A Military Doctor Talks Deployments, Maternity Leave, and the Challenges She Faces as an Army Mom

When Mimi Raleigh was a senior in college planning to become a doctor, she felt pulled to join the army after attending a free pizza lunch (yes, seriously!) and feeling an immense sense of patriotism following 9/11. A few years later, she met her now-husband during a deployment in Iraq and now, Mimi works full-time as an army sports medicine doctor while raising a toddler son and is pregnant with baby No 2. To say Mimi is a supermom is, obviously, quite the understatement!

Keep reading to learn more about the unique challenges Mimi faces as a military mom, how she and her husband manage deployments and different duty assignments, and how she’ll handle maternity leave when her second baby arrives.

 

Name: Mimi Raleigh, Army Sports Medicine Doctor
Age: 39
Location: Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
Education: Undergraduate Degree in Spanish from Notre Dame, Masters Degree from Georgetown, attended medical school at Jefferson Medical College
Children: Liam, 20 months, and currently expecting baby No. 2! 

 

Tell us about your job, your role, and how you got to this point in your career!

 

I’m an army sports medicine doctor. It’s a pretty cool profession! I’m trained in family medicine — we say that’s “womb to tomb,” meaning we take care of babies, adults, moms when they’re pregnant, and geriatrics. Sports medicine is an additional year of fellowship training after you do your family medicine residency. We basically do a lot of musculoskeletal care — anything that’s nonoperative. We focus on the context of the whole person, so it’s not just your knee pain we’re dealing with, the focus is more holistic. We focus on how to get the patient back to doing the things they want to do and relate that to other aspects of their health as well.

I’ve been a sports medicine doctor for about 12 years. My senior year in college was when 9/11 happened, so especially as a New Yorker and an American that sparked a sense of patriotism in me. When I was in grad school working on the schooling I needed for pre-med, I was pretty broke. I fell upon a free pizza lunch put on by the army recruiters and ended up having that free slice of pizza and signing up for the army to pay for medical school. 

 

Did you ever consider joining the army before that point?

 

I never in a million years thought I would be affiliated with the military, but when I was in grad school and found out about this opportunity, I realized that it was the best of both worlds. At the time, I liked that I wouldn’t be tied to a specific geographic location. My father actually served in the military as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He was very proud of his service. In fact, my sister and I were actually born overseas in Germany when he was still in the army. My grandfather was an army doctor for a while and was also stationed overseas in Germany, so when I talked to them about it, they were all for it! Ultimately, my whole family was supportive, and I felt that it was a good opportunity to serve my country, to take advantage of the scholarship for medical school, and to meet different people. Twelve years later, it’s something that I continue to enjoy.

 

 

You and your husband, Conor, are both in the military — did you purposefully want to start a family with someone who had a similar career as you?

 

I never thought that I would marry a military guy, and I’m sure that Conor didn’t think that he would marry a military doctor either! We actually met when we were both deployed to Iraq in 2011. We didn’t date until two years after we returned, but we had become really good friends up to that point. When my sister met him, I remember her saying, “You’re going to marry this guy.” I laughed and said, “I don’t know, I don’t think so.” She was right, and she’s not often right! It ended up working out very well for us.

Conor loves that I’m in the military, and I love the support that I have from him to pursue this career. There is a lot of unpredictability when you’re active duty. It’s not common that military couples both stay military. You never know who’s going to deploy when, and you always need a backup to the backup which can be really challenging. I have this career skill set that would allow me to work as a civilian doctor pretty much anywhere that Conor would be stationed. Instead, he loves the fact that I understand the military lifestyle. If he gets called to work after hours or in the field, I understand what that’s like and vice versa, especially with the travel I do. I couldn’t imagine doing what I do without a partner who fully understands and supports that. 

 

Tell us a bit more about your job and your day-to-day responsibilities.

 

There is no typical day! Right now, I am actually working at a program where I travel to different military exercises and serve as a medical consultant to their medical team. There are probably two weeks on every given month that I’m away attending these exercises. When I’m there, I’m going to the fields, seeing how a unit operates, coaching them, and giving them recommendations on how they can improve their medical care for combat. This is definitely a new job for me, and it’s something that’s a temporary job while we’re here in Kansas and while my husband is in school.

During a typical day as an army sports medicine doctor, I go to the hospital clinic on base and see patients from about 7:30 am to 4:30 pm and stick around after until I finish charting. We see about 21 patients a day on average. It’s a family medicine clinic, so we take care of everything. We perform well-child exams. We care for adults with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and behavioral health problems. We do procedures like knee injections, shoulder injections, and biopsies. You almost never know what’s going to be coming through the door! We also do inpatient treatments, so if a family medicine patient is admitted to the hospital, we round on them in the hospital setting, day or night, depending on who comes into the emergency room when. 

 

Can you walk us through your daily routine?

 

Typically, Conor gets up at 5 every morning and he works out right away. I will wake up anytime between 5 am and 6 am. If Liam is still sleeping, I sometimes workout, sometimes not. Liam gets up at 6 am pretty much every morning. I’ll usually make him breakfast. He’s a really good eater, so he’ll eat whatever we decide to give him whether it’s a waffle, a whole wheat bagel, cereal, or eggs. I do the dishes, make lunch for myself, and I have coffee. We have a dog and a cat, so next, I feed the pets and let the dog out. If I didn’t have time to work out, Conor will take Liam into daycare once he’s dressed and ready to go. If I was able to squeeze a workout in, I’ll bring him in a little bit later with me.

At my current job, I usually go to my office at 8 am, and I stay there until about noon. I have lunch, then I’ll go over to the clinic at the hospital on our base and I’ll see patients in the family medicine clinic from 12:40 pm to about 4:30 pm. When I finish, Conor and I will text each other and make a plan to decide who is going to get Liam. For example, If I wasn’t able to work out in the morning, I will go home and exercise and Conor will pick up Liam. If I was able to work out, usually I’ll get him after work.

We’ll come home and feed the pets their dinner while Conor cooks dinner. He’s actually a pretty good cook! He enjoys doing it while he’s here, and I love letting him. We eat around 6 pm as a family. Between Conor and I, one of us does dishes and the other does bath time. After Liam’s bath, we’ll read books and play together until bedtime between 7:30 pm and 8 pm. He’s a great little sleeper and goes right to bed!

After dinner, Conor usually has to do reading or homework to finish, so that’s the time that I’ll do some professional reading, catch up with a friend on the phone, organize things around the house, and start to get mentally set for the next day. We usually go to bed by 10 pm, sometimes earlier and sometimes later depending on what we have going on!

 

You and your husband’s jobs often change and move you to different locations around the country — what is that like?

 

It is amazing and really challenging at the same time. We’ve lived in parts of the country that neither of us thought that we would ever live. There’s something incredible about every place that you go to. The communities are always different, and you get to experience areas of our nation that you would otherwise not know about. The actual physical part of moving is tough. After two years in an assignment, you grow roots and make strong connections with people and then, suddenly, it’s time to go. And that’s really hard.

On the flip side, the military family community is really resilient and accepting, especially when you have a kid. You’ll show up to a place, and you’ll see other parents who don’t know anybody either. You bond over the small stuff like, “Will you be my emergency contact?” And suddenly we’re friends. You don’t see that in civilian communities as much. This community is very welcoming, and people are always looking to build friendships. I am very much looking forward to finding our forever home when we retire, but for now, I’m also looking forward to what the next duty assignments will bring for us. 

 

 

Because your husband is currently in school, are you planning to stay in Kansas for the foreseeable future?

 

We’ll be here until summer 2020. At that point, we’re going to move — hopefully together! We’re not sure where yet but we have a couple of ideas. We’re actually going through that process now with our career coaches. They’re pretty good about sending us together, which is ultimately the most important thing above any location for us. 

 

Have you and Conor had to be apart during your marriage because of different duty assignments?

 

Even though we’ve been stationed together for the three-and-a-half years we’ve been together, we have still had to be apart as a married couple. When we got married, he was in North Carolina and I was stationed in Virginia. Shortly after, he got orders to Louisiana. I requested to go there, and they agreed to send me. We were apart for a few months during the transition period, and right before I got down there, he got deployed to Afghanistan for a few months. You can still be stationed at the same place and be deployed overseas! So, that was our main separation.

Our human resources command folks have been doing a great job to find us jobs where we can be together, and that’s the most important thing for us right now. In terms of staying together as a family location-wise, everything has to go by the needs of the army. Even so, they always do what they can to take care of army families. I have full confidence that they’re going to everything in their power to keep us together.

At the same time, we have the knowledge on our end that there might be deployments and small separations here and there. There may be a year when we’re apart and if that happens, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. It looks like, for the foreseeable future, that we’ll be together! Right now while Conor is in school and while I’m pregnant — and for at least six months after — we know he won’t be deployed. That has been really nice. We know that for our next job, it is likely that one of us will be deployed. It would be hard for either of us but for me, it would be hardest to leave Liam and a little guy that I haven’t even met yet. If that happens, I know that we will get through it. I have a lot of army doctor female role models who have done it and who I know could help support me. 

 

Your adorable son Liam is almost 2! Were you able to take a traditional maternity leave after you had him? How do you think maternity leave will work with baby No. 2?

 

Maternity leave in the military has definitely improved over the past few years. They used to offer 6 weeks, and now they allow 12 weeks. The first six weeks is considered your convalescent leave, which all new moms get. The second six weeks is called primary caregiver leave, which can be taken by the new mom or can be given to a partner at any point within the first year of the child’s life. With Liam, I used the full 12 weeks. I had grand plans of what I thought I would accomplish during my leave but after a day of caring for Liam, I’d look at the clock at 5 pm and realize that I had spent the whole day nursing! I know that I’m going to take the full 12 weeks for baby No. 2. Liam will still go to daycare during that time, but I look forward to picking him up early and spending a little more time with him. 

 

 

Was it difficult for you to return to work after having your son?

 

I think one of the hardest things is that first day back to work. I went back on our second wedding anniversary, and I just remember choking back the tears as I dropped 12-week-old Liam off at daycare. The daycare staff was absolutely wonderful and made me feel really good about it. Getting back into my actual work routine was like riding a bike.

People at work were very encouraging, especially within the medical community. I breastfed for most of Liam’s first year, and they were very supportive in allowing time for me to pump. It felt good to use the skills and the training that I went to school for. I definitely appreciated being back at work. Still, the best part of the day was always picking up my happy, smiling baby! But yeah, you definitely feel torn those first few days back and afterward. I know I’ll feel the same this time around as well. I would have been a wreck going back to work at the six-week mark! I know many moms go back sooner than that. Every person is different, every baby is different, every situation is different. I was incredibly grateful to the military for allowing that opportunity. 

 

Did you ever consider not returning to work following Liam’s birth?

 

I’ve definitely had that thought. I think the difficult thing about being in the military is that you don’t always have that choice, especially if you are contractually obligated. I signed on to a four-year retention bonus, which I reached when Liam was 10 months old. I do feel very career-oriented in terms of having medicine as a calling, and I couldn’t imagine going through all of that training and then not using it at all. I did talk to my husband a lot about maybe leaving the military or going part-time so that I could be home more for Liam.

Honestly, one of the things that made me feel more comfortable with full-time was the curriculum at the army base daycare. I’d learn of the activities they were doing with my infant, and I would think to myself, “I wouldn’t have thought to do that at home!” I think he’s getting more from going to daycare than if I was with him 24/7. They have been wonderful with him, and he’s loved going, which has made it a lot easier for me to commit to staying in the military at this point in time. If that was not the case, it would be tough.

It’s a little more challenging if he gets sick. You can’t always cancel a full day of patients. I mean, you can, but it’s not ideal to do that! It’s not easy for both or one of us to leave our jobs to take care of our little guy if he’s sick. We’ve had various backup plans, like one of us leaving work or having a babysitter — so far we’ve made it work!

 

Are your coworkers and bosses supportive of you having a family?

 

I would say yeah, they really have been! I think there’s always some guilt that you carry when you let someone know you’re going to be leaving for a little while. Giving birth and going on maternity leave is quite a chunk of time to be away from your workplace. If you’re really invested in your job, it’s difficult to think that people will have to work harder because you’re not there. But at the same time, it’s what we do for other people all of the time. I have always felt very supported, so I’m very blessed in that regard.

 

 

How did you and your husband decide that daycare was the best form of childcare for Liam?

 

The daycare has pretty extensive hours. They’re open from 5:30 am to 6 pm. Liam isn’t usually there the whole day, but there have definitely been times where we’ve had to take advantage of the extended hours which can be really tough, mostly on me as a mother. In our current situation, he typically goes from 8 am to 5 pm. 

We did consider other childcare options, especially when he as an infant. I was looking into a nanny or an au pair as an option. In this assignment, our in-laws are nearby, and they have been able to help out when Liam has been sick. My mother-in-law works for my father-in-law so she’s got a tough boss! 😉 But if the grandson is sick, she will take off if neither of us can. Right now, if I don’t have patients scheduled, then work is very supportive, and I will leave and take care of him. I think where it gets tricky is when I’m traveling and Conor is in school. If I’m traveling and Conor needs to be in class early in the morning, we’ve actually have had one of the caregivers from the daycare take care of Liam until 7:30 am and she will bring him to work when her shift starts. We’ve been really lucky with a community that we trust and that Liam likes. 

Childcare options are very expensive and that has definitely also factored into us using daycare initially for Liam. Having a nanny at home would have been at least three times more of the cost of the on-post daycare. 

 

Will your family’s childcare situation change with baby No. 2?

 

I anticipate that we’ll both be a lot busier at our next job. At that time, we’ll probably use a combination of the on-base daycare for both of our kids and have the option of a live-in au pair as well for some added flexibility if someone is sick or if we have to stay over at work. The au pair will need a car, a cell phone, and room and board, but ultimately it’s the price we have to pay and we just have to make it happen.

 

Tell us about transitioning to being a working mom and what surprised you the most about that experience.

 

Well, I have so many pictures of Liam, and I take them out way more frequently to show people and say, “Look what he’s doing now!” Otherwise, I’m definitely more focused on being as efficient as I can at work so I can leave to get my child and be home. Whereas before kids, I would stay, work very late, and do extra tasks, not because I had to but because I didn’t rush to be home. Now, I don’t think that I’m any less productive, I’m just more focused on getting it done.

 

 

What unique challenges do you face being a mom in the army?

 

Besides moving and the unpredictability of deployment, one of the things specific to being a breastfeeding mom with an infant is figuring out how you’re going to breastfeed or pump while out in the field. It takes more than I thought it would to navigate. I would have to make sure there was time, privacy, refrigeration, and storage. I think because I’m an officer, it was a lot easier for me to advocate for those resources for myself. I want those who might not be as highly ranked to know that they can speak up and talk to their bosses if they are considering breastfeeding.

 

How do you prioritize work-life balance? How do you find time for self-care?

 

Even before kids and before marriage, I actually struggled with this. In general, I really hate the term “balance” because it makes me feel like I’m always teetering towards one more than the other. I prefer the idea of “work-life integration” and focusing on how I am going to make all of this fit together. Personally, the self-care that is important to me is exercise, which fits well within the army culture. It doesn’t always fit in with the army medical culture because we see our first patient while other army units are working out as a group around 6 am. In the medical community, we often work out on our own, not as a unit.

What has helped me most as a mom has been the Peloton bike! It’s so efficient for me to be able to exercise at home and to bypass the drive to the gym. Taking on-demand workout classes where I’m motivated by an instructor and an online community has been really great for me. That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve done for work-life integration. Now that Conor and I are in a place where we won’t be deployed, we make sure we take the time to have a date night at least twice a month. That’s been really important for us as a couple. Conor is also supportive when I just say, “Hey, you know what, I really just need to get my hair done!” We also have been doing our best to plan vacations. Having something to look forward to as a family has been really important for us. Most recently, we went to Glacier National Park for a week in Montana. It was nice to get away and spend some time together. 

 

Can you share with us five mom hacks you rely on to make things work in your day-to-day life?

 

1. Make time for exercise. I use the Peloton bike or treadmill for working out at home or on the go. I also use the app for coached runs when I run with a stroller or for workouts in a hotel when I travel for work. 

2. Keep solids simple. We did baby-led weaning AKA started feeding our son “real” food and not purees or rice cereal when Liam turned 6 months old. We don’t prepare special kid’s food — he eats what we eat!

3. Be organized! My favorite app is Wunderlist to keep track of to-dos, groceries, and even lists of movies we’d like to see. It’s sharable, so if my husband swings by the grocery store, he can see what I’ve put on the list.

4. Shop for staples. Use Amazon Prime’s Subscribe and Save for those items that are easier to just put on autopilot (diapers, wipes, favorite laundry detergent, etc.)!

5. Outsource what you can. I get some help with cleaning every other week. That’s less time I have to spend changing sheets and cleaning the house and more time to spend with my family. In between, I have Liam help me. He loves to put laundry from the washer into the dryer and follows me with my vacuum with his little toy vacuum!

 

 

Mimi Raleigh is The Everymom…

Favorite family tradition? Conor’s family has themed Thanksgivings. The first year I went, we were dating and it was a ’70s theme, and I thought that he might have been playing a prank on me to dress up in bell-bottoms, but they really go all out and it’s fun! We also try to take part in local and cultural activities wherever we are currently stationed.

Easy go-to family meal to prepare? Anything in the Instant Pot! Meats are quick and easy to cook, and we’ll do a steamed veggie and five-minute couscous for a healthy, easy meal. If you haven’t tried basil and herb pearled couscous, you’re missing out – it may be our family’s favorite food

Your dream vacation? Hiking the circuit in Torres del Paine in Patagonia, Chile.

Last home item you splurged on? We just got new bedroom furniture and a King-sized bed. We tried the mattress in a box, and I had my doubts, but we’ve both slept so well since!

Most embarrassing mom moment? We had some travel delays the Sunday after Thanksgiving when Liam was just over a year old. When we finally got on a flight, Liam had missed his nap, and our usually well-seasoned traveler was not a happy camper. He knocked over a glass which broke on the plane, and the flight attendant had to pick up the pieces with the sticky side of a maxi pad!

Proudest career achievement? I had the privilege of being a volunteer sports medicine doctor for Team USA at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs last year. This summer, I was invited to be a physician for the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. It would have been an amazing experience, but baby boy No. 2 is due around that time, so I had to decline. 

Favorite date night activity? We love going out to new restaurants in Kansas City (or wherever we are stationed), but my husband is pretty good with coming up with some creative date night ideas. A recent favorite was taking bachata lessons followed by going salsa dancing. 

Best mom advice you’ve been given? Don’t compare yourself to other moms. The person who has the picture-perfect Instagram life is probably struggling in ways you can’t even imagine. Your kids don’t care if your house is messy or if your hair isn’t perfect. 

 

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