Call to duty forces Marine mom to leave behind sick infant

Today, we’re meeting Diana Cox Matienzo, a woman who has overcome many challenges — a rape by a fellow Marine, for one. Diana, as I’m sure you’ll sense, is a survivor to be admired.

This is her story.

What’s your hometown? When did you join the Marines? Can you tell us a little about why you joined, what MOS you held, how long you intend to stay in the Marines?

I hail from Kansas City, Kansas, home of America’s Best BBQ, but that’s my opinion. The reason I joined is on my blog, www.marinechickvet.com under Preface, February 2.  I was an 0121/0131 (MOS).

Diana, receiving a commendation.

When were you pregnant and where were you stationed during your pregnancy?

I got married in 2000 and got pregnant on my wedding night.

I will mention that I love the Marine Corps with all my heart, even though some experiences were not ones I wanted. I was raped when I was in MOS school (this was before her marriage), and it affected me mentally. When the Marine was about to go to trial, my “lawyer” advised me not to press charges, because by this time, I was pregnant with my first child and he said that it would look poorly against the Corps for a married woman with child to bring up rape charges. I allowed him to convince me of this, allowing me to never get closure. To this day, I am still affected by this, but I don’t allow it to control my life, just thought I would mention this.

What has been your greatest struggle while being pregnant as a Marine? Were you given any special consideration for your condition? For example, were you dismissed from standing in formation for inspections?

I was stationed with I&I Staff Kansas City/24th Marine Regiment. I was the only woman on the staff, so I was treated more like a daughter than a Marine. It did irritate me at times because they wouldn’t allow me to stand in formations, even though I wasn’t showing, and wouldn’t allow me to wear my normal uniform once my pregnancy was confirmed, even though I could still wear and fit into my cammies. I was told to wear the maternity uniform, even though it fell down on me.

Although they babied me, my OIC forced me to take a PFT when I could barely do sit ups and when I was on light duty. During the PFT, I was throwing up the whole time because of morning sickness. I failed the run part of the PFT, never finishing because I couldn’t stop throwing up. My CWO made sure my pro/cons reflected it, too, but, thankfully, my CO raised them.

What do you think of the maternity uniform? What modifications would you like to suggest?

The maternity uniform then was a joke, especially since I wasn’t showing that much. When the wind would blow, the blouse would blow up like a balloon, and I looked like a globe. It was hard at times to wear the boots because of swelling. I had a 10-pound baby, so I was pretty big by the time I delivered. The uniforms are as good as they could get, but I would have loved to have seen a blues maternity skirt so that I could have at least worn Alpha Charlies or Deltas to work.

Did you decide to breastfeed, or did you decide not to breastfeed because of the need to return to Marine Corps duty in six weeks? If you continued to breastfe
ed, were there particular challenges to the process because you were a Marine?

While on maternity leave, I lived in Base Housing, so they called me often to ask me questions about things. I went into the office to help out. I came in my sweats, had my son in his car seat or on a blanket on the floor, and entered 214, ran diaries and did SRB audits. Although I was on my six-weeks leave, I still worked, but it really didn’t bother me. I had five male Marines who enjoyed having the baby in the office.

I didn’t breastfeed much because my son was so big and ate all the time, causing my nipples to bleed, and it was too painful. Plus, I couldn’t handle the thought of pumping milk in a unit that was all men, regardless if I did it in the bathroom or not.

Diana with her son, Micah.

As a Marine mom, what were your greatest challenges? Do you feel moms today, Marines or civilians, have the same problems? Do women Marines have it better today than those of us in the 1980s, during that era of being one of the first Marine moms?

My greatest challenge was my second time around. I was discharged in December 2001, and was two months pregnant. I had my son in June 2002, and he had a lot of breathing issues due to RSV. He was in and out of the hospital for about six months. I was recalled back onto active duty in February 2003 because of the war in Iraq. Since I’d just had a baby and was no longer on active duty, I wasn’t really trying to lose the baby weight.

When I was recalled in 03, it hurt to leave my sick baby with my husband and leave them to go to Yuma, Ariz., where I was ordered by a reserve recall. It took an emotional toll on me because I was leaving my kids and family behind after very little notice. At least those on active duty or even reserve duty have more than one week to get their affairs in order and to drive across country. I was about 10 pounds over my weight max, but lost the weight plus more, thanks to depression related to the mandatory recall.

When I checked into Yuma, I wasn’t given the 30 days to acclimatize to the weather, so going from 20 degrees in Kansas City to 90 + in Yuma was hard, especially when I hadn’t run in over a year and half. I was an emotional wreck. It bothered me because it made me feel like “half of a Marine” because it was just hard for me to keep up in runs with the other active duty Marines.

The greatest challenge, though, was making the time to be a mother. Sometimes you felt the Marine Corps came first, so I missed a lot. First steps, first words, etc., just so that I could attend a Toys for Tots event or go in for Drill Weekend. I was active duty, but trained the Reservists. Guard duty was hard on me because I was away from a newborn who I thought needed me.

I believe women now in the military may have more privileges than those during the 80s, and more respect. But unlike the 80s, today’s mothers are being called to go overseas and separate from their families. Luckily, the ladies today are not forced out because of pregnancy. But they know that if they do get pregnant now, at a given point, they may have to leave their family behind.

Diana, today.

Try to imagine yourself older, about 60. What do you hope that woman will know about herself by then? What do you think she’d like to tell the woman you are today?

At the age of 60, I think she would still have the pride of the Corps running through her veins and will still stand up and defend the Corps. She would let those younger ladies know that if you put your mind to anything, you can achieve almost anything. When things get tough, don’t give up. If someone brings you down, bring them up to your level, and show them what respectable is. I lacked confidence prior to joining the Marines, and now I am full of it and believe I always will be.

Do you find certain skills you’ve gained as a Marine helpful in your parenting? Can you elaborate?

Working in the title industry, I find that I am more assertive than others, and I understand structure more than most women, thanks to what I learned in the Marines. I don’t cry when I am stressed. I just suck it up. The Corps made me this way, and thank God that it did. I wouldn’t be where I am in this industry if not for my Marine Corps experience.  Also, I am not a quitter, which is ingrained in my head.

Thank you, Diana, for your service, and for sharing your story.

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About Tracy Crow

I was one of the first Marine moms. Today, I'm the nonfiction editor at Prime Number Magazine, and teach journalism and creative writing at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. My memoir, Eyes Right: Confessions from a Woman Marine, will be released in April 2012 by the University of Nebraska Press.
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