Having a child is often a time of great joy and celebration for new parents.
But for one Marine mother it eventually caused complications ― and threatened her career.
When her baby was diagnosed with a serious health condition, the Marine mom made a decision to risk her career for the health of her child, which led to an adverse evaluation and is currently blocking her from re-enlistment.
In 2016 the Marine, who asked to remain anonymous but has been vetted by Marine Corps Times, had her second daughter. She opted to breastfeed her child per her pediatrician’s recommendation ― while simultaneously dieting to get back to within Marine Corps height and weight standards.
The Marine Corps gives a nine month time frame for new mothers to get back within standards.
But the diet and exercise routine she was putting herself through quickly started to have a negative effect on the health of her newborn child, the gunnery sergeant told Marine Corps Times on condition of anonymity due to fear of retribution.
“My daughter was around three months old when she was diagnosed with something called failure to thrive,” the Marine said in a phone interview.
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“I was just not producing enough milk,” the Marine said.
Her daughter was born weighing in the 40th percentile, but when she was taken in for her four month check up she had dropped down to the 3rd percentile, medical reports reviewed by Marine Corps Times show.
After consulting with a nutritionist on base, the Marine decided to stop dieting and slow down her exercise plan, knowing that she risked going on the Marine Corps’ body composition program, or BCP, if she failed to lose the weight in time.
“I always assumed I would eventually lose the weight before I ended my 9 month postpartum term,” the Marine said in an email. “That was a disillusion, but I thought that way because I was able to lose weight pretty easily after my first child.”
When her postpartum period ended, the Marine was 40 pounds over the Marine Corps’ weight standards and the process to the BCP began.
At that point the Marine had one month to get within standards before being put on the program and receiving negative paperwork.
During the processing period the Marine told her first sergeant why she had failed to lose the weight and assumed that he passed on the details to her chain command.
“I thought my first sergeant had my best interest in mind,” she said in the email.
“He didn’t. He saw a fat female,” she wrote.
The Marine also was new to her command and did not want to be seen by her new commander as a complainer who was using her child to get out of physical training.
“As a female, over the years I’ve learned to suffer in silence because not many people cared that I was a mother or any issues my child was having,” she said in the email.
Before she was completely processed into the BCP program the Marine made the tough decision to stop breastfeeding and return to her stringent diet and exercise program.
She lost 11 pounds within the month, but still had to go on BCP, she said.
During her time in the program she was working out eight times a week, sticking to a strict diet and quickly lost all the weight she needed in order to leave the program.
But the damage to her her career already was done.
The Marine received a page 11 and adverse mark on her fitness report.
At the time she did not contest the mark because she also had received an award for excellently performing her duty while at the command and assumed the adverse mark would just be a blip on her career.
But when she tried to re-enlist in 2020 the Corps denied it, citing her time on BCP, the adverse FitRep and sudden drop in her physical fitness test score after she had her second child.
“I did have to sacrifice my career in order to take care of my kids,” the Marine said.
Choosing between career and family
The choice is not an uncommon one for women in the Marine Corps who decide to start families.
Another Marine who recently had her first child was also presented with the same dilemma: diet and protect her career, or focus on providing enough nutrition to her child.
“My baby was only born six pounds because I was afraid of being overweight,” the Marine told Marine Corps Times on condition of anonymity.
Despite being on the low end for birthweight, her baby was born healthy. But during the next two months her baby daughter struggled to maintain her weight, the Marine said.
“After her birth I wasn’t eating enough calories,” the Marine said. “I wasn’t able to provide her enough nutrients.”
Instead of eating more and risk not making the Marine Corps height and weight standards, the mom chose to use formula while continuing her diet plan.
“I was so afraid of getting fat, I didn’t eat like I should have,” she said.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger has acknowledged that Marines have often had to choose between being a Marine or being a parent and is pushing for change in hopes to increase diversity in the Corps.
“We should never ask our Marines to choose between being the best parent possible and the best Marine possible,” Berger said in his Commandant’s planning guidance released shortly after he took over the Marine Corps in summer 2020.
In April the Corps updated its policy on parenthood and pregnancy when it released Marine Corps Order 5000.12F.
The new order added language that expressly prohibits negative evaluations or adverse FitReps due to any postpartum “complications affecting the health of the mother, and/or nursing.”
However, “even prior to the revision of this order, it was never acceptable for any aspect of a Marines pregnancy to affect their performance evaluation,” Maj. Jordan Cochran, a spokesman for the Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs, told Marine Corps Times in an email.
“Every fitness report is reviewed for compliance prior to final submission into the record,” Cochran said.
“Reports containing any derogatory comments regarding a Marine’s pregnancy or postpartum condition are rejected and sent back to the reporting senior or reviewing officer for correction,” he added.
The gunnery sergeant said putting her on BCP despite the health complication for her baby was a way around the order to ensure her adverse FitRep was not rejected by Headquarters Marine Corps.
But she is still fighting to have the negative paperwork removed from her record.
Cochran said any Marines who have “any discrepancy” on their records should contact the Performance Evaluation Review Board or the Board for Correction of Naval Record to have them removed.
The Marine said she already has contacted both boards and is working on getting her negative paperwork removed, but the process is lengthy and will not be completed before she is forced out of the Marine Corps.
She also has appealed the decision of kicking her out of the Corps, but she fears time is running out and her re-enlistment will once again be rejected because she chose the health of her child over career.
“I have been fighting this denial as best as I can with the resources I can,” she said.