Reservist’s maternity issues sparks reform

  • Published
  • By Natalie Stanley
  • 926th Wing

For many pregnant women in the military the struggle to easily access maternity uniforms can be an overwhelming process.

A recent report from the U.S. Government and Accountability Office found that pregnancy and childcare are some of the top reasons why women say they left the service.

For Senior Master Sgt. Genevieve, 13th Reconnaissance Squadron superintendent, the challenge of finding a properly fitting maternity uniform during her 2018-2019 pregnancy opened her eyes to a very real systemic problem.

“I was a new superintendent of a very large squadron and five of our Airmen were pregnant at the same time, including myself,” said Genevieve. “Every one of us had numerous challenges accessing maternity uniform items.”

For Genevieve, the standard alternative of wearing the physical fitness uniform with tennis shoes every day was not an option she was satisfied with.

“While I fully endorse the comfort of our pregnant Airmen, I personally felt that I needed to represent my Airmen in uniform, to maintain the level of professionalism and credibility needed for a senior enlisted leader,” said Genevieve.

Before she resorted to wearing a uniform two sizes too big for her, which she described as ‘a tradeoff, not a solution’, Genevieve utilized every avenue she could think of to find a properly fitting uniform.

Early in her pregnancy she realized she would be unable to get her maternity uniform in a brick and mortar store and due to supply chain issues, online buying options were taking too long to be feasible.

“In fact, AAFES recommended that I cancel my order, that’s when I asked myself, ‘If it’s this hard for me to find a uniform, how hard is it for our newest Airmen?’,” said Genevieve.

With continued supply issues, Genevieve and the other pregnant women were left to barter, trade and hunt for their sizes.

While the Airmen eventually had alternative options come in, it was well after the time they initially needed their maternity uniforms.

Experiencing first-hand the hardship of something as simple as a properly fitted uniform was the catalyst for Genevieve to take action.

“I had never felt compelled to be a part of a women’s specific group before, but I met a charismatic speaker at the 2018 Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium, Maj. Alea Nadeem, and was inspired by her story and wanted to be a part of the Women’s Initiatives Team,” said Genevieve.

By sharing her story, Genevieve became one of the project officers for this initiative and with a team of nearly 20 began working to get Operational Camouflage Pattern maternity uniforms back on the shelves in all AAFES stores. The team also partnered with the Air Force Uniform Office and helped redesign the Service Dress maternity uniform.

In the span of a few months the team went from seeing no maternity uniforms in stores, to limited stock, to now almost every Exchange carrying OCP maternity stock for purchase.

“To have maternity OCP uniforms available for our pregnant Air Force military women to try on and to have the ability to size up with ease when needed is a real win,” said Genevieve.

Genevieve also spoke with Senate committees, where her story and the vignettes of her Airmen became a vital building block for the Rent the Camo: Access to Maternity Wear Act.

The Rent the Camo pilot program, fashioned after Rent the Runway, would issue maternity uniforms and maternity uniform related items to pregnant military members at no cost to the service member while ensuring that uniforms are free of toxic chemicals that may harm the baby or mother.

While Genevieve takes no credit for the program, which was recently included in the yet to be finalized 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, her actions were instrumental in making a lasting change for those struggling to continue their service while pregnant.

“It’s easy to forget the challenges that others face,” said Genevieve. “I want commanders and senior enlisted leaders to always be thinking about what their Airmen are going through, even if they haven’t faced that challenge before.”