Military family life is no breeze through the park, it takes commitment and sacrifice to get through deployments, long hours, and the seemingly constant strain of stress. The job is so stressful that divorce rates are often higher for families with a deployed spouse, with research showing the Navy having the highest divorce rates with a deployed spouse. Natasha and Chris Daugherty first met when they were enlisted in the Navy together. Natasha, an IT systems technician, caught the eye of Chris and it was love for him. In Chris's eyes, Natasha was beautiful and intelligent, and he was thrilled to have met and connected with someone he had so much in common with. It was true love, indeed.
The couple wed and began a journey as a family and by January of 2016 they had 3 children and Chris was preparing to go on yet another deployment. Out to see for 5 months and away from his family, Chris had no idea the size of the secret (or even its existence) that would be waiting for him at home.
Deployment for the Temecula, California couple never got easier but that didn't stop them all from smiling through tears to see Chris off at the port when he deployed on the USS Vinson, heading to the waters off of the Korean Peninsula.
Working as a Navy cryptologic technician, Chris would spend his 5 months out at sea deciphering codes and signals, a worthy distraction from the secrets his wife was hiding back home.
Natasha, now working part time as a nurse for a drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic, had her hands full at home with the couple's three beautiful children. The loneliness of having her partner at sea did not take long at all to soak in but within a week of his departure Natasha came to a profound realization and began to transform her life back home.
Natasha's greatest obstacle as far as keeping a secret went was keeping her toddler on the hush-hush. Talkative toddlers are notorious for being utterly incapable of keeping any secrets and Natasha didn't need a tiny little blabbermouth ruining everything! While her son, the oldest, was understanding, her 4 year-old daughter was the greatest concern about spilling the beans.
The family had regular Skype calls and Natasha had to get creative to keep Chris from discovering the truth. Even more frustrating, it wasn't just Chris that she had to hide from. Natasha felt compelled to keep her friends and even extended family members from discovering the truth! The turmoil of when, where, and how to tell Chris her life-changing secret was a dilemma of epic proportions.
Thousands of miles away from home, Natasha knew that Chris would only become anxious and distracted if he learned the truth while deployed. However, she did toy with the idea a few times.
“I emailed him and I told him to call me as soon as he gets a chance but then I thought about it for a few minutes and I was like, ‘You know, this isn’t how I want to tell him – in an email,’” Natasha said.
Distracting for them both, circumstances close to where Chris's ship was roaming raised stress levels for everyone. When the government of North Korea began testing ballistic missiles over and over, with no restraint, it wasn't just Chris and Natasha who felt the strain of possible war, it was Americans as a whole and even citizens of the world. The time to reveal a major secret was far from moments like these.
Back at home Natasha had to take on a second job and wrangle the children all by herself and the pressure was mounting. Natasha, however, was simply not one to sink or succumb to such things. The pressures constantly made her second guess her decision to keep her secret. She wanted to tell Chris the truth, at the very least just to get it off of her chest! Never the less, she held out tight and the time counted down until she had only one week left before Chris was due to return home and she could finally tell him everything. Of course, as such things go, that's when everything took an unexpected turn.
5 long months into a torturous deployment away from his family, Chris had to call home and break the news to Natasha that his deployment had been extended another 30 days, courtesy of North Korea and their ballistic missile testing. Feeling the pressure crushing her, Natasha came very close to exposing her secret right then and there. Again, Natasha resisted the urge and chose to keep quiet instead. Just another month...
Back home, Natasha felt tortured for the duration of the extra month. What if something happened to Chris? She felt she could never forgive herself if that happened and he never knew the truth.
“As soon as we started having trouble with North Korea, I became worried,” she later told NBC. “He was telling me goodbye. At that point, I was extremely emotional. I wanted to tell him, I wanted to freak out,” said Natasha. “But I kept my calm and waited, just a little longer.”
Finally, the six months were up. The day had finally come! Chris was finally ready to resume the hectic, loving life of a family man and put his latest deployment behind him, at least for a little while. While the couple's three children were giddy and bursting with excitement, Natasha's stomach churned as she anticipated what her husband's reaction would be when she finally revealed her secret. With no idea what truly awaited him, Chris was feeling only excitement as he sailed home to the west coast of American soil. His excitement was in stark contrast from Natasha's stress and strain.
Finally, the USS Carl Vinson made port at San Diego, Chris disembarked and excitedly spotted his whole family waiting for them.
Chris's children were dressed to the nines, decked out in their own mini sailor outfits. His daughters ran with joy to greet their father and Natasha lingered back. Unaware of why his wife stayed back, Chris took in the swarm of hugs his daughters had to offer.
Natasha held a large sign as she watched her husband greet their children.
It said, "Welcome Home Baby Daddy," and was appropriately decorated with little hearts. Chris was none the wiser, the sign made sense since he was the father of her three children.
Finally, the moment of truth. Natasha moved the sign to reveal her big secret: a very large, beautifully round baby bump! Wearing a shirt that read “I am the present my daddy gave my mommy before he deployed," Natasha held her breath, waiting for the reaction Chris had to offer. Needless to say, he was completely stunned!
Stunned, Chris said, "it was a pretty awesome confusion going on here. “I was looking at her, then poked it because I was not sure if she was playing a trick on me.”
The best part? It was Father's Day! Could any gift be better for a deployed father on Father's Day than to come home and find out baby #4 is on the way?
The long wait over, Natasha thought about all she went through to hide the secret for six long months.
Originally, Natasha intended to hide the pregnancy from friends and family, but it's pretty hard to hide a growing bump. Instead, she focused her energy on keeping the people "in the know" as quiet as possible and worked on hiding the baby belly from her husband during their many Skype calls.
While Chris was away, Natasha worked tirelessly to make it seem like back home nothing was amiss, nothing was out of the ordinary and everything was just fine. After all, it was only natural to send pictures to Chris because he was thousands of miles away. She would place their toddler in her lap or hold a beer can to distract him and keep him none the wiser.
Of course the four-year old took some clever wrangling. “I had to tell my four-year-old I was getting fat. Otherwise she would tell! Because she’s a blabbermouth,” Natasha laughed.
Why did she keep it a secret?
“I found out about a week after he left. I didn’t believe it,” Natasha, then 28 told ABC News. “I took the pregnancy test again and I was like, ‘Oh no way.’" By then, she was already 8 weeks along!
When she had almost spilled the beans, prompting him with an email, she had to quickly convince him nothing was wrong. “I emailed him back and said, ‘I just miss your voice.’ That’s when I decided I’m going to document it with weekly belly pictures for him so he wouldn’t miss it.”
While Natasha had hidden 7.5 months of a pregnancy journey from her husband, she did leave a big surprise for his homecoming. A gender reveal party! Together, the couple got to find out if baby #4 would be a boy or a girl.
Natasha's plan was a success, and the excited couple left the docks to head straight to their party. Filled with eagerness, would they have another son? Or a third daughter?
Giddy and gathered with their friends and family, Natasha and Chris popped a balloon to reveal a burst of PINK confetti! Another beautiful girl for the Daugherty family.
From there, the couple were able to anticipate the birth of their baby with joy. They did what all the happy couples do: stocked up on diapers. They also finished up the nursery and made time for a precious maternity session. They also used this time to bond with their 3 children, whose lives were all about to change, too! A new baby can be a lot of pressure for little kids and proper bonding is necessary.
Chris took in every precious moment of the time with his children and he eagerly anticipated the due date of his soon-to-be daughter. Yet a dark cloud loomed in the distance. Global tensions were on the rise and the Daugherty family didn't know if an abrupt deployment could rip Chris away before the birth of the baby.
The chance of deployment is something military personnel know comes with the job. It is taken seriously and with honor, but it is always hard to leave one's family and Chris really wanted to see the birth of his daughter. Especially since he missed most of the pregnancy.
Thankfully, Chris was not set to be deployed again until early 2018 and his daughter's due date was in August of 2017. Chris would get to delight in his daughter's birth!
And so on September 2, 2017, Natasha gave birth to their fourth child, Anara Rose, and Chris was present. Anara met her parents and her 10-year-old brother, 4-year-old sister and 18-month-old sister. The family of six was all together.
After she was born, Chris posted on Facebook of his delight:
“We love you so much! You have completed our family of six. “Can’t wait to bring you home.”
And in retrospect, while Natasha spent months wondering if she was making the right decision keeping the pregnancy a secret, Chris had nothing but positivity to share of his experience, saying, "it was an awesome surprise to find out that way. Finding out in email or over the phone, that’s easy, but since she saved it, it was special."
Natasha as well felt good, looking back. She told NBC, “it was difficult but totally worth it in the end."
Natasha's big reveal was recorded on video and it didn't take long for their story to go completely viral. Everyone was teary-eyed and feeling the love and joy of the Daugherty family.
In an interview with CBS, correspondent Jamie Yuccas asked Natasha, "what surprises are you going to have next time?”
Natasha laughed as she responded, "nothing."
When Anara was just 4 months old, Chris was indeed again deployed. This time, it was a cool 4 months and when Chris returned to his family in April of 2018, there were indeed no new surprises awaiting him.
As the Daugherty family's video went viral their story was lifted from social media and made rounds on major news media outlets. The family was contacted for interview after interview but these days, they are just enjoying their time together as a family of six. Chris's time in the military is not yet up but deployments come and go. Family is forever.