URBANA - It wasn't what Tim and Jessica Abrahamson of Paxton planned for the birth of their son: Tim, far away in a war, and Jessica going through labor with only a framed picture of her husband at her side.
And while nobody else can quite fill a father's shoes in those all-important hours of labor and delivery, Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana provided what it hoped was the next best thing - a trained coach and companion called a ?doula,? borrowing a modern Greek term, who stayed with Jessica Abrahamson for the approximately 16 hours it took for her son, Riley, to enter the world.
In a program it has named ?Operation Doula Care,? the hospital says it will provide doula service free to any mothers having a baby at Carle while their partners are on active duty in the war with Iraq.
Jessica Abrahamson, 22, said having a doula with her was a great help and comfort.
?Basically, for me, it helped me get my mind off all the emotions that Tim wouldn't be here,? she said.
Abrahamson and her husband, a Marine reservist, learned during her seventh month of pregnancy that he was being called to active duty and would be away for a year.
Cpl. Tim Abrahamson, who in civilian life works at the University of Illinois South Farms, shipped out in mid-January, and is now somewhere in Kuwait, his wife says. She last heard from him March 13, when he called her on a satellite phone to check on how she was doing.
The Red Cross will eventually deliver the news to Abrahamson that his new son was delivered at 7:27 a.m. Tuesday, weighing in 8 pounds and 13 ounces, and that both mother and child are doing fine. But it might take a full week to get the word to him, Jessica Abrahamson said.
Jessica Abrahamson says her husband's unit has 12 expectant fathers in it, half of whom are in his own squad, and hers was the first due date in the bunch.
?They were all worried about me,? she said with a laugh.
Both Carle and Provena Covenant Medical Center had doula service for expectant mothers available before the war, though Covenant offers it only to teen mothers and won't be changing that policy to accommodate women with partners on active military duty, said Covenant spokeswoman Ellen Cole. Provena United Samaritans Medical Center in Danville doesn't offer doula service.
Cathy Thorpe, a registered nurse and coordinator of Carle's doula program, said her hospital wanted to make a special effort to support women with partners in the military. Abrahamson was able to have her mother present at the birth of her son, but not all women are lucky enough to have other family members nearby, Thorpe said.
?This is a special effort to show support for these women,? Thorpe added. ?We call it mothering the mother.?
The Carle Foundation is footing the bill for Operation Doula Care, with doula service typically costing up to $300 - though a sliding scale can reduce the cost for lower-income expectant mothers, Thorpe said.
The doulas, all trained and certified, provide continuous physical and emotional support during labor and delivery and can also fill in for the dad with a camera, taking pictures that can be sent to him overseas.
Cuddling her tiny son a day after his birth, Abrahamson said the hospital staff is helping her get a package of pictures of the birth ready to send to her husband.
And if she could tell him just one thing, she adds, it would be this: ?We love him, and we're looking forward to having him come home soon.?
You can reach Debra Pressey at (217) 351-5229 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.