Saturday, July 19, 2014

Author Amy Bird Writes about Keeping Your Own Identity as a Navy Wife or Navy Girlfriend

By Amy Bird
Author of Three Steps Behind You

When my Sailor and I got engaged, over ten years ago, a similarly affianced friend said delightedly ‘Oh great – we can be Navy Wives together. They have knitting groups and everything!’ This filled me with horror. It sounded like she meant we should give up our identities and just sit, purling and stitching by the harbour wall, while we waited for our husbands’ ships to come in. Not that I have anything against knitting. It just isn’t ‘me’. And I didn’t feel as if I should have to give up my me-ness just because I was marrying into the military.

Similarly, I used to resent it when (probably well-meaning) people said, after I told them I always knew my Sailor would have a career in the Navy, ‘Oh, well you knew what you were signing up for then.’ It was as if I’d somehow waived my right to feel saddened by his time away, or to keep on the table discussions about his absences. As if I had to be a mute, compliant wife at all times. Maybe that’s why I wrote a novel in which a ‘Navy Wife’ surrenders her identity to another woman. Maybe there was something in my subconscious taunting me that I would somehow give up my identity to the sea.

So I had a strange relationship with activities run for military families at first. I kept myself aloof. I wouldn’t stand on the ‘round tower’ in Portsmouth to wave the ships in. I wouldn’t turn up at the dockyard to see the ships in. And I told myself I was too busy working to come to any ship events. I left it to my Sailor’s mother to attend in my place.

But then I began to wonder if, by so fiercely protecting my own identity, I was losing the opportunity to expand that identity. Was there something I was missing out on? Something extra that was fun to have, without putting my independence at risk? When I flew out to see my Sailor in South Africa, and went to a cocktail party on his ship in Victoria Harbour, with the full pomp that entails, I saw I really was running the risk of being self-important at my own expense. There is such a joy in being part of a Navy gathering. It’s not just the nice dresses and the even nicer uniforms (although they help) – there’s an excitement, a pride and a glory about it.

So little by little, I unfurled. I went to my first homecoming parade on Portsmouth docks. And it was glorious. The band of the Royal Marines played; there was bunting; and when the ship appeared over the horizon, the loved ones on the shore shared an audible excitement. Here was the added extra. And here too, was I – I hadn’t gone anywhere. My identity was retained but I was also sharing in something special, an extra bond, with the Navy and the families that are part of it. And with my husband.

I still don’t think of myself as a ‘Navy Wife’, despite my appearances on this blog. All us mil spouses are so much more than that. But I do now know that I can be an active and enthused part of the Navy community without surrendering my own identity.

What would my advice be to someone just starting out on a Navy marriage or long-term relationship? Do make sure you keep a strong sense of self, and don’t just be subsumed into playing the supporting role in your spouse’s career.

There's a balance though. As with any marriage, success will rely on your support of your spouse's goals and ambitions; you can't just regard your spouse's career as some peculiar hobby they might one day grow out of. And you can give that support by fully engaging in that special extra joy of the military world. You can also draw on the support that is there for you – don’t cut yourself off. Engage in what is on offer. Enjoy it. There is a lot of fun to be had. But when you want to socialise with non-military folk, do that too. The worlds are not mutually exclusive. By doing this, you will become more ‘you’ than you’ve ever been. 

About Amy Bird
I am a Navy Wife, lawyer, and a published author of Navy themed romance thriller Yours is Mine. Born in London, England, I moved all around the UK for 18 years before coming back to London for university. I've been here ever since, with the occasional epic holiday to join my Navy husband overseas. 

I have a MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, and I'm also an alumni of Faber Academy.  My creative focus is on novels and plays. As well as being a writer, I'm also a lawyer. I work four days a week at one of the big city firms, specializing in employment law – and I'm a trustee of a new writing theatre. 

When I'm not writing or lawyering, I'll generally be found cooking with my husband (he’s on shore this year!), or in a theatre somewhere. My debut novel, Yours is Mine, is the first in a three-book deal with Carina UK, the new digital imprint of Harlequin. 

Visit me at and purchase Three Steps Behind You on Amazon UKAmazon US, or Amazon Canada. Purchase her first novel Yours is Mine on Amazon UKAmazon US, or Amazon Canada
Find me @London_Writer on Twitter Facebook Too!

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