By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
Trusting her own instincts and her body’s ability to do what it was meant to do, Esther Valier gave birth to her daughter Leala (her second child) at home in rural Arizona in 1980, even after her physician fired her as a patient, refusing to provide prenatal care after she told him her birth plan. Unbeknownst to Valier, her daughter had an unusual congenital defect in which a small section of blood vessels in her intestines had atrophied, causing the baby to become extremely sick when she was only a few days old, jaundiced with a high bilirubin count. The local hospital rushed mother and child by ambulance to Tucson, more than three hours away, where they were better equipped to care for Leala, who required abdominal surgery a few days later. Valier and Leala stayed in Tucson for three-and-a-half weeks, which changed Valier’s life.
“My experience in the hospital with the nursing staff motivated me to become a nurse,” Valier explained. “The care we received, the role modeling from the nurses who were taking care of Leala launched my devotion to nursing.”
Thirty-six years later, Valier is a traditional mother-baby nurse for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society based in Mayport, Florida. A year-and-a-half ago, Valier had the opportunity to help Leala give birth to her own baby—Alejandro—in a three-day labor process that resulted in a cesarean section. As a result, Valier better understands the wide range of birth experiences, from natural to surgical, and empathizes with the mothers, whatever their situation.
A strong advocate for holistic approaches to health care, Valier emphasizes that she respects every mother’s choices and meets them where they are. Valier’s nursing background started in family maternity care and the psychiatric wards at the University of California San Diego. Later she served as nurse manager at a holistic, naturopathic practice in Arizona that focused on healing through nutrition, supplements, cleansing, acupressure, and meditation and created a wellness center in Arizona focused on using sensory therapy for people with brain injury, PTSD, and autism. Valier also worked in a traditional nursing home facility caring for patients who couldn’t stay at home, and she is a certified massage therapist. As a result, she brings a broad perspective and knowledge base to her visits with new moms.
“Each family is unique,” she said. “We have care plans we follow for each home visit. One is directed to the moms and one to the babies. In the questions we ask, often the moms’ answers can open up a discussion to further expansion on certain topics. For example, if they talk about issues they might be having with relaxation and sleep, we discuss baths, using essential oils like lavender, or diffusing oils in humidifiers. We talk about how much water they drink and the importance of hydration on a cellular level. I always recommend doing diaphragmatic breathing—or deep, belly breathing—30 times a day. We discuss appetite, nutrition, and regularity. There are a lot of springboards to discussing natural approaches if the moms are curious about it. Whenever there’s an opportunity or a question or an interest I plant seeds about nutrition or natural methods.”
Valier often finds that her clients are already including a more natural approach in their lifestyles and parenting. “I might see a juicer or a blender on the counter and we’ll exchange recipes for green smoothies,” she said. “Some moms are making their own lactation cookies, and we talk about herbs and spices you can use to increase milk supply.”
“There’s such a full spectrum of possibilities” about how to take care of yourself and how to parent now, Valier explained. “I tell moms that now we do many things exactly the opposite of how I did it with my son in 1970. Sometimes moms have to educate their own moms because things are different now. Sometimes I have to step back and let the moms figure it out. It’s important to have each mom feel comfortable in her niche.”
Before coming to work for the Society 12 years ago, Valier was familiar with military culture—her dad had served in the Navy in World War II before she was born, her stepfather served in the army, and her son’s father had been in the Navy. But she didn’t truly know military moms or the struggles they face.
“I meet single active duty moms, military spouses, married active duty moms, and I have a wholehearted appreciation and support for them. I see what a team it takes to raise all these little people.” Valier’s daughter Leala serves in the National Guard, and delivered Alejandro at Fort Belvoir, Virginia so Valier has gained personal and professional understanding of the life of military families.
“It’s a blessing to have the opportunity to work in mothers’ homes with their babies. I’ve always loved babies and they’ve been a big part of my career. I look forward to each mother-baby visit.”