The remarkable thing about both our mothers is that no matter the situation, they did everything they could, they sacrificed, they put themselves aside so we could have more opportunities and greater joy.  Last Mother’s Day, we were more than 7,000 miles from these incredible women, spending our time instead with those who serve our country in the Middle East. 

During our travels, we met a young military mother.  She was energetic, smart, and an extremely dedicated Soldier and parent.  With tears in her eyes, she told us her story, which has stuck with us ever since.  We wrapped our arms around her, but knew all she wanted that Mother’s Day was to be with her baby. 

For most moms, going back to work after having a child is one of the most difficult days professionally.  But when this woman went back to work, she didn’t put on a business suit; she put on fatigues.  She didn’t jump in her car; she walked onto a plane and prepared to deploy overseas.

Just weeks after giving birth to her beautiful new baby, she strapped on her boots and left for a destination halfway around the world, knowing she wouldn’t return until her baby was at least nine months old.  It’s difficult to imagine how tough that first day must have been – emotionally and physically.

Military moms, like the one we met on our trip, face many of the same challenges working mothers do.  They must figure out how to juggle a schedule that’s packed with work commitments, basketball games, and trips to the grocery store.  They struggle to maximize each minute at home.  And unfortunately, they fight the perception that because they work, they are less devoted to their family.

Mothers in the military, however, undoubtedly face a number of unique challenges as well.  Most notably, as Army First Lieutenant Jessica Scott writes, military moms “must also face the fact that by remaining in the military, we may never see our sons and daughters again….  Before each mother deploys, she must make all the final preparations in case she doesn’t come home.”

Deployment is difficult for any parent – for any Soldier – but for a mother who endured childbirth just weeks before, there are additional physical and mental challenges that must be overcome.

Today, the Defense Department offers active-duty mothers 42 days of maternity leave before they must return to their assignment.  This is six weeks less than civilian employees are entitled to under the Family and Medical Leave Act.  Women who have volunteered to serve our country in the military deserve adequate time to recover from childbirth.

Numerous studies have shown that women who take at least 12 weeks of leave after childbirth show fewer symptoms of depression.  Their physical health, an imperative attribute for a service member, is also increased.  Moreover, their child is less likely to have long-term cognitive and behavioral issues.

Understanding all this, we introduced the Military Opportunities for Moms Act – affectionately known as the MOM Act – last week.  This bill allows for an additional six weeks of leave time for moms in the military.  Like in many civilian positions, the leave would be unpaid.

Today, thousands of mothers play critical roles within our military.  They are serving with distinction in Afghanistan and at duty posts around the world.  They are an irreplaceable piece of the strongest and most capable military in the world, so it seems to us that extending maternity leave for these women is the least we can do for those who not only sacrificed for their children, but sacrificed for our country.

Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) serves as the lone representative in the U.S. House of Representatives from South Dakota.  Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), an Iraq War Veteran and former Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs, represents Illinois’ 8th congressional district.

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