By Sgt. 1st Class Pete Mayes, 101st Sustainment Brigade PAOJanuary 25, 2011
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan- Alright, listen up all you deployed dads (especially if you're an expectant father): you can take an active role in the birth of your child, even if you're stationed in a combat zone. All it takes is commitment, a little ingenuity, and Skype.
Just ask Chaplain (Capt.) Joseph Palermo, who recently coached his wife Katherine through the birthing process. Separated by several continents, they both welcomed their daughter, Anna Grace, into the world.
"I didn't think it would work out. It sounded too good to be true," said Palermo, battalion chaplain for the 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade. "It was a pretty awe-inspiring experience."
Anna Grace was born Jan. 12, at Elmendorf Hospital, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. She is the couple's first child.
Palermo, a 17-year military veteran, said he prides himself on his speaking abilities. The birth of his daughter, however, left him speechless, he said.
"I'm a professionally trained speaker, practiced in conveying complex ideas through sermons, but I found myself at a great loss for words at the moment of Anna's birth, even though I was not there," Palermo said. "That's a rare occasion for me, and that says a lot."
Palermo said they had heard there was a possibility that Skype services were available through the hospital. The hospital offers the service as an option for deployed servicemembers stationed who cannot physically be there for their children's birth due to deployment.
"I didn't know all the ins and outs of it," he said. "I didn't think it would work out, or that there would be any rooms available. It turned out there was one room where they have a wireless network."
The battalion senior chaplain's wife was instrumental in getting everything set up, Palermo said. "She brought it up to my wife that it might be available, and the chaplain spoke to the hospital staff, and it sounded like everything was going to work out," he said. "The hospital staff made it happen for us."
A lot of work went into getting everything set, he said. Friends helped by donating their laptop so Palermo could see everything that was happening from the delivery room. They also had a doula (a pregnancy coach) on hand to help.
"One held the computer and encouraged Katherine, and the doula was present to coach her along," he said.
Palermo said Katherine was in labor for 24 hours before Anna was born. During that time, he was able to watch as his wife was giving birth on the other side of the laptop, also offering encouragement and support along the way.
"After Anna was born, Katherine immediately wanted to hold her so she could have skin-on-skin contact," he said.
Anna, crying immediately after birth, quieted down once Katherine held her, Palermo said. "She knew where she was supposed to be. Next to momma," he said.
Palermo described witnessing Anna's birth via Skype as, "extremely powerful."
"Seeing God's hands at work through creation of a new human life as a minister and person of faith made me reflect on the awesomeness of God and the wonder of His handiwork," he said. "As a father, it made me very proud. It was a unique moment. I've never experienced anything like it."
Palermo said it was very encouraging that the hospital offered the Skype service, and marveled at the technology itself.
"It made a big difference in our experience. "It made me feel like I shared an event where I wasn't there, but was able to witness the event and provide encouragement, and talk to my daughter and see her as she was born," he said. "It removed a lot of my worries when she came out and was bawling. I knew she was healthy," he said.
Palermo said he would definitely encourage other Soldiers and servicemembers who are deployed and expecting children to do the same.
"I would help them explore other possibilities. If Skype is available at the hospital, I would encourage them to ask about it," he said.
Palermo said he is heading home on leave in February, where he will meet his daughter in person for the first time.