s question and wished the shower attendees well.
“It was awesome, especially Russell Wilson coming in. I’m a huge football fan,” Sholom said. “I love Russell Wilson; he’s a great guy and a phenomenal player.”
In addition to spending time answering the attendees’ questions, Ciara surprised each new military mom with a Munchkins gift pack filled with goodies before she left the party.
“Rock it mamas,” Ciara said. “Go and be the great mamas that you are.”
After Ciara left the call the party continued, with many attendees still in disbelief that they chatted with the singer. The group once again broke into virtual breakout rooms for another round of small-group baby shower games before rejoining together as a large group one last time to draw names for the final USO raffle of a stroller, a car seat and a pack-and-play.
Even though not everyone left the event with one of these “big ticket” items, all party participants, including Ariela, left with a renewed sense that they are not alone in the journey of being a military mom. Even during a global pandemic, the USO and their local community is always by their side.
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