Essay winner Rachel Engel and her family (Courtesy of

When I was pregnant, I wanted Sydney to have it all. The best car seat, the best swing, the cutest room—she deserved it. I also wanted to have it all. I wanted that perfect pregnancy, where I glowed through every trimester. I wanted to decorate the nursery alongside my husband; I wanted him to talk to my belly at night. I wanted it all, but one thing got in the way: deployment.

My husband deployed when I was six months pregnant. On June 21, 2011, he kissed my forehead, rubbed my belly, and walked to the taxi that would take him out of the state, out of the country, and to a place of total unrest and rabid violence. I was left to wait, and give birth alone.

I wasn’t scared, though. We had been through two previous deployments, and since his particular job didn’t require him to leave the base, I was never that concerned. We chatted back and forth on instant message. I shopped online...a lot. I ordered tons of custom nursery stuff for our little girl. (Etsy became my new best friend.) I was staying with our general plan of her “having it all.”

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She was born on September 28, 2011: 1:05 p.m. Texas time, 9:05 p.m. Iraq time. My husband listened to her first cry over the phone. As I told him over and over how beautiful she was, they put her on my chest for the first time. That evening, he called to tell me even more good news: He had been chosen for a special job that would put us only two hours away from my family. For an active-duty military family, two hours away is about as good as it gets. It was one of the best days of my life.

That was the last I heard from him for six days.

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This was really unusual. We communicated every day, without fail. Hours ticked by. Then entire days passed. I became increasingly more scared and confused. After Googling his location, I was near the point of hysteria. The violence in his area had escalated immensely. This wasn’t supposed to be happening. We just had a perfect baby girl; we had a daughter to raise.

Then he finally called me. They had been on lockdown due to a fatality. Every last nerve was on edge, but I had never been more grateful to hear his voice.

That’s when I realized that having it all is not about perfect pregnancies or cute nurseries. Having it all happened on November 18, 2011, when my husband held his daughter in his arms for the first time, and I put my arms around him. This was everything I ever needed.

Rachel Engel lives in Burleson, TX and is the mom of Sydney, 18 months