News: A world apart: Deployed father watches daughter’s first moments
Story by Cpl. Paul Peterson
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan - She was only seconds old and more than 7,000 miles away when she heard the voice of her father for the first time.
Hailey Nicole Register was born in Orlando, Fla., at 9:38 p.m. She was a tender 7 pounds, 15 ounces when she lay next to her mother for the first time Tuesday, Sept. 17. Her father, Cpl. James Register, a Marine serving in Helmand province, Afghanistan, heard her cry for the first time from the other side of the world.
“It hit a spot in me,” said Register, pausing to remember the moment of his daughter’s birth. “I can’t really explain it. It gave me new life. It gave me one more reason to keep going even if the world starts crumbling around me … It was a new sense of purpose.”
Register and his wife Rachael, both Orlando natives, shared the moment in real-time thanks to modern communications technology unimaginable even a decade ago.
The couple knew they would face great challenges when they learned they were going to have their first child. Register was in the middle of preparing for his deployment when the news arrived.
“You kind of go crazy,” he recalled. “You think about it, and you’re like, ‘I’m bringing a kid into the world, and I’m not even going to be there for the first three or four months … for her.”
Register’s unit entered an intense cycle of training early in the pregnancy. The rigors of military life pulled him away from his wife as he moved around the country for pre-deployment exercises.
As he traveled from coast to coast, the couple stayed in contact the best they could through phone calls and the occasional video chat.
“I was afraid for my wife,” admitted Register. “I was afraid something was going to happen. That was always a prominent thought in my head, ‘I’m not there. Something could happen.”
The two decided to move Rachael back to Orlando where she could be with family and friends during the deployment.
Register left for Afghanistan in July with plans to watch the birth online.
“I still knew coming into this that no matter what when she came into the world I was going to be there,” said Register. “It meant I’m not coming home to pick up pieces and try and put a puzzle together. I’m there from the start, and I’m going to be there until the very end.”
The couple stayed in contact over the internet during the first part of the deployment. Register anxiously waited for news as the due date for the pregnancy approached.
That date came and went with no baby and increasing unease.
“I was anxious to actually see my little girl for the first time,” said Register, who was frustrated by the delay. “I give a lot of credit to all those who come out here after just having a kid, do a six or seven month [deployment], then go back tougher than ever.”
The decision was made to induce delivery more than a week after the expected date. On Sept. 17, Register left his work space here a little before noon with one order: “Come back when you have a baby.”
Afternoon transformed into evening, midnight and early morning, while he waited beside his bed typing messages to his wife and family on a computer – nature doesn’t abide by military order.
Register stayed awake staring at the screen and waited for the video call. He finally gave in to a few hours of sleep only to awaken around six o’clock by a ringing message.
“It was nerve wracking,” he said. “We were there for a good 16 hours just waiting. She went to the hospital at five o’clock in the morning [her time] when she was supposed to be induced. It wasn’t until 9:38 [in the evening] that the baby was actually here.”
Exhaustion quickly transitioned into quiet euphoria. A reinvigorated Register hunched over the computer screen and watched his world transform.
“It’s a bunch of emotions rolled into one that you can’t really describe,” said Register, recalling the moment his daughter took her first breath. “Whenever you hear your son or daughter’s first cries and you see them for the first time, it will melt you. It will take down every defense you had up.”
After Hailey’s birth, he played his first game of peek-a-boo before putting his uniform back on and returning to work.
“This is something I don’t want to leave,” said Register. “It’s places like this, when you’re 7,000 miles away, everybody looks out for each other no matter what.”
Register intends to remain in the Marine Corps after the deployment, and he and his wife are considering more children. He said he’s not looking for a football team, but he might be good with four kids.
For now, he has his hands full.