COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — A cake with blue baby booties, pastel décor and baby announcement balloons adorned a meeting room at the Robert S. Poydasheff VA clinic in Columbus. Six women veterans, all over 30 weeks pregnant, sat around a table topped with blocks spelling out B-A-B-Y. The expectant mothers were gathered for a baby shower hosted by the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS) from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., in order to celebrate their pregnancies and get essential post-partum safety information from hospital staff.

“With Mother’s Day and then the national [Women’s Health Week] awareness campaign with the VHA [Veteran’s Health Administration] we like to celebrate and support our moms here at CAVHCS through these ‘operation baby shower’ events,” Rickiya Williams, CAVHCS’ Women’s Veteran Program Manager, said.

She explained hosting the events provided a unique opportunity to celebrate while also educating about potentially dangerous conditions which can occur after giving birth, including preeclampsia and post-partum depression.

CAVCHS Maternity Coordinator Lashunda Bullock kicked off the event by asking the veterans to introduce themselves by names, how many weeks along they are and if it was their first time pregnant.

“The most rewarding part is getting to see a name with a face,” said Bullock, “I’m the one that call them from the first time they get pregnant, initiate the care with the OB and follow them throughout their pregnancy up to a year after they have the baby.”

Bullock explained she currently oversees 128 veteran mothers from Fort Moore, Columbus, Tuskegee, Montgomery and more. The maternity coordinator reported this is nearly double the number of mothers she oversaw when she first took her role in 2018.  

Bullock credits the rise to increased knowledge about the maternity program and noted the importance of spreading the information.

“I think a lot of women still don’t know about the maternity [care] that you get,” said Electra Harris, 39, who is currently eight months pregnant with her fourth child, a surprise baby. Harris said she formerly spent four years in the Army in aviation operations. Now, she is enjoying being a mom and aspiring entrepreneur.

Harris said, “The VA will help you and will support you and take care of you and financially it’s a blessing.”

CAVHCS Public Affairs Coordinator Tramel Garrett reiterated Harris and Bullock’s words, saying getting the word out was especially important to him as a 20-year Army veteran who had served under the leadership of women as well as led women during his career.

He said, “Over the years, I’ve met a lot of women who [are] veterans who didn’t know some the benefits that they suppose to get, so this…is very important to show pregnant veterans or just women period who need to get this healthcare.”

According to Williams, this is the first time CAVHCS has hosted a baby shower inside since the pandemic, although the project was still active as a drive-through baby shower throughout COVID. Bullock said women veterans in need of maternity services can ask their primary care provider to help them get in touch and arrangements can be made from there.