When Nicholle Truax, a 23-year-old Rochester woman who is a receptionist at a Great Clips, found out she was pregnant in March 2019, she soon realized her first baby was coming at an inopportune time.

She’d been dating Tucker Truax since high school, just as he was enlisting in the Minnesota National Guard. A few months after she found out she was pregnant, they married. But another date lingered: October 2019, both when their baby was due and when Tucker was scheduled to leave for his first overseas deployment, a year in the Middle East with the 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade.

He might not be there for her birth. He would not be there for his daughter’s first year.

“Sometimes,” Sgt. Truax said, “that’s just the price you have to pay.”

He left on a Thursday to train at Fort Hood in Texas. Two days later, amid pregnancy complications — gestational hypertension — doctors said labor would have to be induced early. His chain of command approved him to come back on Oct. 17, and he was on a plane the next morning. When he burst into the Rochester hospital room that afternoon, Nicholle was already being induced.

“What did I miss?” he said.

He thought she’d already be pushing.

“I’m not even a centimeter dilated,” she said. “I’m going nowhere in life.”

At 5:52 a.m. the next day, Evelynn Truax was born: 7 pounds, 8 ounces, healthy and perfect and three weeks early. When she was five days old, Tucker returned to Fort Hood.

“Those were the hardest days of my life,” Nicholle Truax said. “It was such a happy moment: Our baby girl was finally here! But I was so sad because he was leaving. She was crying, we were both sleep-deprived. Sometimes he took the baby, told me to go upstairs and sleep, and he’d stay up with her all night. He didn’t want to sleep because he knew I would be by myself for the next year.”

He came home on a four-day pass in December before the brigade went to the Middle East. Evelynn was 6 weeks old.

“Just to see how he nurtured her — I was like, ‘I’m so happy I married you,’ ” Nicholle said.

The day he left, Nicholle had to take Evelynn to her six-week appointment. The Truaxes bawled. The days and weeks since then have been a struggle. Nicholle takes a picture of the baby next to a stuffed fox every month to show how she’s grown. They get on Facebook Messenger a few times a week to share milestones: rolling over, laughing, babbling, holding her bottle by herself, eating oatmeal. She’s 6 months old now and obsessed with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse cartoons. Nicholle’s mother helps, often bringing groceries. But the coronavirus pandemic has complicated things; Nicholle is out of work because hair salons are closed. Mostly it’s just Nicholle and her baby. When the baby naps, Nicholle studies; she’s taking online classes to be a histology technician.

“You have moments where the baby is screaming and you just have to put her in the crib and walk away and cry for five minutes,” Nicholle said. But she tries to focus on positives; she knows Evelynn feeds off her emotions.

Tucker should return stateside in early fall, around Evelynn’s first birthday.

“I’m a little nervous,” Tucker said. “My wife’s had this entire year, the first year of our daughter’s life, where she’s been able to be there. She knows her quirks, she knows her cries, and I don’t. I come back and I’m a first-time father again.”