By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
During the night, Melissa Ludwig’s grandfather would wake up and call out for his Army buddies—the men he had served with in World War II. Even after he couldn’t remember his wife, he remembered them. When Daniel Babilla moved from Wyoming into Melissa’s family home in Wichita Kansas, when she was in fifth grade, it changed her life, confirming her emerging dream of becoming a nurse. “My grandfather had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and had to be taken care of by his wife and a team of nurses 24/7. I watched the nurses come into our house and saw the compassion they had for him.”
While Ludwig was pursuing her nursing degree, a fellow student in her English class set her up on a blind date with his brother, Joshua Ludwig. “It was in October and he was leaving for boot camp in February,” she recalled. “I thought it would be a good test of our relationship. The entire time he was at boot camp we exchanged letters every week. That was the best introduction to Navy life. I learned to be flexible and to be there for him no matter where we are. I was in South Carolina and he was at Naval Station Great Lakes, in Illinois.”
By the time Joshua graduated, Ludwig was halfway through her nursing degree. LTJG Ludwig had orders for training in New York and then he would be assigned to a Navy ship and deploying. The couple got married and Ludwig moved into her new in-laws’ house in South Carolina while she finished school. “That was the beginning of a good relationship,” she said. “Through all the deployments, they’ve been there and have always been willing to help.”
When Ludwig was a newly graduated nurse, her husband got orders to Oregon, and the couple relocated there. Ludwig found work in a pediatric clinic. She had her first child, and then got a new job at the small hospital in Albany, Oregon. “I worked in the mother-baby unit and took care of GYN and pediatric patients and newborns waiting for care in the NICU. I learned quite a bit. It was such a small hospital that I also floated to intensive care and the medical/surgical floor. It was such a good experience for a new nurse.” Ludwig built on this experience at her next hospital nursing job when her husband was transferred to Charleston, South Carolina, where she worked in pediatrics and maternity.
Joshua Ludwig’s first submarine assignment was homeported in Groton, Connecticut, but the family was only there for six months because the boat, USS Hawaii’s, home port was changed from Groton to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Five months pregnant with their daughter and with their three-year-old son in tow, Ludwig moved the family to Pearl Harbor while her husband was deployed. “Then it was time to have my baby and my husband was out at sea. The captain let him call me and I told him, ‘I put myself on bedrest, I have a feeling she’s going to come very soon.’ His ship was picking up another team in Pearl Harbor so when they pulled into port they dropped my husband off. We all went out for a Mexican dinner and went home. Two hours later, my water broke. My husband had been awake for 36 hours so I let him sleep while I labored, until it was time to go to the hospital. He got to see our daughter and spend the day with us and then he went back to the boat and out to sea.”
Before she left the hospital, Ludwig accepted the offer of a home visit from a nurse. “I had no idea the nurse was from the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society,” she recalled. “But it was a lifesaver. I didn’t have to coordinate getting myself and my family out the door to get on base and get the baby checked out. I thought that job sounded like a dream job for a nurse with kids. The nurse said she would be retiring in a year and that I should call her, but unfortunately deployments caught up with us and I didn’t apply for that job. I did use my nursing skills to informally help moms in the community, just providing that positive reinforcement of ‘it’s ok, this is normal, or it’s ok to call the doctor.’ My experiences gave me an introduction to what many other Navy and Marine Corps wives were facing as moms, especially if they don’t have family nearby.”
The Navy sent the Ludwig family back to Charleston, where Ludwig worked again in a mother-baby unit in a civilian hospital, this time taking on more of a leadership role as a charge nurse, mentoring other nurses and focusing more on health education. So, when the Navy moved them to Kings Bay, Georgia and Ludwig learned about the unfilled NMCRS visiting nurse position, she was primed and ready to go. “It’s very different from what I did before,” she explained. “I always felt like we weren’t able to give new parents enough education before they were discharged from the hospital. I never felt like there was a need for someone to come into the home and look at different issues. When visiting a home, I can find out if the new moms are bonding with their baby, or show them ways to do that, and make sure dads feel included too.”
Ludwig’s caseload includes a few retirees and children with long-term needs, but primarily she sees moms and newborns. “This is a submarine base so there are a lot of babies. Usually you see a baby boom about nine months after the boats come in,” she laughed.
“One thing I appreciate about the Society is that we’re about families. I always hear, ‘family comes first,” and that’s the first time I’ve heard that in a nursing job. I’ve never seen an organization go above and beyond like that to ensure employees and volunteers are taken care of,” she said.
When she’s not working, Ludwig coaches the cross country team at her children’s school, swims, bikes, runs and competes in triathlons. “That’s my sanity outlet,” she explained.