Dapheni F.
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Life rarely goes the way we’ve planned and no one knows that better than Dapheni, a Capital One Branch Ambassador, who became a first time mom while her husband was on deployment and the world was facing a historic health crisis. With the support of her manager, other military spouses, and benefits like counseling services, this new mom found exactly what she needed to take on the unexpected and take care of her mental health.

Throughout my 6 years at Capital One, I have had the pleasure of serving as a Teller, Relationship Banker and now Branch Ambassador. However, my most treasured roles are mother and military spouse. 2020 provided its fair share of challenges. I had the excitement of a new baby on the way, the sadness of my husband, Mario, being thousands of miles away on deployment and the stress of a worldwide health crisis. While I weathered many storms on my journey, I found unending support from family, friends and my colleagues in times of trouble. Along the way, I found the strength within myself to seek out help and properly handle my emotions in times of need and learned that by prioritizing my mental health, I’m an even better version of myself.

Pandemic. Motherhood. Deployment.

All I could do during my pandemic pregnancy was focus on keeping both myself and my baby safe and healthy. I soon realized that stress, coupled with the emotional toll of my husband's deployment, was leaving me feeling drained and depressed. I cried a lot. Deployment doesn’t leave you much chance to process your own emotions, so I was determined to put on a strong front to lighten the emotional burden on Mario in those months. I wasn’t prepared for how lonely and emotional those days ahead would be but I knew I had to hold it together for my family. 

I worked up until it was time to have the baby. My maternity leave paperwork was all filed and finalized well ahead of time. The process was pretty simple and I was so thankful for those 18 fully paid weeks of time to focus solely on my new child. My team and manager were supportive and excited for me. They took care of the heavy lifting and packages at the branch so I wouldn’t be doing anything too strenuous. 

My manager also routinely checked in on me and ensured I had the flexibility to make it to my appointments. She always does what she can to help make things easier for me when I raise my hand for help. My branch team is so supportive and understanding, so I never feel like I am a burden when I need to take time to care for myself or my family. Having the type of leadership that cares about the well-being of their associates makes a huge difference.

As the year went on, many of my worries were lessening and a new normal was setting in. Deployment was something we’d been prepared for since we started dating 2 years prior, so after the shock of the initial orders wore off, we adjusted and planned for the changes it would bring. With video chats and calls, I was able to see and talk to my husband every day.

Until my due date, my daily routine felt mostly the same. But that changed at midnight on January 14th when I went into labor. My mom was staying with me, so I wasn’t giving birth alone, but it felt strange without Mario in the room. Luckily, he was on the phone with me, going through breathing exercises, keeping me calm and making me laugh.

Facing the emotional toll of life changes

The emotions of holding your baby for the first time and having to introduce him to his dad through a phone screen are indescribable. I made sure to hold my composure while we were on the phone, but as soon as we hung up, I broke down in tears. I don't know how long I cried, but I remember a nurse consoling me while I sobbed over my newborn. I thought I was mentally prepared for the tidal wave of emotions I felt but embarking on this parenthood journey alone took over. I didn't want Mario to call back to find me hurting, so I wiped off the tears and stayed strong for the both of us.

On the outside, my 18 weeks of maternity leave were a beautiful time, full of growth. As my son, Zuri, grew and developed his own personality, my love for him filled every inch of my heart. I grew confidence in my role as his mother, protector and provider while we navigated this new chapter together. 

But inside, though silent, my sadness and heartache were ever-present and growing each day. Though I recovered from giving birth physically, there were still many unresolved feelings that I refused to discuss. I assumed that these thoughts would eventually go away and, until then, I cried behind the closed door of a closet or under the cover of the running shower, where my mom and son couldn’t see me. 

Embracing the importance of prioritizing myself

It wasn’t until I connected with a group of fellow military spouses on social media that I began to realize I needed to talk through what was weighing so heavily on my heart and mind. For once, I didn’t have to explain how I was feeling or what I was going through. These people knew—some of them were even feeling the same. Through those connections, I found the inspiration and courage to face my mental health head on and find the help I needed.

I remembered when I was starting at Capital One, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) was discussed during orientation. I called the EAP phone number and was given a list of therapists that I could see in person or meet over video chat. Wanting a chance to leave the house after being cooped up for so long, I opted for a live sit-down session. After the first session, I felt relieved.  I was able to share the feelings that haunted me, free from any judgement or need for further explanation. During the last weeks of my maternity leave, I quickly established a mix of both in-person and telephone therapy sessions and found my rhythm. 

I have since returned to work full-time. Just being around my colleagues and friends and doing a job that I love, helping customers, has really helped me to feel more positive as well. I still attend my therapy sessions regularly, and I think that's been very important for processing my emotions every day. 

As a military spouse, there’s a lot expected of us. We feel we have to hold together a household, raise children and be emotional support for our spouses. It's a tough role to play, but we do it with love, resilience and help from those who care about us.

Though this journey has been one of the toughest things I’ve had to endure in my lifetime, I hope my story can show how important it is to seek help or offer help to someone you feel might need a hand. I’m learning that I can open up to my colleagues and be vulnerable at work, without feeling judged. Instead, I’m met with compassion and empathy. Don’t be afraid to admit when you need to prioritize your own well-being in the face of stressful times, you might be surprised how much you can accomplish with the right resources and helping hands.

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