‘Facing Stigma’ with Tara Heidger

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“I remember sitting in my high school classroom watching the ground invasion into Iraq and feeling like I wanted to be there. The patriotism that followed 9/11 was really strong and I knew I wanted to leave home and do something different than the rest of my class. I ended up enlisting in the Army and my first time leaving the country was to go to Baghdad for 15 months. I was active duty for nine years and have been in the reserves for the past six. I met my husband while stationed in Germany and ended up becoming one of the first women to go through a special operations selection course for psychological operations. The military was a great experience, but when we left, my husband and I underestimated the impact of not having that military security blanket. On top of an already stressful transition, we also had a new baby to take care of so there was pressure to get settled and make up what we lost by leaving before retirement. When our daughter was a toddler, we tried to have another baby but actually had three devastating miscarriages. Two were pretty far into the second trimester of pregnancy and we did dozens of tests but the doctors were never able to tell us why it kept happening. Losing a baby like that was so difficult because one day you’re pregnant and then all of a sudden you’re not. People stare but don’t ask and nobody ever wants to talk about it. I actually wish it could be discussed more freely in general because when it happens, you really need people around to help get you through it.

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My husband and I really wanted to continue to grow our family but after all the heartache we decided to move forward with another option. We had always talked about adopting so we made the decision to start the adoption paperwork. After only a few months we got an email stating that we had been matched with 5 month old twin girls from India. The crazy thing was that they had been born within a week of the due date of our last miscarriage. Adoption is very complicated and emotional as well, but now we have three wonderful daughters all crammed into our New York City apartment and everything just came together. I love the twins with everything I have and in retrospect I am so glad it worked out the way it did. Life is chaotic, but I’m really proud that my husband and I were able to push past all the ups and downs to get to this point too. A few years ago I was selected to be a Pat Tillman Scholar while pursuing my Masters at Columbia University and it’s been one of the most humbling experiences of my life. When I reflect back, I never would have imagined that a country girl from Wisconsin would be at an Ivy League school, traveling the world studying what I love, and living in Manhattan with three kids and an awesome husband. It definitely can be difficult at times, but I’m really proud of where we are and what we have done to get to this point.”

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Healing the hidden wounds of war

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